Distance turned this story into a myth – Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet by Charlie Holmberg

Book Reviews, children's books, teen book reviews


Maire is happy in her small village, baking treats infused with emotion, strength and other qualities that she’s not quite sure how they got in there. But when her village is captured by marauders and she is captured by the sinister, cruel and strangely infantile and familiar Allemas, she is forced to confront the provenance of her gift and what it means about her past. As she completes challenging jobs for Allemas and survives his violence, a strange ethereal being called Fyel appears and gradually the story comes out…

After reading The Paper Magician series I was really keen to read more by Charlie Holmberg. This was totally different and I didn’t enjoy it as much as the other, but in itself it was a worthwhile read. I think because there wasn’t that much described setting, and because Maire herself didn’t really know what was going it, it read a bit more like a fable than a normal story, but it was enjoyable for all that.

I think stories where the main character and therefore the reader don’t know the past are difficult to write, as inevitably the moment of separation comes at the end where the character remembers, but the reader does not. Here, Holmberg carefully released information throughout Maire’s journey, so we discovered much with her, but there would certainly be a fullness to her understanding that we missed.

It was that mysteriousness at the centre of this, I think, that made it more like a myth. A sparse world that I didn’t quite understand, where the story and our characters were the key rather than any place. Which once I was used to it worked fine, and fit the story actually, but was disconcerting to start with.

It did mean I had no idea how to imagine the houses or scenes we were presented with, nor what the world was meant to be like (especially as it was interspersed with fairytale references) but in some ways it worked, as Maire too was encountering the world for the first time.

I have a feeling this book was written before The Paper Magician series, or at least edited quicker, as it feels less assured. Nevertheless, it was fun – but I would always recommend the other series first.

Sincere thanks to Netgalley for faithfully providing review books for me, it is an enormous privilege. 

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