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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

NEW NOVEL! Charlie N. Holmberg: "Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet"

Author:  Charlie N. Holmberg
Series:  Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet
Plot Type:  Fantasy 
Ratings:  Violence3; Sensuality2; Humor—2 
Publisher and Titles:  47North, Seattle (6/28/2016)

                  PUBLISHER'S BLURB                     
     Maire is a baker with an extraordinary gift: she can infuse her treats with emotions and abilities, which are then passed on to those who eat them. She doesn’t know why she can do this and remembers nothing of who she is or where she came from. 

     When marauders raid her town, Maire is captured and sold to the eccentric Allemas, who enslaves her and demands that she produce sinister confections, including a witch’s gingerbread cottage, a living cookie boy, and size-altering cakes. 

     During her captivity, Maire is visited by Fyel, a ghostly being who is reluctant to reveal his connection to her. The more often they meet, the more her memories return, and she begins to piece together who and what she really is—as well as past mistakes that yield cosmic consequences. 

     From the author of THE PAPER MAGICIAN series comes a haunting and otherworldly tale of folly and consequence, forgiveness and redemption.

                    MY REVIEW                     
    Holmberg sets her tale in a generically medieval world—a pre-industrial polytheistic society inhabited by peasant farmers and tradesmen who travel between towns on foot or by donkey cart. The heroine is Maire, a baker who looks to be in her mid-twenties. Maire remembers nothing about her life before she arrived in the village of Carmine four years ago. A kindly woman named Arrice found her covered in mud by the side of the road with no memories except for her name and her baking technique. Arrice and her husband Franc took Maire in, cleaned her up, and helped her set up the bakeshop. In that bakeshop, Maire finds that if she focuses hard, she can infuse her baked goods with emotions. For example: "I bake inspiration into specific flavors to make it easy for those who frequent my little bakeshop to find what they need. Those with a taste for the olive oil cake crave strength, while those who come back for the berry tarts are, unknowingly, seeking wisdom." Although Maire wonders about her early life and why she can't remember it, she is happy in Carmine. She even has a romantic admirer: Cleric Tuck, who tends a nearby shrine to the god Strellis.

     Maire has only a single chapter of blissful life in Carmine before marauders sweep into the town, killing or capturing most of its citizens. Just before the bandits arrive, Maire has a fantastical vision of a glimmering, white, transparent man who floats a foot above the ground. She has seen the man once before, but he didn't speak to her. This time, he asks her to tell him her name and then seems relieved that she can remember it. Suddenly, the raiders startle a flock of crows from the trees, and the man in white urges her to run away. Although Maire manages to escape being murdered, she is captured and sold as a slave to a crazed, unpredictable, ruthless man who calls himself Allemas. Her new master seems to recognize her, and he knows all about her magical baking talents. 

     As the rest of the plot plays out, Maire tries to adjust to life as a slave, but looks forward to infrequent visits from the ghostly man in white, who eventually tells her that his name is Fyel. As the story proceeds, Fyel drops some clues about her past, and Maire begins to regain some fleeting memories. Unfortunately, Allemas soon discovers that Fyel has been visiting Maire, and he goes to increasingly desperate extremes to keep them apart. Allemas shows off some magical talents of his own by teleporting Maire from one secret place to another. He also changes his name several times. (Obviously, these are clues, but they are almost impossible to decipher.)

     An entertaining element in the story is the fact that some of Allemas' clients—to whom he sells Maire's baked goods—are the heroines or villains of several well-known fairy tales. The true reason for Maire's memory loss is not revealed until the very end of the book, and it turns out to be rooted in a fundamental human yearning. I thought that I knew where this storyline was going when the fairy-tale characters began to manifest themselves, but I was ever so wrong. 

     Even with the handful of clues provided by Fyel and Allemas, I was unable to predict the ending, which is always a very satisfying experience. In fact, there are really two endings—one in Chapter 28 and one in the Epilogue. Both are HEA endings, but in very different ways.

     At the end of the book, there is at least one loose end—Cleric Tuck's full story—and because of that, I'm wondering if this is the first book in a new series. Although Tuck never does or says anything overtly harmful to Maire, I didn't like him. To me, he appeared to have a deeply buried mean streak, and his motives always seemed to be questionable—not at all what they appeared to be on the surface.

     In an innovative touch, each chapter has a brief heading that relates to one of the three main characters, but you won't be able to figure them out until you finish the book and go back and reread them. Then, it's an "Aha!" moment.

     I'm not usually a big fan of medieval fantasy, but this story kept my eyes glued to my e-reader. The characters—both primary and supporting—are fully developed and interesting, the action is compelling, and the suspense begins to build from the very first chapter. In fact, I enjoyed this novel so much that I plan to take advantage of's current three-book deal on Holmberg's PAPER MAGICIAN series—all three e-books for a total of $4.47.

     Click HERE to read an excerpt from Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet on the novel's page at Just click on the cover art on that page. 

FULL DISCLOSURE: My review of Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet is based on an electronic advance reading copy (ARC) of the book that I received from the publisher through NetGalley. I received no promotional or monetary rewards, and the honest opinions in this review are strictly my own.

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