Review: Legends & Lattes, by Travis Baldree
eagle at eyrie.org
Mon Jul 17 21:35:41 PDT 2023
Legends & Lattes
by Travis Baldree
Series: Legends & Lattes #1
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 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
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
"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
Russ Allbery (eagle at eyrie.org) <https://www.eyrie.org/~eagle/>
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