Monday, July 11, 2016

MAGIC BITTER, MAGIC SWEET is an unusual fantasy novel, but not for the usual reasons



MAGIC BITTER, MAGIC SWEET
CHARLIE N. HOLMBERG

47North
$4.99 Kindle edition, available now

Rating: 3.5* of five

The Publisher Says: 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: I have not one single clue how this book came to be on my Kindle. It's not via NetGalley or Edelweiss, I checked my accounts there. It's not an author I follow's work, as I'd never heard of her before encountering this title. I'm *extremely* unlikely to have wishlisted it, or bought it for its full price. It's a puzzlement.

Anyway, I read it, and it was an entertaining take on Christian mythology mixed with Buddhist/Hindu influences by way of Like Water for Chocolate and The Peculiar Sadness of Lemon Cake.

Maire endures much in this story. She is as close to a blank slate as it's possible to be when she, a mere child, is found by the kind and wonderful Arrice to be brought into young womanhood in Arrice and her husband Franc's home. We meet Maire on the eve of disaster, of course, since stories need action. It's a disaster for all in her life, and that disaster burrows its roots into the loam of the Platts, where Maire came to awareness of herself, grows a sturdy, spiny stem during her captivity by the essentially *wrong* Allemas during which her uniqueness is trained into some very nasty shapes, and unfolds its scraggly, weedy petals to pollinate the air in the Epilogue.

Much ado in the Amazon reviews about the style and quality of the writing, deservedly so, and here's my obligatory papaw grumble: Kindles are not quote-finding friendly. Way more work than grabbing a Book Dart and slipping onto the page, then using the Book Dart as a tab later to browse the possible quotes to use in your review. If I could seamlessly and effortlessly find the quotes, or better yet ship them to "My Quotes" on Goodreads, I'd belt up and use the damn thing for reviewing books more. Anyway, since none of the above is happening, you'll just have to trust me: This child got the word-licks down. Lovely and sonorous, sometimes a bit too much so (think Mormon Tabernacle Choir at a Bat Mitzvah), but more often than not the stops on her magnificently carved pipe organ are set appropriately.

So what's the fuss...I mentioned Christian mythology, more accurately Biblical mythology, above. The character of Maire is a steal from the Bible's earlier books concerning the inhabitants of Heaven and their essential difference from the inhabitants of earth. Then we meet the character Fyel and we're off to the Book of Mormon for the quantum entanglement portion of our tale; then into the realms of the Indian subcontinent's two major religious gifts to the world for the idea and description of the realm between. No caps, no itals, just a simple declarative sentence identifying where certain scenes were set. I cannot express adequately in words how exquisitely happy those absences made me feel. It is, in my never-humble opinion, a sign that the author trusts her (in this case) readers to follow the breadcrumbs without painting yum-yum yellow neon stripes for them to follow. (Yum-yum yellow was the name sailors gave to the color of their lifesaving gear in the Navy, erroneously thinking it acted more as a come-on to sharks than an aid to finding shipwreck survivors. I know this from my Navyman father. All seagoing emergency equipment is the more effective shade of orange these days, which fact poked at me until I circled back and added this absurdly long parenthesis for the edification of the Younger Set.) (See what I did there?) I wish more fantasy writers would emulate the young lady's confidence in her audience, or get OVER that damn Tolkien stuff, or whateverthehell is biting them. Trust me. I'm gonna figure out what you want me to Know Without Caps. Or itals! Or exclams, for that matter.

That this is, in the ultimate analysis, a damsel-in-distress tale with obligatory male rescue doesn't blunt its traumas to the psyche of the reader. I would love to see this young lioness come forth with more work in different veins and styles. She has It, the je ne sais quoi, the star quality that gets refined by time and change but never worn away. The trick is not to let her know we know she has It, or she'll bloat up like a toadfrog the way other writers fantastical have and emit upon us a rain of billion-page nonillionologies. I'd hate that.

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