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Tea for Two

Can’t Spell Treason Without Tea  (Tomes & Tea, volume 1)

By Rebecca Thorne 

16 Apr, 2024

Miscellaneous Reviews


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2024’s Can't Spell Treason Without Tea is the first volume in Rebecca Thorne’s Tomes & Tea cozy fantasy series.

When cruel Queen Tilane off-handedly puts Reyna’s life at risk, the bodyguard decides she has had enough of Tilane’s ways. Reyna packs her meagre belongings and flees the castle. No more guarding an evil, vindictive tyrant. Instead, Reyna and her powerful magical girlfriend Kianthe will open a combination book and tea shop.

As far as the queen is concerned, leaving her employ is treason. The penalty for treason is death.

Reyna and Kianthe flee to Tawney, a small town they hope is sufficiently far from Tilane to forestall the queen’s inevitable revenge. The attraction? An abandoned building known to be a sometime bandit hideout, one that Reyna believes will be easy to commandeer.

Prudently believing that simply appropriating the building could attract attention a fugitive like Reyna should avoid, the pair make sure to secure the permission of the local authorities. They discover that the town’s governance is a matter of dispute: both Lord Wylan and Diarn Feo claim rule. Solution? The two women get the necessary documents from both men.

There are many obvious challenges to owning and operating a tea/bookstore in Tawney. There’s the matter of a possible civil war between Wylan (whose family claims generations of rule) and Feo (who isn’t actually from Tawney but claims a cultural connection). There are the periodic dragon attacks, about which ranting iconoclast Feo has an explanation that conveniently places blame on Wylan’s family. Neither woman has retail experience. Kianthe is the Arcandor, Mage of Ages, a position that has considerable responsibilities that will take her away from Tawney. Any of these problems could doom the store.

None of the above may matter. As previously established, the queen’s intelligence network extends as far Tawney. It won’t take long before heavily armed soldiers show up to arrest Reyna and haul her off for what passes as justice under the evil and cruel Queen Tilane.


I feel like I am going to spend a couple of hundred words kicking someone’s puppy. People eagerly awaiting this book should just assume I wrote “not my thing” two hundred times and stop reading now.

Some readers may expect that this novel owes a lot to Travis Baldree’s Legends & Lattes, if only for establishing that there is a viable market for cozy fantasy. Also, the publisher takes care to compare L&L to Tea on Tea’s cover.

While there are similarities, there are also differences: instead of serving coffee, this shop serves tea. The side venture is not pastries but books. L&L’s protagonist was a murder hobo tired of endless violence; Tea’s protagonist is a bodyguard with a fixed address who is tired of endless violence. The girlfriend isn’t a low-status succubus chafing at social expectations, but a high-status powerful mage chafing at social expectations. L&L has no analog of the queen1.

As a quick scan of my bookshelves proves, I don’t particularly mind subgenres that embrace narrow constraints. I enjoyed all of the detective books I read about divorced or widowed women leaving their big city careers behind to move to a small town where they embraced some sort of small-scale entrepreneurship, found a new and better SO, adopted or fostered a kid, while solving murders on the side. Even very specific formulas leave a lot of room for variation.

What kept kicking me out of the story were worldbuilding choices that left me scratching my head2.

For one thing, none of the characters seemed to be products of this society; they are 21st century people inexplicably stranded in a feudal society.

I could not understand why the side venture is books, given that it is a plot point that the technologically backward realm of the queen has not adopted printing presses. Where did Reyna think she would acquire books to sell? To whom did she expect to sell them?

What is plausible is that Reyna and Kianthe would jump into entrepreneurship without doing the most rudimentary market research. Lots of people do that, particularly where passion projects are involved.

In addition to the entrepreneural realism, I applaud the depiction of absolute monarchy in this novel. Come the revolution!

Readers who are not obligate grinches will be pleased to know the plot establishes numerous conflicts, but does not really resolve them. Fodder for volume two. Good news for the readers to whom this novel is pitched.

Can’t Spell Treason Without Tea is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Apple Books), here (Barnes & Noble), here (Chapters-Indigo), and here (Words Worth Books).

1: Both books feature many bandits, but then, banditry is a common feature in secondary-universe fantasy settings.

2: “Why did they not run farther than Tawney?” was one question that was satisfactorily resolved. Tawney is the point at which fugitives’ exhaustion exceeds their fear of the Queen. Reyna is not the first fugitive to make the town her home.