Reed's Recommendation Corner: Bookshops & Bonedust by Travis Baldree

 I'm someone who has a love of most kinds of fantasy. (Okay, let's face it, I haven't really found a subgenre that I didn't like.) There has become a trend that I feel Travis Baldree might be in the vanguard for: cozy fantasy. 

If you don't know who Travis Baldree is, as an author he previously released Legends & Lattes. He's also an audiobook narrator and video game developer (helllloooo, Torchlight). 

Welcome, then, to the prequel to Legends & Lattes called Bookshops & Bonedust.

Bookshops & Bonedust by Travis Baldree, photo credit to Tor

The main character from Legends & Lattes, Viv, returns in a story about her history before her attempt at starting a coffee shop. She's on a mission with her mercenary group, Rackam's Ravens, when she is injured and nearly dies. The leader deposits her at a small in in the town of Murk - a seaside town that caters primarily to incoming ships. Viv is not happy being forced into convalescence, as she is eager to make a name for herself. On her ramblings about town, she develops a friendship with a foul-mouthed ratkin proprietor of an old (emphasis on old, with a dash of "mildewy") bookshop named Fern and her constant companion, the gryphlet Potroast. She starts a fling with the local dwarven baker, whose pastries are wildly popular both with travelers and locals. At Fern's guidance, Viv becomes an avid reader and decides to repay Fern by helping get the bookstore into a better, more appealing shape. New books, a coat of paint, and a bone golem.... Wait, what?

Viv isn't as far from the action as she first laments, but the stakes have become a little higher. Not only is on her own, but she has friends to protect. She is also under the watchful eye of the local militia, as a member of a mercenary group. She's got the scent of something dark in town, and she's not willing to let it go, not while she can help. 

I have to say that I enjoyed the peek into Viv's backstory. When we see her in Legends & Lattes, she is already pretty much done with the mercenary life. All she wants is something more for herself - a place to settle down, a little shop to sell coffee, and quiet. In Bookshops & Bonedust, we see the beginnings of this Viv - the new love of books, wanting to help, and how she handles the relationship with the baker all show a person who believes that they might not necessarily be better for anything else than sword work. This really feels like the beginning of the path that leads her to Thune and a new adventure. She defies the expectations everyone has of a half-orc. 

Baldree's writing also defies normal fantasy conventions, in several ways. There's still a bit of mystery and action, but the main focus is really the character growth and the ways we change with our experiences. His books so far have been a breath of fresh air in another important respect for me. He has queer characters whose queerness are not a point of conflict or a "coming out" story. I'm always here for stories with queer elements that normalize instead of stigmatize. 

I really hope he keeps writing in this world, because I need more cozy fantasy in my life.