Pages Menu
Abbey's Bookshop
Plain engish Foundation
Categories Menu

Posted on 9 Apr 2024 in Fiction, SFF |

TRAVIS BALDREE Bookshops and Bonedust. Reviewed by Amelia Dudley

Tags: / / / / / /

In Travis Baldree’s latest fantasy novel, his warrior’s quest is not to slay dragons but to save a failing bookstore.

Travis Baldree’s second novel can be enjoyed as a standalone or as the prequel to his bestselling Legends and Lattes. If you don’t already adore Viv, the tough orc mercenary with a poorly-hidden sensitive side, then you just might be about to in this excursion into her past.

After a bout of dangerous self-confidence on her first proper mission with the mercenary group Rackam’s Ravens, Viv is left behind in the sleepy seaside town of Murk, forced to rest her injured leg and undertake some serious – and uncharacteristic – introspection. Desperate to find something to do so she won’t go insane, Viv ends up helping out in a failing second-hand bookstore. Despite knowing that she will have to leave as soon as Rackam returns if she wants to follow her lifelong dream of making the world a safer place using a sword, Viv still can’t help getting attached to some new friends and falling into awkward young love.

She also discovers the joy of reading for pleasure:

… it seemed like an excellent way to ignore someone when they were sitting right in front of you.

But joking aside, the stories she reads show her new ways of examining her own feelings and connecting with other people about a shared interest. Much like the rest of us, reading about characters’ lives and relationships helps her to become a more thoughtful person, and as the story progresses Viv’s observations of others become more eloquent:

The smile on the dwarf’s face was huge but also softer than Viv remembered, as though genuine surprise had caught it halfway to forming.

Bookshops and Bonedust is beautifully written and there is a certain undeniable charm in reading a character-driven fantasy novel where the world isn’t about to end. It turns out that a story about someone trying to save a struggling bookshop can be just as engaging as any action-packed story where the main characters have to struggle to avert some great calamity.

Nonetheless, there is a vague sense of doom that develops as the story progresses, but the bookshop still feels more immediate than anything else, as is no doubt intended. Some of the strategies used to save the store will be familiar from the real world – adding baked goods, author signings and giving the place a bit of a spring clean – and it is amusing to see, in this instance, elves and dwarves being sucked in by a mystery blind date with a book, especially when they could have gone into this local shop at any time to ask the owner for the exact same recommendations. The mystery of the brown paper parcel tied up with string seems to be irresistible.

Interactions between characters are often very funny as well:

Gallina studied the rattkin as if trying to decide whether her tone was patronising or not. Fern did an admirable job of providing no clues.

The relationship dynamics between different characters are very believable and there’s something wistfully beautiful and wholesome about the entire book, especially when it comes to Viv’s romance.

Elaborate world-building isn’t really on show here but then it doesn’t need to be, as that’s not the focus of the novel, which is firmly on the characters. The alliteration in the title, the cover art and a few little things in the story imply a Dungeons and Dragons influence, without it being a derivative work. But anyone who’s read any high fantasy set in a quasi-medieval period with magic (as many are) understands how the world works well enough that it doesn’t really matter where the different places mentioned are or how the economy or the magic exactly works. There isn’t even a map, again because there doesn’t need to be for this story to be enjoyed to the full.

There’s a lot to recommend in this book, from the humour and well-drawn characters to the celebration of being able to share storytelling with others that is woven through it. I for one am glad I came across Viv and I’m keen to see how she develops further when she settles down to run a coffee shop in Baldree’s first novel, Legends and Lattes.

Travis Baldree Bookshops and Bonedust Tor 2023 PB 352pp $34.99

Amelia Dudley has degrees in plant biology and currently works as a tutor.

You can buy Bookshops and Bonedust from Abbey’s at a 10% discount by quoting the promotion code NEWTOWNREVIEW or you can buy it from Booktopia.

You can also check if it is available from Newtown Library.If you’d like to help keep the Newtown Review of Books a free and independent site for book reviews, please consider making a donation. Your support is greatly appreciated.