We’re back, baby! One successful Kickstarter later and we are looking at Threadbare’s sequel, Sew You Want To Be A Hero. Like all of these reviews (so far) I’m reading this blind, with no idea whether it’s going to be great or terrible. Unlike the previous ones, this is book two of a series. The previous installment, Stuff and Nonsense, was a rollercoaster of really good and really terrible chapters. We’ll see if the sequel keeps ricocheting around or if it breaks one way or another.
When last we left our hero, the animate teddy bear Threadbare, he had just emerged from the overgrown remains of his home after spending five years regenerating from an otherwise fatal wound. He picked up that wound in a short-lived attempt to protect Celia, his little girl, from the nefarious evil king Melos. In a shocking reveal that has no impact whatsoever on the stakes, context, or balance of the conflict, Melos turns out to be Celia’s father, and his sinister demonic ally Anise was Celia’s mother all along (she used to be human – you can turn corpses into demons in this setting).
According to the status screen Threadbare popped up after finishing his regeneration, that was five years ago. Celia was abducted by Melos at the age of eleven, so by now is quite possibly some kind of evil Sith apprentice. As much as Threadbare’s middle dragged on without a plot, that ending was actually a fairly compelling inciting incident (which isn’t supposed to go at the end of a book, but better late than never), and I’m excited to see what happens next – although admittedly, also nervous that we’re going to have to wait until the end of the book for a single significant plot development.
This book begins with a lot of recap of basic concepts like this:
Your tailoring skill is now level 37!
He watched the words roll past with long familiarity, by now. They came up whenever he did something well enough to improve himself. They did that for everyone.
A lot of book series’ do this. It makes a certain amount of sense for things written in 1997, especially for children or young adults, who might plausibly be limited to what their local library happens to stock. If book one of a series was never returned, they might have to dive in starting from book two, and need some catch-up on concepts familiar to people who already read the first one. Even adults with disposable income sufficient to buy $7.99 softbacks on a regular basis might not catch book one of a series while it’s still on shelves and have to start from book two when the book store staff recommends it to them.
It’s not 1997, though, and Threadbare knows it. It’s published exclusively through Amazon, which stocks all three books from now until Jeff Bezos gets drawn and quartered by communist revolutionaries. There is no reason to catch people up on what happened in book one, because we can be very confident that they read book one before book two. Doubly weird, I looked up the Royal Road version and the exact same sentences appear there.
Threadbare doesn’t bog itself down with re-explanation, though. New stuff does also happen. Threadbare makes himself an apron to carry his tailor’s tools so he’ll be able to repair himself on his adventures, and he also tries to bust out some necromancy now that he can talk:
His creator was dead, these five years. Threadbare had lost what was essentially his father, even if they’d never spoken a word to each other. Not that the little bear could talk back then.
“But I can talk now,” he said, in his small, soft voice, and paused as an idea grabbed his mind and wouldn’t let go.
Didn’t he have a spell for this?
“Status,” he said, and nodded in satisfaction. Why yes, yes he did! “Speak with Dead,” he chanted, and the air seemed to shift, shift and dance. Everything seemed to go stark monotone, the light got brighter and the shadows turned solid black. “Caradon? Are you there?” he asked.
I’m not being snarky, either. I mean, I am in general, but not right this instant. Establishing that Speak With Dead has limits isn’t a waste of space, even if it’s not entirely clear why Caradon isn’t responding (it’s implied that it might be because he’s been dead for too long, or because his spirit has decided to pass on rather than lingering – although given the circumstances of his death, I’d expect Caradon’s ghost to be angry as Hell).
Just before he was about to go out, his nose caught one more thing… the familiar smell of the laundry soap that Celia and her father, Caradon, used to do the wash with. It was a good smell, and one that reminded him of good times, so he hunted around until he found a few pinches of the spilled soap powder and tucked it into an apron pocket. If he got glum he could wash with it later, and it might make him feel better.
Ordinarily I avoid quoting anything that doesn’t either demand commentary or else establish a plot point or character beat or something else that’s going to be necessary for people who haven’t read the book to follow along. This paragraph leapt out as so obviously foreshadowing some future use of the soap, though, that I’m going to go ahead and stick it in.
Now that Threadbare can cast spells, he decides he’s gonna power level them by casting something low cost every time his various juice pools top themselves off:
The things he settled on were Flex, which was a simple model trick that used stamina; Self-esteem, a similar model trick that used moxie; and Animus, which he well remembered. His little girl had used it quite a lot, back before times got bad, and it was a spell that used sanity.
This way, he’s never far below maximum, but can still put some levels into skills he might need later. It’s nice to see characters trying to optimize themselves like this, because it’s what people who actually live in a LitRPG world would do. Some LitRPGs are either too oblivious to notice the possibility or else intentionally avoid it because in an actual video game this kind of behavior would be weird and dissonant to the fantasy story the system is trying to emulate. We’re not in an actual video game, though. Leveling stats is the fantasy story this genre is trying to emulate, and Threadbare’s making the right move by emulating it.
I also want to point out, though, that Threadbare is referring to the times when Celia used Animus to create a hit squad of stuffed animals to defend herself from homicidal monsters as “before times got bad.” This world is fucked.
Threadbare started walking. Now if the skill description was right, he should be able to mentally command the scissors. He called them to follow.
They tried. To their credit, they tried, squirming and clacking across the ground awkwardly. But they didn’t have limbs, or anything else good for walking or even crawling.
No wonder Celia used plush toys, Threadbare thought, and bowed his head at the memory. Good times then. Good times gone.
Threadbare’s really doubling down on this whole “things were so good when an eleven year old was defending herself from murderous eagle monsters” thing. Celia nearly died twice before “times got bad.”
It’s neat to see some limits established on all of Threadbare’s new magic tricks, though. Animating something without limbs won’t allow it to fly around, or even use pointy bits as though they were limbs. The scissors can’t walk on their blades.
He could smile now, he just realized. Having a flexible mouth opened up so many possibilities.
If he’d been a bit less innocent and more worldly, that thought would have probably sent his mind into some rather bawdy places. But he was a golem, and didn’t have any particular urges that way anyway, so the connection went unmade. Which was probably for the best, all things considered.
The second paragraph in this quote should’ve been cut. If Threadbare’s not making that connection, the narrative shouldn’t be, either. That’s not really the tone this book goes for anyway.
Threadbare begins wandering back towards Oblivion Point, the place where you can see the end of the universe where everything devolves into code. Along the way…
He got his bearings, checked his course, climbed a tree for good measure so he could sight the course he wanted to follow…
Your Climb skill is now level 9!
…and found the peak he needed. Not far from what looked like a mass of campfires.
Threadbare would have blinked if he could have. There were people out here?
He got closer, keeping his Scents and Sensibility up, keeping to the thicker parts of cover. It took an hour, but his stealth crawled up two more points as groups of chattering things crashed through the underbrush ignoring him, and his Scents and Sensibility picked up a familiar smell.
These had to be raccants.
Your Scents and Sensibility skill is now level 14!
He didn’t know why they had campfires now. But it looked like there were a lot more of them than the last time he’d been here.
So clearly these things are sapient, in that they can make fire and, as later paragraphs establish, create crude palisade fences and carry clubs. Place your bets on how long it’ll be before Threadbare flat-out murders a bunch of them for loot and XP.
He took it slow, gained another stealth level when a patrol nearly caught him, and managed to get out of their patrol radius without being detected.
Anyone who bet “immediately” is losing money.
As Threadbare continues on towards Oblivion Point, the emotional weight of recent events (well, the events of five years ago, before he went into a regenerative coma) catch up with him:
He really, really missed Celia. He wanted to go home.
But he had neither Celia nor home anymore, and after a while after the pressure left he stopped sobbing and stood back up. He flexed again, restored his self-esteem, which made him feel a bit better, and started climbing up the cliff.
He reaches Oblivion Point, the rendezvous point established for Celia and her friends five years ago. The narrative makes it clear on the way here that Threadbare always knew this was an extreme long shot, but when the half-orcs are indeed not there, he still gets hit with a renewed sense of despair. And this is sensible and compelling. His plan was always unlikely, but up until now, at least he had one. Threadbare wandering through the ruins of his old life is actually successfully plucking a few heartstrings for me. It’s striking the right balance between Threadbare being gloomy and shaking that gloom off to try and put the pieces back together.
As Threadbare is wont to do, though, it follows up this really good emotional hit with a bit of a blunder:
Predator stink filled his nose, the same predator that had marked the rock. Big and deadly, and familiar, and…
For the first time since he’d arrived, hope, that fragile thing with wings soared in his chest. He looked at the sky.
It had been so long. Would he remember Threadbare?
If you’re feeling kind of lost despite having read the previous review series, don’t worry: It’s equally confusing for people who’ve read the previous book. I was able to figure out where it was going with this “twist” before it actually hit, which just meant that the remaining couple of paragraphs before it got confirmed were pretty much just spinning wheels and waiting for the text to own up to it already. It reminds me strongly of the “Anise is Amelia” “twist” from the last book. Threadbare’s not a thriller. It doesn’t need twists, and it frequently suffers horribly from holding in reserve important information that could be used to make character actions compelling as they happen rather than only in retrospect.
Anyway, it’s Pulsivar. Pulsivar’s the local apex predator now, because he has apparently gotten super badass since his house burned down. Threadbare putting together a party comprised of incidental characters from the previous book – Pulsivar, the ancap vampire, and Dark Threadbare are obvious candidates – is an awesome idea. It also gives me some confidence that, while the middle chapters of the previous book were still unable to stand on their own and that’s bad, they may have been part of a plan for the future. If there was a purpose in mind for them, that means that this book is probably not going to devolve into the same aimless meandering as the last one. If the idea behind those chapters was to put some pieces in place and the book just kind of forgot to have a plot or stakes while it was doing so, that’s at least a problem that is unlikely to affect this or the following book.
This desire to make everything a twist really takes the air out of this one, though. It would’ve been better off if, instead of that vague “oh!” of Threadbare realizing what’s up but not telling the audience, he had just been all “it’s Pulsivar!” right from the get go. Dragging out the suspense just meant that I was able to figure it out before the actual reveal, and spent the rest of the build-up waiting for the book to get on with things.
After reuniting with Pulsivar, Threadbare makes his way to the raccant’s fortified camp to rescue Dark Threadbare, who he last saw being kidnapped by them during one of the brief moments he was awake during his regeneration.
“Hello,” he said, in his soft, quiet voice. With an air cavity about the size of a pair of grapes to work with, it was barely audible, even to the relatively good hearing of the raccants. “I’m looking for Missus Fluffbear. She’s like me but black, and this big.” He put his hand at about his waist. Or where his waist would be if he had one.
This was kind of exciting, he’d never been able to talk things out before! The raccants gathered around him, poking at him curiously with clubs. He pushed one away before it could rap him on the ear. “Please can you give her back?”
Dear God, he’s actually making an attempt at diplomacy instead of slaughtering them all for XP.
The largest of the raccants, one with a pair of stars made out of wet and dirty wood on his shoulders, tied there by uneven strings, swaggered up to him and chattered something that Threadbare completely failed to understand
“I’m sorry. I don’t speak that.”
The raccant leaned over, grabbed his apron, and examined it. His wooden mask, which looked like a fat-cheeked blunt-nosed fuzzy thing, read “HMSTR,” and it was very close to Threadbare’s face.
“Yes, that is my apron.”
Threadbare is so much better at being a protagonist than Celia. Which is a shame, because there’s no reason Celia couldn’t have been a good protagonist. One of the things Threadbare has going for him is that he is (at this point) a deceptively powerful twelve-inch teddy bear, and Celia could’ve done the same thing as an eleven-year old child. She just had really stilted dialogue and lacked any clear goals. I had some concerns that once Threadbare could talk he’d inherit the dialogue issues from Celia, but he seems to be doing good so far.
The raccant plucked the scissors out of their sheath, and started picking out the other tools and items, handing them back to his subordinates. Threadbare, with a strength that surprised the big raccant, yanked his apron back and smoothed it.
“No,” the little bear said.
Instantly the raccants closed ranks, pointing with sharp sticks and brandishing clubs. Threadbare shook his head.
Well, he’d tried.
Just in case anyone was worried this wasn’t going to end in murder. The narrative’s not wrong, though: Threadbare tried, which is a huge improvement over the first book’s treatment of these (apparently sapient!) creatures as pinatas full of XP and blood.
The fight is not very good. It relies on detached summary, as Threadbare fights sometimes do. After it wraps up, Threadbare pokes around his skills a bit, preparing to search for Dark Threadbare, and enters into the raccants’ dungeon, which brings the chapter to a close.
On the one hand, this chapter was mostly pretty good. On the other hand, Stuff and Nonsense also had a plenty strong start, and look where that ended up.