Blurb from Amazon (scroll down for full review):
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.
When I first read the blurb for this book- which I got as a free ebook via Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited service
-I really wanted to like it. I really thought I WOULD like it- it has everything I usually love: lucid, imaginative descriptions, magic, and even a fairytale element. I had also been charmed and intrigued by Holmberg’s previous offering, ‘The Paper Magician’ (which is also on Kindle Unlimited.) I hoped it would be reminiscent of Joanne Harris’s ‘Chocolat’
– one of my favourite books of ALL TIME- Laini Taylor’s
work, or Michelle Lovric’s ‘The Remedy’
, with its original Venetian apothecary cures and remedies, written in a recipe-like format. The first chapter promised much, with its vivid descriptions of Maire
baking, and infusing her baking with a seductive, mysterious power. Maire
‘s baking can make people feel emotions, depending on the emotions she herself feels when baking. As she shifts dough and fondant icing and weighs out flour and fruit and flavour with kitchen-worn hands, so she shapes the experiences and personalities of those who eat her offerings. I hoped she would be like a whimsical Vianne Rocher,
changing people’s lives for the better through simple- yet undeniably magical- food.
The first chapter whetted my appetite, as it promised of all this. It has some truly splendid descriptions of Maire baking in her cosy, familiar kitchen, just like Vianne Rocher. Sadly, for me the similarity ended there. For me, this book promised much yet delivered little- like a souffle that failed to rise. Holmberg clearly set up a lot of mystery around Maire and her unusual gift, but as the novel progressed- or rather, unravelled- the questions kept growing and the surreal, bizarre aspects became to take over. (SPOILERS AHEAD.) Maire is kidnapped, brutalized, beaten, and sold as a slave to a simply bizarre man, Allemas, who does not look or appear human. At first, I though he would be like a giant in a fairytale, but no, clearly that would be too obvious, too familiar, he had to be…something else entirely (without giving too much away.) Is he a child, in a man’s body? What does he want with Maire? Who is the odd ghost-like creature who appears to Maire, but answers her questions with riddles, and refuses to help her? I began to feel this whole book was a riddle. It left me feeling alienated and confused with its forever-surreal plot. It was like a fairytale…on acid. The one part I liked was when (SPOILER) Maire constructs a cottage out of gingerbread…yes, just like in ‘Hansel and Gretel.’ I thought, FINALLY, I get this reference, I know what is going on. But that was pretty much it. When you think of all the food references in fairytales- from the food in Red Riding Hood’s basket to the pea under the Princess’s bed, you realize (or at least , I did) that Holmberg could have done so much more. She could have written a novel rich in the alchemy of food, a novel which would have made my mouth water.
Instead, this seemed like a spool unwinding and unravelling, quickly dissolving into an odd mish-mash of jarring elements including: mind-bogglingly cosmic creation myths, fairytales, jarringly brutal violence and (in my opinion) rather underdone romance. If that is your thing, go for it. If you like piles of puzzling questions and a plot layered like rapidly-collapsing mille-feuille, read this. Otherwise, if any of this isn’t your thing…to be honest, don’t. Because when the ‘explanation’ to Maire‘s questions finally came, it felt so surreal and space-age and out-of-this-world, it left me feeling even MORE confused than I had before. In short, it left me feeling as limp and underwhelmed as a cake that failed to rise. Sorry to all fans of Holmberg’s work out there if this review feels harsh- after all, it does have some fantastic reviews on Amazon-but this just didn’t do it for me. I felt as though the undoubtedly talented author could have done so much better with just a few better-chosen ingredients.
Overall rating: 2.5 out of 10 stars.
Read if: You want a sci-fi, acid-trip version of ‘Chocolat’ by Joanne Harris.
Image credits: First image is of lavender syrup, and is from here, second image from here, third image from here – click the link if you want the recipe for the mini vegan doughnuts pictured (!!!) and the final image is from here. All images are via Pinterest.