Long before the events of Legends & Lattes, Travis Baldree’s bestselling novel about an orc who opens a coffee shop, Viv was a young warrior who acted first and asked questions later—and it got her into trouble. While on the hunt with her mercenary companions for the necromancer Varine, Viv takes a sword to the leg, temporarily hobbling her and leaving her stranded in the town of Murk, far from the front and feeling absolutely useless. With her expenses temporarily paid for by her boss, Viv is left with nothing to do but concentrate on healing. Boredom and curiosity draw her to Fern, the rattkin (a toddler-sized talking rat) purveyor of a failing bookstore on Murk’s outskirts. In Viv, Fern sees a book lover who just doesn’t know it yet. In Fern, Viv sees a new friend in need of a helping hand. As their friendship grows, Viv looks for ways to help Fern turn her failing bookshop into a place where people actually want to be. Together, they build a community of found family and literary enthusiasm that sustains them both. But the darkness that Viv once chased lurks on the horizon. In order to protect her temporary home, Viv will need to trust in the new friends she has grown to love, even as she knows that none of it can last.
Bookshops & Bonedust is the perfect prequel to Legends & Lattes. Seeing Viv before she leaves the mercenary life for good gives fans of Travis Baldree’s cozy fantasy novel a new perspective on a beloved character. The Viv of this book is a little more rough around the edges: She hasn’t learned to love books (yet) and the sword is the only life she’s ever known. Her transformation via the powers of friendship and a good story is the soul of Bookshops & Bonedust. Baldree’s sophomore novel is comfortable in its pacing and generous with its characterization. It thrives in the “medium stakes”: danger is present in the background, but nothing ever feels so pressing that readers are legitimately worried for the characters. And since readers already know that Viv survives to retirement, Bookshops’ dark action subplot is still relatively lighthearted. The lack of real danger gives the characters freedom to explore and grow outside the context of a standard fantasy adventure story, keeping Viv and her new friends the focal point of the story.
Baldree’s novel revels in those budding (but time-limited) friendships. As in Legends & Lattes, what romance exists between Viv and her compatriots is fairly chaste and builds relatively slowly. This isn’t a book for grand gestures or dramatic declarations of love. After all, we know going into this book that Viv isn’t with any of her friends from Murk in Legends & Lattes. Instead, Bookshops & Bonedust is a gentle, relatively quiet story perfectly designed for people who love books. It’s also a great entry point for anyone who wants to start the series—just wait to read the epilogue if you don’t want spoilers for Legends & Lattes!