Books & Literature

Book Review: Bookshops & Bonedust, by Travis Baldree

FANTASY: Set twenty years before the events of Legends & Lattes, Bookshops & Bonedust is a standalone cosy fantasy by BookTok sensation Travis Baldree about the power of good bookshops, great friends and the unexpected choices along the way.

Feature image credit: Pan Macmillan Australia

Travis Baldree’s first novel Legends & Lattes is credited with kick-starting a new fantasy sub-genre: cosy fantasy. These are stories set in fantasy worlds replete with orcs, gnomes, dashing heroes, and evil sorcerers, but with a focus on the everyday. Here, big dangerous quests and necromancy occur somewhere else and to someone else. Cosy fantasy gives us stories of the little people: the shopkeepers and bakers our heroes deal with only in passing. To use a gaming term, these are the non-player characters (NPCs).

This is a concept rich for mining. Terry Pratchett touched on it in the Discworld series, but his focus was elsewhere. Travis Baldree has picked up the concept and run with it. Legends & Lattes told the story of Viv, orcish ex-adventurer who started a coffee shop in a large medieval city. Now, in the prequel Bookshops & Bonedust, we see a bit of Viv’s life before this, while she was still out hunting down necromancers with the adventuring band Rackham’s Raiders. Wounded in a fight, her crew deposit her in the sleepy seaside town of Murk while they carry on the pursuit of a baddie. With nothing better to do than heal and wait for their return, she befriends the local bookseller and becomes romantically involved with a dwarven Baker.

As with his previous book, Baldree is not telling us the story of the band tracking down the baddie. Rather, this is a story about rescuing a failing small business, and falling in love for the first time. While not played for laughs, the situation is rich in background comedy, with its inventive use of well-worn comedy tropes. That bookseller your D&D campaign just happened to find the moment they needed a magic book? How do you think a bookshop out in the middle of nowhere survives when you’re not there?

Baldree approaches this in a novel way (no pun intended) which, unfortunately, shows a lack of basic understanding of economic systems so frequently seen in fantasy novels. Viv helps to rebuild the bookshop and increase its clientele with modern methods more reminiscent of our world than a fantasy realm, and the reader may find themselves scratching their heads at the effectiveness of these measures. How will painting the door and installing some chairs increase foot traffic in a small town with a localised population who presumably have been aware of the bookshop’s existence their whole lives? Likewise, if the local bakery starts a deal to supply muffins, how does this coax townsfolk who presumably weren’t reading before to suddenly buy books now? Baldree uses the harbourside locale to gather an ever-renewing stream of tourist customers. However, these are fantasy world ships, not cruise liners, and would be more likely populated by small numbers of crew along with adventurers or people on missions than the multitude of free-spending tourists that we are shown.

Of equal concern is that this is now the second book, and a prequel to boot, and we still know very little about Viv’s past. Why did an orc with such entrepreneurial potential become a sword-for hire? Two books in and we’re still none the wiser.

These points should not detract from the key point, however, that Bookshops & Bonedust is, like its predecessor, simply good fun. It is not an economics textbook* or a how-to guide to set up a small business. The reader should go with it, take it in their stride and enjoy a tale of friendship, self-discovery and entrepreneurial growth. This reviewer is already looking forward to the next instalment.

*This reviewer would like to apologise to any writers of economics textbooks who feel their books may be good fun. This is not the case.

Reviewed by DC White

The views expressed in this review belong to the author and not Glam Adelaide, its affiliates, or employees.

Distributed by: Pan Macmillan Australia
Released: November 2023
RRP: $34.99

An excellent entry in the cosy fantasy genre, but not recommended for economists.

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