The Bookshop and the Barbarian is a sweet, funny fantasy/romance story.
It’s advertised as “cozy” and it is.
It’s pure comfort and whimsy with a happy ending for all.
Even the villain has a cozy side.
So, if you like cozy stories then curl yourself up with a cup of tea and enjoy.
If not, feel free to take a drink every time I type the word “cozy.”
Maribella Waters rides into the town of Leafhaven on the back of a pig wagon and buys the CozyQuill. In short order she has hired an enormously tall warrior named Asteria to rid the store of its squatters.
In the ensuing scenes, they clean up and fix up the bookstore, wisely refusing to open doors that say “DO NOT OPEN” and making the more hospitable parts of the bookstore…wait for it…cozy [take two shots for this paragraph, if that’s a thing you’re doing].
In the meantime they become acquainted with the charming and quirky townspeople, who throw so many festivals that this book is a perfect read for pretty much any seasonal holiday. There’s a lot of food so prepare to be hungry.
Maribella and Asteria fall in love, but fate seems intent on keeping them apart, while the vile Lady Malicent (no relation to Maleficent of Disney fame) is intent on seizing the bookstore by way of bureaucracy. However, readers, whether drunk on shots or on a kind of cozy [yes, I know, go ahead] sympathy, will be confident that fate and paperwork will work itself out in a satisfactory manner, and while I hesitate to provide spoilers I will point out that anything that is cozy [sigh] for so many pages is unlikely to become grimdark at the last minute.
Whether or not you care for this book will depend on whether you enjoy the coziness or find it cloying, and how you feel about the humor.
I very much enjoyed the cozy [shot] atmosphere. However, I did find that the book lacked urgency. Yes, there were obstacles to Maribella and Asteria’s happiness, but I was so confident that they would be satisfactorily resolved that I would read a chapter, wander off and read a bunch of other things, and then dip in again for a quick fix.
There’s no on-page sex, there’s no blood, and the violence is limited to some banging noises. This is an observation, not a complaint. There’s a little bit of angst and conflict when Fate seems about to mess everything up but everytime characters start to feel sad they eat something and read another book and then they feel better, a strategy which often works for me as well.
The humor is of the meta variety – think Terry Pratchett (author of the Discworld novels) or The Princess Bride. I enjoyed it, but this style of humor has been done before, and done better (see: Discworld and Princess Bride). I enjoyed the humor the most when it involved people doing remarkably and unexpectedly sensible things. The humor is broad and kind of cheesy but I myself am fond of broad and cheesy humor so it worked for me.
This book is one I’d describe as “slight.” It’s quite silly, and the characters are not complex or deeply developed, and I expected to enjoy it and forget it.
However, over the last week, the cozy [you can pass out now] atmosphere of the book stayed with me. I’ve found it comforting to think about the bookshop and its inhabitants in moments of stress, which have been plentiful.
If you have been drinking your way through this review, I recommend hydrating yourself and going straight to bed. If not, then enjoy this cozy…
…warm-hearted, completely unbelievable in every way yet weirdly satisfying story.