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Thursday, April 11, 2024

Review: Can't Spell Treason Without Tea by Rebecca Thorne

 


OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO: Rebecca Thorne is an author of all things fantasy, sci-fi, and romantic. She is a proud member of the LGBTQIA+ community, hails from sunny Arizona, and uses her ADHD as a superpower to write multiple books a year.

When she’s not writing (or avoiding writing), Rebecca can be found traveling the country as a flight attendant, hiking with her dogs, or basking in the sun like a lizard.


FORMAT/INFO: Can't Spell Treason Without Tea will be published by Bramble Romance on May 9th, 2024; it was originally self-published on September 15th, 2022. It is 352 pages and told in third person from Reyna and Kianthe's POV. It is available in paperback, ebook, and audiobook formats.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: 
After preventing yet another assassination of a queen she can't stand, Reyna's decided she's had enough. It's time to agree to what her girlfriend Kianthe, a powerful mage, has been wanting for months: to leave the palace life behind, move to a town in the middle of nowhere, and open up a tea shop. But building the shop might be the easiest part of their new adventure. For one thing, both Reyna and Kianthe have to work through some things, like finding a healthy work/life balance. For another, both of their old lives refuse to let them go, as Reyna's queen declares Reyna a traitor and Kianthe's magic pulls her to save people from danger. But they both agree that their new life is worth fighting for and they'll protect it no matter what comes their way.

Can't Spell Treason Without Tea is a charming little story, though it occasionally pushes the bounds of what is typically considered cozy fantasy. You'll find a lot of the usual tropes of cozy fantasy here, with a lot of focus on renovating a building, establishing a new shop, developing a community, and pursuing activities in life that bring you joy. I also really enjoyed the elemental magic that Kianthe wields. Her unique abilities (granted to her by her position as the Arcandor, a kind of magical protector for the entire continent), the elements respond to her needs and moods. She can grow plants, conjure a small wind to sweep, tell fire not to burn someone. Kianthe uses her gifts to intervene in major disasters, but it was also lovely to see her decorate a shop by making it thrive with plant life in a climate that isn't particularly suited for it.

But as charming as much of the book is, Can't Spell Treason Without Tea also made me grapple with what else can be included in a cozy fantasy. Can a cozy fantasy have violence? How high can the stakes get? How much friction should there be between characters?

For me personally, I find myself defining cozy fantasy as soothing, low-stress adventures, with emphasis on community and finding personal fulfillment. And with that in mind, there are a lot of boxes on my personal cozy fantasy checklist that Can't Spell Treason Without Tea hits. Reyna and Kianthe are trying to find their dream life, running a small little tea and bookshop. They build their business from the ground up, begin to connect with their new neighbors, and gradually carve out a new home.

But that journey isn't without its trials and tribulations, and it's here that the book veers a little bit from my personal "cozy" benchmark. For one, Can't Spell Treason Without Tea opens on a fairly gruesome death scene, serving as the moment that convinces Reyna once and for all that she's got to quit her current job. That violence is a one off for the book (a bandit attack later on happens completely off-page) but it was surprising for the opening move of a cozy book. Having the weight of being executed if she's ever discovered hanging over Reyna for the entire book also felt a bit much for the intended vibe.

I also found the characters themselves somewhat stress-inducing. Reyna, in particular, works herself to the bone, as she is struggling to adjust to a life where giving 110% isn't mandatory (in fact, it's frowned upon). Kianthe, on the other hand, sometimes seems oblivious to her partner's issues until it's too late, making assumptions or dismissing concerns as trivial. In fact, there were parts of the book where the characters seem to be operating on such completely different wave-lengths that I found myself wondering why they were together at all. Even if "cozy" weren't a factor, this book didn't quite convince me that the two were as head-over-heels in love with each other as they profess.

I also struggled a little bit with pacing in this one. My issue wasn't with the slower pace (which I expected from this kind of story), but with the fact that a fairly significant plot line was introduced halfway through the story that I fully thought would be resolved by the book's end. Instead, it eventually becomes clear that this is a hook for further adventures, after Reyna and Kianthe find a way to resolve their conflict with the queen.

CONCLUSION: Though a tad uneven, I still overall enjoyed my time with Can't Spell Treason Without Tea. While sometimes the story wasn't the vibe I was expecting for the genre, it was still overall a fun one to experience.  If you're a sucker for the fantasy small business trope (as I am), this story is well-worth your time.

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