Baker’s Magic, by Diane Zahler, was published in 2016 by Capstone.
Bee is an orphan, alone in a poor, crumbling kingdom. In desperation, she steals a bun from a bakery, and to her surprise, the baker offers her a place at his shop. As she learns to bake, Bee discovers that she has a magical power. When a new friend desperately needs her help against an evil mage, Bee wonders what an orphan girl with only a small bit of magic can do. Bee’s journey to help her friend becomes a journey to save the kingdom, and a discovery of the meaning of family.
I wasn’t impressed by the first work of Zahler’s I read, The Thirteenth Princess, but the title of Baker’s Magic is what drew my eye. I can’t resist magic done through baking (my favorite part of the overall disappointing A Pocket Full of Murder), a so-far underused trope (at least in what I’ve read), so I decided to give Zahler another go. And, luckily, Baker’s Magic is a pleasant read, full of whimsy and charm.
Bee herself is a good protagonist, full of a balanced mix of both passive and active actions that combine to make a fairly capable character. I also like that her skill lies in baking, a traditionally female role, and how she uses that role to accomplish what she desires. I’m a big fan of female characters accomplishing things through the roles they are given rather than overcoming or subverting those roles, so I liked Bee and her baking magic.
Speaking of subverting roles, Captain Zay was clearly the character filling the “non-traditional role because we have to show that anyone can do anything,” but she was also great. Her vernacular was amusing, and she was funny enough and understated enough that it helped bring another aspect of whimsy and charm to the novel. Also bringing humor through language was the princess, another good character. Honestly, there weren’t any characters that I absolutely hated or thought were unnecessary—a nice change from recent reads.
So, overall, I was pleased by Baker’s Magic. There were a few little bobbles here and there, as with any book, and I didn’t like absolutely everything that was done in terms of plot, but I liked the characters, the world, and especially the magic. This might have redeemed Zahler in my mind, enough to read something else by her perhaps.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade
The princess giggled. “That was the sorriest curtsy I’ve ever beheld,” she said. “Take care—you don’t want to drop those pastries!”
“They’re—they’re for you, Your Highness. Your Majesty. Your Ladyship.”
The princess laughed again. “Anika will suffice. And you are…?”
“Bee. I’m Bee.”
“What a superlative name! Perhaps I should be A for Anika, then?”
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The Thirteenth Princess is written by Diane Zahler. It was published in 2010 by Harper.
Zita is not an ordinary servant girl—she’s the thirteenth daughter of a king who wanted only sons. When she was born, Zita’s father banished her to the servants’ quarters to work in the kitchens, where she can only communicate with her royal sisters in secret. Then, after Zita’s twelfth birthday, the princesses all fall mysteriously ill. The only clue is their strangely worn and tattered shoes. With the help of her friends—Breckin the stable boy, Babette the witch, and Milek the soldier—Zita follows her bewitched sisters into a magical world of endless dancing and dreams. But something more sinister is afoot—and unless Zita and her friends can break the curse, the twelve princesses will surely dance to their deaths.
First of all, let me say that I love the art on the title page. I couldn’t find a picture, but it’s a silhouette drawing of the twelve princesses with twelve princes and it is divine.
Okay, now on to the book. Which I didn’t really like all that much. I liked it at first, because I thought it was an interesting concept, but then it kept going and Brecken came in to the picture and then Babette and the really strange magic and then the underground cave palace…by the time it ended, I was glad it was over.
It was a really unique twist to the fairy tale, with the addition of the thirteenth princess, but other than that I wasn’t really impressed. I thought Breckin and Zita’s relationship was appalling, because she’s twelve and I don’t like romance when the characters are that young, and I thought the development between the king and Zita could have been done so much better and resolved so much better than it was. It (the king and Zita plot thread) ended really expositionally and Zahler told us what happened rather than showed us and it was very disappointing. Also, the plot in general felt a little lethargic throughout, and at the end I didn’t even particularly care who the villain was.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Warnings: None (well, I’m tempted to warn about the romance between a twelve-year-old and someone of unspecified age.)
Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale, Middle Grade
The old woman laughed so heartily that neither of us could help smiling. “I can still do a good illusion, if I do say so!” she said.
“Illusion?” Breckin said. “Are you a witch, then?”
“Breckin!” I chided him. In my father’s home, to be called a witch was to be insulted.
“That’s all right, my dear,” the woman said calmly. “I am indeed a witch.”
The Thirteenth Princess has an interesting, and what I thought to be a unique, concept, but it’s not delivered well at all. The strange magic, the pre-teen romance, the poorly developed relationship between the king and Zita, and the plot in general all contributed to make me less and less impressed with each page I read.