The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher

I’m not saying that The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher (aka Ursula Vernon) was scary. I am saying I read it in the bath and there’s now big blue hair dye spots on the wall where my skull was pressing against it because apparently my brain was trying to crawl away from the book.

Don’t read it if you’re remodeling. Jesus.

Paladin’s Grace by T. Kingfisher

This was my treat to myself for getting a bunch of work things done, and it was totally worth the hard work I did to earn it.

Paladin’s Grace, by T. Kingfisher (also known as Ursula Vernon) is set in the Clocktaur Wars universe, in a land filled with gods and magic, but not in the cast-spells zap-your-enemies way. It is, as the author puts it, a “fluffy romance” filled with sexual tension, protagonists who love, well, everybody really but believe that nobody can love them, “helpful” friends, spies, intrigue, and a body count.

There are those of us who argue that “body count” isn’t normally a requirement for a fluffy romance, but that group of us obviously hasn’t read T. Kingfisher’s books. In fact, I was a bit worried about this one at first because the first confirmed dead body was so late in the book compared to some of the others….

Anyway, you will laugh, you will get sniffly, you will facepalm at the misunderstandings, you will demand a line of gingerbread-scented cologne, and you will sigh when everything ends as pragmatically happily ever after as possible.

Oh plus there’s a civet. Can’t have a book about a perfumer without a civet!

A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher (aka Ursula Vernon)

This book, y’all. This book.

The setting is somewhere between Saladin Ahmed’s Dhamsawaat (but much wetter) and Terry Pratchett’s Ank Morpork (but slightly less Ank Morpork) and any one of the adults could easily have been Commander Vimes or Doctor Adoulla…. but they were not.

For the matter, they were exactly the kind of fallible adults that anyone fourteen and up is embarrassed to find out adults are.

But A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking isn’t about the adults, not directly. This book is about a fourteen year old girl named Mona who is good with baking.

REALLY good with baking.

I mean I’ve done my fair share of baking (around Mona’s age) and I never saved a single cookie by asking it not to burn. I never had a gingerbread man get up and dance off the cookie sheet (which was probably good), nor did I have a pet sourdough starter.

Maybe I should say a sourdough starter familiar because Bob’s a bit more than your average Covid-19 “the stores are out of yeast” bakery pet.

It would be difficult to say that Mona would’ve had a boring life, she was already an orphan when the book opened, and all the folks living in the area already knew she was one of the many minor wizards in the city. Still, one presumes that her life would’ve been a big quieter if Mona hadn’t found a dead girl named Tibbie on the floor of the bakery one morning, then been charged with the crime, then been found innocent, then been threatened by a high official then discovered the real murderer was trying to kill her.

Frequently in this book, Mona loses her lunch and I think it’s a very reasonable reaction to what’s going around her. Like many T Kingfisher protagonists, Mona is pragmatic, but in this case she’s only as pragmatic as a fourteen year old can manage, and let’s face it, that’s not very far.

But Mona’s got a sourdough familiar, a gingerbread cookie familiar, dough tricks up her sleeves she doesn’t even know she has, and allies in a ten-year-old thief, a crazy dead-horse witch, a Duchess, and an Aunt I want to grow up to be some day.

And if you’re going to save a whole city, it turns out those are good allies to have.

Swordheart by T. Kingfisher

I probably should have known Swordheart by T. Kingfisher was the beginning of a trilogy when the bird slipped through a plot hole there at the end and didn’t amount to anything. Screaming birds generally aren’t put in the plot for no reason and this bird is way too much a Chekhov’s Bird to just be sitting there.

Anyway, this book is fantastic, and I’m now hungry for the next two.

This book is the story of Sarkis, a man whose spirit has been placed in a sword, and Halla, a 36 year old widow who was planning to kill herself with the sword until a warrior appareted into her bedroom when she tried to do the deed.

And then from there it gets weird.

It gets weird in the ways of the Clockwork Boys stories, with strange creatures on a road that disappears and reappears, bandits, murderers, ruthless priests, not-ruthless lawyer priests, a gnoll that drives the ox, an ox named Prettyfoot, hands-down the nastiest aunt I’ve found in a book in quite some time, and a clammy-handed man who nobody should marry.

And then somehow everything works out and the people who need to be dead are dead and the people who you were kind of hoping would be dead are banged up at least, and the people who should be in love are in love.

I’m pretty sure that although Ursula Vernon insists she writes “fluffy romance” on Twitter that this doesn’t qualify as “fluffy” unless you ask Halla what she thinks of her own weight. But romance it is, and relatable romance so much as it can be without traitorous relatives and a ensorcelled sword.

This is good, in short. Read it.

Minor Mage by T. Kingfisher

Minor Mage by T. Kingfisher is a young-adult-ish or maybe middle-reader book about a minor mage, a fair amount of murder and gristly stuff, and a sarcastic armadillo.

I love it.

The author is worried it is not a children’s book but it’s exactly the kind of horror fantasy I devoured and tried to write in my preteen years. And I turned out all right as far as I can tell.

Plus cloud sheep.

Worth the read.