My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Digital ARC provided by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Anise Wise loves three things: baking, potion making, and reading her spellbooks in blissful silence. She might not be the most powerful witch, but enchantment is a rare skill, and her ability to bake with magic is even rarer. Too bad no one wants witchcraft on their campus. Anise’s dream of attending pastry school crumbles with rejection letter after rejection letter.
Desperate to escape her dead-end future, Anise contacts the long-lost relative she’s not supposed to know about. Great Aunt Agatha owns the only magic bakery in the US, and she suddenly needs a new apprentice. Anise is so excited she books it to New Mexico without thinking to ask what happened to the last girl.
The Spellwork Syndicate rules the local witches in Taos, but as “accidents” turn into full-out attacks on Anise’s life, their promises to keep her safe are less and less reassuring. Her cranky bodyguard is doing his best, but it’s hard to fight back when she has no idea who’s the enemy. Or why she became their target.
If Anise can’t find and stop whoever wants her dead, she’ll be more toasted than a crème brûlée.
Who knew baking cakes could be so life or death?
I didn’t really know what I was getting into with this book, it was kind of an impulse request because I liked
the cover the premise of a world with magical bakeries. Also the fact that she has this very concrete goal (pastry school) and a very interesting obstacle (rejection because of witchcraft).
I absolutely loved the world. I think I was expecting more of a fantasy style world with some sort of bias against witches? Instead, we were given more of a urban fantasy style real world with witches recently emerging from the shadows. It kinda followed on from the idea of witches in the middle ages, with the idea that until very recently it was criminalised to practise witchcraft, but now they are (very very loosely) protected. This allows exploration of discrimination despite ‘acceptance’ and was a really really interesting backdrop to the story.
I liked the witch bubble (vortex) that Anise ended up moving to, where the witches collect around a solid supply of power, and tourists and other curious people come to see them. But… I don’t know, there was so much potential in the first setting (away from the witches, trying to survive among non magic people) I wish she’d come back to it.
I think I was expecting a slightly older feeling book, with the MC being uni aged, but tbh if I hadn’t known how old she was I think she would have read to be more like? 15? I don’t know, I mean everyone is different and university doesn’t necessarily = maturity, but something about her voice struck me as quite young. I think this mostly came down to her naivety, which may also be due to her upbringing and separation from the witch world…
That aside, I did like Anise as a character for the most part. I really really liked that she had a goal in life, outside of getting a boyfriend, and that this goal was related to a hobby she actually spent lots of time on in the book. It’s easy to say oh x character likes y hobby, and then never show it, but I mean this book was all about it. And magical baking was such a cool hobby?? It kinda reminded me of that Spanish book ‘Como agua para chocolate’ where she bakes her emotions into food, although with a lot more intention and a solid process for how that happens.
Also, Anise was a very real sort of witch, if that makes sense? Like she was a good one, with lots of potential and a talent, but it wasn’t some limitless power, or some chosen one thing. She was important because of her great aunt, and she was protected because of it… but she also wasn’t the only one deemed important in the book, which is sadly quite uncommon in YA. I get that we want to read about the action, but I’m so sick of the MC being the only person in the world that is important.
I diiiiidn’t like, though, her relationships with the guys around her. It felt a big middle school the way she rejected someone who literally had his life bound to protecting her, just because he was grumpy about it (I would be too, given how much she complains about being driven places and him needing to follow her around). Her other love interest was gooby, and I wasn’t a big fan of his at all. I mean, she hated one guy for one thing and then swooned when the other guy did that same thing. Her huuuge crush on him also read pretty middle school, because she really had no reason to like him as much as she did.
Wynn was my favourite, though I wish we’d gone more into his story. I mean, what is he exactly? His tendency to sleep made me think of him as some sort of cheshire cat esq person but in a human form, which made me more fond of him… but I really don’t know. Why did he sleep so much? I get that the book is one of a series so maybe this’ll be a future plot?
The villain was sooo easy to see coming that I genuinely thought it HAD to be a red herring. Like, I called it from the moment they appeared and usually that means you’re going to be shown more sides to them so you can be either fooled into trusting them or lead wrongly into suspecting them because of a bad first impression but… they just were the villain. And they didn’t even have a strong motivation, like I’m still not sure I understand why they did what they did?
That plot, combined with a few confusing points (like (spoiler)the fact that she was pretty cool with just leaving her mum outside now, like after having her life threatened and so much shit happen to her, she’s like “this place is my home now” ignoring the fact that this place will never accept her mum? Maybe it’s my own relationships coming through but I don’t think I could leave family behind like that…(spoiler)) just meant this book fell a little flat for me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad book? Just not my favourite, and I’ve been reading quite a few really good ones recently, which makes it harder to stand out.
Still, if you’re in the mood for like cake boss style food envy (I wanted to eat all the food so badly) and a good magic meets real world read, it’s a quick, nice read?
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