by Lola Dodge
Series: The Spellwork Syndicate #1
Publisher: Ink Monster, LLC
Publication Date: January 16, 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
For fans of Hex Hall,The Magicians, Practical Magic, and Food Wars!
Anise Wise loves three things: baking, potion making, and reading her spell books in blissful silence. She might not be the most powerful witch in the suburbs, but enchantment is a rare skill, and her ability to bake with magic is even rarer. Unfortunately, witches have a bad rep, and Anise’s dream of attending pastry school crumbles with each rejection letter.
Then her great aunt Agatha pops out of the woodwork with a sweet offer. If she signs on as Agatha’s apprentice, Anise can have all the training and ingredients she’s ever imagined, and she’ll inherit the family bakery.
The catch? Studying with Agatha means moving to Sedona—a dangerous otherworldly power center where her aunt is a key player in the magical community’s shady dealings. And the last apprentice? Assassinated.
Now Anise is next on the hit list. If she 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?
Anise, like her mother, is a witch, but she’s grown up in the “normal” world. Witches are generally distrusted, feared, and downright discriminated against, so she’s gotten used to hiding her true self and moving frequently. After an accident, however, Anise is sent to live with her great aunt, who owns the only magical bakery in the country, situated in a community of witches. There, of course, she finds out that many things her mother told her were lies, that she needs a lot of remedial bakery training, and she needs to have a bodyguard whenever she leaves the house. Because, oh yeah, the last bakery apprentice is missing and may have been killed.
Anise is in college, so while I think that would technically make this new adult, it reads much more like a young adult novel. There’s bit of a Princess Diaries vibe, since she goes from working at the local grocery bakery to being the heir apparent to her great aunt’s bakery, making friends with the daughters of Syndicate members, and being important enough to have a bodyguard following her around.
I’m a pretty big fan of the Great British Bake Off, which is a good thing, because a large part of the book is about Anise baking, or taking pastry classes, or thinking about baking… Personally, I loved the descriptions of baking and how magic affected it. There’s not as much about the rest of the magical system, which I suppose could be explained away as Anise is more interested in nailing down pastry basics so that she can earn a place at her great aunt’s bakery. Since this is the first in a series, I’m hoping there’s more about the actual magic side of things in later books.
“Your power feels like pink sugar. Or tapping a spoon through the crust on a really good crème brûlée. But there’s a redder, bready vibe to it, and—” Her stomach rumbled again. “I shouldn’t have skipped breakfast.”
I loved Anise’s love of baking. It’s very clear that it’s her motivation in life, even so far as leaving her mom and moving to a strange place. She’s also, refreshingly, normal. She doesn’t suffer from too-stupid-to-live syndrome (she lets the grown-ups handle the bad guy), she worries about homework and making friends, she’s not the most powerful whatever. She’s also not a super-special snowflake – she quickly finds out once she gets to Agatha’s bakery that while she might be very good for a home cook, she’s got a long way to go to measure up to her great-aunt’s standards. While she’s understandably disappointed, she takes it all in stride and throws herself into her community college pastry chef courses.
Another thing to love about this book – most witches are female, so there are gobs and gobs of strong female characters, both in her mother’s generation as members of the Syndicate, and Anise’s age. Anise, helped along by some baked goods, quickly makes friends with the daughters of her mother’s friends. Besides one snippy bakery employee, there’s blessedly little woman vs woman jockeying, which is a relief.
As for cons, the mystery bit is ridiculously predictable. Also, if you don’t care about baking, you’re probably going to be bored. It’s everywhere in this book, from descriptions of the things Anise is baking to the prose (at one point, her thoughts fly away “like baking soda on the wind.”) Anise has pastry on her mind, and while I enjoyed it, I can certainly see where someone who’s less culinary minded would find it trying.
Overall, this book is adorably sweet and a whole mixing bowl of fun! Recommended for fans of baking and magic!