A Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking
I only recently discovered Ursula Vernon at all, when I read Castle Hangnail in September. After that, I kept seeing this book pop up on Amazon, but I didn't connect any dots until Redhead explained it all in her review and convinced me that this was a must-read. So: T. Kingfisher is Vernon's pen name that she uses when she writes for adults. I'd call this a YA book, but apparently publishers didn't quite know how to deal with it, so she just published it herself.
Mona is 14, and a baker. It's her job to get things started at 4am every morning at her aunt and uncle's bakery, and she is good at what she does. Like quite a few people in her town, Mona has a minor magical talent -- hers is bread. She can persuade muffins not to burn and make gingerbread men dance, that sort of thing. And one morning, she goes into the bakery, and there's a dead body on the floor.
The murder of an unknown teenage girl pulls Mona into a wider political world she knows nothing about, and shouldn't really have to. Somebody is killing magic-users, and somebody else is deliberately sowing political division in order to gain power. Mona and her friend Spindle have to go on the run, and then gain access to the Duchess who rules the city - a very tricky prospect. It only gets wilder from there, as they try to stop not only the terrifying Spring Green Man and a political coup, but a whole invasion...
This story has enough packed into it to have made a trilogy. It's witty and funny -- I often laughed out loud -- and also dark and scary. It's unusual, in that Mona thinks a lot about the contradictions of heroism and points out that teenagers shouldn't have to be saving cities, and if they do, it's because all the adults around have done a really bad job at being adults. The characters are wonderful and come in great variety, including an animate skeleton horse and Bob, the possibly-sentient and definitely angry sourdough starter.
A wonderful novel, and I don't really quite understand why publishers didn't want to deal with it. It's not darker than Harry Potter or plenty of other middle-grade/YA books. You should read it.