AN OKAY PREQUEL
Getting this out of the way real quick for the TL;DR crowd. Not a bad book, but its predecessor is so much better in about every way.
I heard about Legends and Lattes on Words About Books 2 years ago and the premise was so interesting to me that I picked the book up myself and finished it in the span of 18 hours or so, only pausing to sleep. I was invested with the general premise of settling down from the D&D adventuring life to start a coffee shop. The characters were fun and interesting and the book could be summed up in one word: cozy.
Here we are now at a prequel: Bookshops and Bonedust. It’s about a younger Viv setting up a bookshop, only this time it isn’t her shop but a townsfolk whom she befriends. There’s a love interest, the gnome from the first book meets Viv for the first time here, there’s the gruff man-of-few words character, and there’s a cool animated bone monster (the “bonedust” in the “bookshops and bonedust”).
The difficulty comes in the form of this being a prequel. I already know Viv settles down a few decades from this book and I know that the love interest in this book isn’t going to be her long-term partner. So there’s never any suspense on whether or not Viv will decide to stay, we know she won’t. It also can’t just be about getting the bookshop up and going or it risks being a retread of the first book. In an attempt to mitigate that particular problem there’s a plot involving a deadly necromancer that threatens to destroy the town with an army of undead.
Note I didn’t say “subplot” I’ve seen that word thrown around in other reviews. There’s nothing “sub” about this plot,it’s just a second plot running in tandem. As a result this book has a problem with serving two masters. It’s not a straight-up D&D-style adventure book because it has a lot of “let’s hang out in the town and let’s spruce up this old bookshop” story. It’s not a straight-up cozy book like its predecessor because there comes a point where the shop is taken care of and we still have to fight the boss. Oftentimes one plot will need to pause for a moment for the other plot to progress and it’s a little clunky as a result. Toward the end I found myself wanting the bookshop to just go away so we can focus entirely on this necromancer plot and I’m sure that I’m not the only one. Just as I’m sure there were many people who wanted another cozy book who were annoyed by the necromancer plot being so prominent.
CONTENT AND IDEAS 15/20
I hesitate to say “original ideas” because, well, it’s part D&D adventure and part first-book. Still I will say that the ideas are certainly present and developed. There was one part of the book that I didn’t think was well-executed but it was just one chapter. It’s where Viv and Galena go hunt some beasts in another town when there’s a necromancer bearing down on them. Viv has every reason not to go. She thinks the moment she leaves either Rackham will show up to collect her, or the necromancer will attack the town. But she leaves anyway. I kind of think this was supposed to be Viv shirking her domestication? Like she needed to get out and do some mercenary work for fear she would actually want to settle down? If that’s the case I think it failed to communicate that properly. If that wasn’t the case then Viv was just an idiot because the Necromancer attacked immediately after they left town.
Speaking on the two plots again:I think both plots are well-executed themselves and wouldn’t take away points for that. The points will come off in other categories though such as…
Here’s where having two plots that have to stop so the other one can proceed, come back to bite the book. The pacing suffers as a result. I often wanted people to stop worrying about the stupid book store and start figuring out how they were going to handle this existential threat of an army of undead. Okay I get it’s sad you and this dwarf girl you just met are trying to get the most out of the time you have left but like… you’re both gonna die if you don’t prepare.
I think this is going to be a major problem with a lot of people like I said. You’re either here for another book like Legends and Lattes and it’s annoying to see this Necromancer story OR you’re interested in a new story and this bookshop business is taking up a lot of page time. Either way I don’t think the book can fully make any one person happy.
WORD CHOICE 20/20
Travis Baldree is a really impressive writer. I don’t usually stop to write down a phrase or a way of describing something but I did that a few times in Baldree’s work. I think this is strong evocative stuff and his characters are all interesting and easily distinguished from one another..
PERSONAL PREFERENCE 15/20
I have a generally favorable opinion of the book. Just again there were bits that didn’t work for me. I do hope that next time Baldree sets something in this universe that we see a different character. It could be a totally different person or someone who is Viv-adjacent but I feel that her story is nicely wrapped up. I could be wrong, of course, but it would allow him a little more freedom and wouldn’t risk retreading old ground.
RECOMMENDATION STRENGTH 15/20
All-in-all I think I can still recommend this book to most people. If you liked Legends and Lattes you’ll probably like this (albeit with diminishing returns I think). If you’re interested in a fantasy book you can do a whole lot worse than this one. I don’t think it has quite the wide appeal as its predecessor but I would still recommend it to a genre audience.