Legends & Lattes

by Travis Baldree

Cover image

Series: Legends & Lattes #1
Publisher: Tor
Copyright: 2022
ISBN: 1-250-88609-0
Format: Kindle
Pages: 293

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Legends & Lattes is a sword and sorcery fantasy novel of the RPG-inspired, post-Dungeons-and-Dragons subtype. It was Travis Baldree's first novel.

Viv is an orc, the heavy muscle for a roving band of adventurers who take jobs for hire in a way familiar to any Dungeons and Dragons player. As this book opens, she's been an adventurer for twenty-two years, and she's done. Her band have defeated the Scalvert Queen and gained its hoard, but all that Viv wants is the stone in its head. With that in hand and some vague lore about how to use it, Viv leaves, rather abruptly, and heads for the city of Thune to chase a dream she's never told anyone else about.

Viv wants to start a coffee shop.

Legends & Lattes is an unapologetic comfort story. Viv doesn't entirely know what she's doing, but she has a lot of experience hiring people, negotiating, and figuring things out, and she's willing to do a lot of hard work. She's blunt and a bit rough, but she's ethical and kind, which lets her attract and retain her first two employees: a taciturn expert carpenter Viv picks out by watching people work at the docks, and a succubus she hires as a barista. From there, the story slowly turns into a found family dynamic, full of people that you like and are rooting for. There is one actual villain who shows up towards the end of the book to give it some conflict, but mostly this is the story of Viv building a small business while being a good employer and friend.

The subtitle of "a novel of high fantasy and low stakes" is therefore an excellent description. (Pedantic aside: This is "high fantasy" in the literary sense of not involving an otherwise-normal world, not "high" in the RPG sense of having less realistic, more mythic characters.) You are not going to be surprised by the outcome of the story, or even most of the events along the way. It's a book full of basically good people trying to do the right thing, largely succeeding, and building a community in the process.

If that feels relaxing and fun, you have precisely the right idea. Sometimes you want a book in which good things happen to good people, and that's exactly what Baldree delivers.

There are also a lot of specific details about explaining coffee to everyone and setting up a portion of the menu of a modern coffee shop in a fantasy world, and those parts I found less interesting. Baldree uses the handwave of gnomish machinery to import big chunks of 2020s coffee technology wholesale, which felt oddly out of step with the vaguely medieval-ish Dungeons and Dragons world. This is also one of those books where the characters independently reinvent multiple ideas that historically came from different regions and slow processes of refinement. Here it's drinks and pastries rather than major technological advances, which I guess is a little bit better, but I find this style of world-building grating.

The obligatory coffee shop cat is delightfully strange and suits the fantasy setting. I wish more of the coffee shop trappings had similar twists.

That said, everything else about the book worked for me, and the characters are thankfully more central to the book than the coffee shop trappings. I liked all of them and had no trouble rooting for them. The found family bits worked for me and the character relationships developed slowly enough to be believable but fast enough to be satisfying. Viv is refreshingly blunt, so I wasn't annoyed by communication failures. And the succubus, Tandri, is a fun, complex character and a great counterpoint to Viv.

If you're looking for something challenging or deep, this isn't the book, but if you're in the mood for a predictable comfort read, this hit the spot. Recommended.

Followed by Bookshops & Bonedust (not yet published), but Legends & Lattes is a complete story.

My edition has a novella (maybe a novelette) at the end of the short novel.

"Pages to Fill": This is a prelude to the novel, telling the story of Viv's first encounter with a coffee shop and the point where she made the decision to stop adventuring. That's not the main plot of the story, though. She and her team are pursuing a shapeshifting thief, which leads to Viv having some unexpected reactions.

This was fairly slight and predictable, but once you've read the novel, it's fun to see how the story began. The best part is seeing more of Gallina, the gnome who was by far my favorite of Viv's old team. (6)

Rating: 8 out of 10

Reviewed: 2023-07-17

Last spun 2023-12-23 from thread modified 2023-08-05