Magic Bitter Magic Sweet

April 3, 2019

Magic Bitter Magic Sweet Cover

by Charlie N. Holmberg

First, I’m a pretty big fan of Holmberg. I read her Paper Magician series a while back and found it to be a delightfully new kind of writing. Now, as a quick aside, I am one of those that believe there should be more female fantasy/sci-fi writers. This is not an opinion on social equality (although I do firmly believe women are equal in all regards), but an opinion on the necessity of diversity. There is only so much variety you can have from a male perspective, and much of that variety has been explored already. I don’t know why fantasy and sci-fi have been so male-dominated for so long, except perhaps that we claimed it for some reason, and kind of turned it into a boys club. In doing so, we cheated ourselves. Yes, lots of men try to write from the female perspective, but it’s often limited or skewed into caricatures. So as more female writers come into the fantasy/sci-fi genre’s, I expect to see an explosion of diversity of styles and perspective in the genre itself, something I think is sorely needed. I expect this because of, well, Holmberg.

It’s not just that she’s a female fantasy writer because, of course, she is. She’s a fantasy writer writing from a female perspective and that in itself will make it a different perspective from most of the stuff out there. More importantly, though, is that her ideas are utterly unique. While so many authors are out there crafting complex magic systems (myself included), she comes in from the side with a woman who bakes her magic into her food using her emotions. I’m reasonably certain I would never have thought of something like that.

And that is only the least interesting part of the story.

I will admit I hesitated to pick up the book. While the idea sounded different, it didn’t actually sound like a story. It was a neat idea, but I wasn’t sure why I would want to read it. I read it anyway because I trust Holmberg to do something great with it. She did.

Whenever I read her writing, I am tempted to think I’m reading an old fairy tale that was long forgotten to time. I think it’s that all the pieces fit so well together, I’m tricked into believing they’d always been there. Nothing feels contrived or unneeded, nor do I find the plot strained or stretched. When I come across some element or thread in the story, I can be sure it’s there for a reason, even if I don’t know what that reason is until the end. It’s dense writing, and I like it a lot.

In Magic Bitter Magic Sweet (without spoilers) she takes a question of identity, uses magic to turn it into a mystery, and then transforms it into a love story, and not the one you think is happening. As the book progressed, I kept expecting a twist. She led me there with hints, forewarnings, and flashbacks, all expertly done. So, of course, I’m trying to figure out how this will end. I kept expecting a reversal, where the good guy turns out bad or something similar. What I got was something that came at me from the side. It was the wrong love story. She led me to believe I was watching one story while unfolding the other right before my eyes without me noticing. That is good writing.

I finished the book last night. I had only a couple of chapters left when my wife turned out the light. So I lay in bed, quietly consuming the end of the book in the dark, and only the dark witnessed my tears. The book lived up to its name, Bitter Sweet, and I still find myself struggling with the bitter aftertaste. The magic, though, came in how she tied everything together.

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Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet
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