Review: Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet by Charlie N. Holmberg


Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet by Charlie N. Holmberg // VBC ReviewMagic Bitter, Magic Sweet
Charlie N. Holmberg
Published: June 28, 2016 (47North)
Purchase: Book Depository or Amazon
Review source: copy provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review

Reviewed by: Amy

Rating (out of 5): 4 stars

Maire’s memories only go back four years to the day when she was found on the side of the road by the kindly Arrice, who then proceeded to take the girl home. Maire has lived with Arrice and her husband Franc, in the town of Carmine, ever since. The only thing Maire remembers from before is her name, and the fact that she has magic.

Maire can bake emotions and abilities into the different confections she makes, which are then transferred to whoever consumes said goodies. Maire has made a good living for herself, but her thoughts are constantly trying to figure out who she was before.

One day when Maire’s village is set upon by marauders, Maire is taken captive, and sold into slavery to Allemas, a man who is decidedly mad and feels very off to Maire. Yet he knows about Maire’s abilities, and he’s determined to use them for his own personal gain.

While contemplating how to escape captivity, Maire is visited by the ghostly apparition of a man named Fyel. Fyel knows Maire from before and has been looking for her, but frustratingly enough, he cannot outright say who she was before. These are things Maire must figure out herself. Ever so slowly, Maire starts to remember, and as she’s faced with the person she used to be, she understands now more than ever that maybe there is no going back.

Charlie N. Holmberg really intrigued me with her Paper Magicians books. I loved the refreshing twist on magic in that series, and she continues to bring interesting concepts into Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet. All the elements individually are not really anything new, but the way Ms. Holmberg put them together (not very different from way Maire bakes one of her cakes) was great. I can honestly say I had no idea where this story would take me. I could guess some of the twists beforehand, but I didn’t know how they would actually be integrated into Maire’s journey and self-rediscovery.

Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet has the feeling of a traditional fairytale. There’s obviously this prevailing magical element, but running underneath there’s a more sinister kind of cautionary tale. This comes out especially during Maire’s captivity when Allemas has Maire bake some seemingly unheard of concoctions—but which will seem quite familiar to many readers out there—and it was interesting to see those baked goods from a different perspective. Kind of a running theme throughout the book is how something that was made with strength and endurance (or love and kindness, etc.), can quickly be turned around based on the intentions of the person wielding it.

Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet was a great surprise of a book. While I’m typically a reader who likes an even mix between dialogue and exposition, this one leaned heavier toward the latter as Maire is alone with her contemplations most of the book. I found in this case, I loved being in Maire’s head so much, with her view of the world and her strength and determination to survive. I loved her thought processes about what little details to put into her baking, the different images she conjures, and the feelings to convey. This quick read was definitely a page-turner as we’re hurtled towards Maire’s revelation about herself. If you enjoyed Charlie N. Holmberg’s other series, you won’t be disappointed. If you’ve never read one of her books, this is a good place to start.

Sexual content: Kissing; references to rape; some scenes of disturbing violence

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