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Magic Bitter Magic Sweet
by Charlie N. Holmberg
47North, price varies - this is an Amazon imprint, 296 pp
Published: June 2016

Weirdly enough, this book was a freebie at the national Romance Writers of America convention in San Diego this July. This is a very unusual novel. Very quirky.  And I will say this is what drew me in. I haven’t read anything like it. (However, as a romance it’s a bit uneven…)

Holmberg has an overall good command of the writer’s craft (this is not her first book). But the pacing here slows to a grim slog as the central character—Maire—a baker who can imbue her creations with emotions—is captured by marauders sweeping through her village and then sold to a bizarre, erratic creature. He wants her to bake, and move rocks and not escape his run down house and who changes his name from Allemas, to Alger to Shah….and I just got to the point where I asked—why? And more importantly: Why should I care?

I read over half the book wondering what the reason for this journey was. Why is Maire unable to recall her past? Why is she constantly horribly being tortured, beaten and dragged from site to site by this squirrelly character who doesn’t know who HE is….but constantly wants her to bake cakes or pies or something for himself and others…to what purpose and to whose benefit? Who is the ghostly Fyel who keeps wanting her to look for a crystal and discover herself----and disappears after telling us nothing important because he insists he can’t. Each time he visits, Maire begs him for information about who she is or who he is---and we get vague bits—that for me weren’t compelling enough to matter and the lack of information just became more and more frustrating.

The character Maire has a fascinating skill. But it’s just being used and that’s it. Her life is a circle of despair and pain. It does build finally—but painfully, agonizingly, slowly to get us to a point where we understand what is going on with Maire and Fyel…but by then: I was worn out with Maire’s terrible repetitious life.

Holmberg spent waaay too much time beating the crap out of Maire and moving her around the landscape instead of giving us plot points that moved the story forward. There is a rush of romance at the end—but it took too long to get there.

We finally discover Maire’s vicious life on Raea (the planet) has a one-note purpose/explanation and it is actually decent and rather sweet---but for me, the horrendous continuous punishment did so not fit the crime. Because it took so long to get to the reason for this story; I had lost interest. And all in all, the ending might have made a much better beginning. ~~ Sue Martin

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