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Legends and Lattes by Travis Baldree

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Legends & Lattes

by Travis Baldree
June 7, 2022 · Tor
Science Fiction/Fantasy

Friends, I have to tell you that Legends and Lattes is absolutely, utterly delightful. It was as comforting as the coffeehouse setting that the protagonist attempts to create. It’s a cinnamon roll of a book which, by the way, contains actual cinnamon rolls. I am in love.

Our tale begins with our main character, an orc named Viv, seizing a magical thingamajig that brings luck. She promptly quits her life of breaking heads open for pay and sets out to find a town in which to build her heart’s desire – a coffee shop. Viv settles in the city of Thune, where no one seems to know what coffee is. However, with the help of a carpenter named Cal, an assistant named Tandri, and a baker named Thimble, Viv sets about transforming her life from mercenary violence to peace and pastries.

We follow Viv step-by-step as she refurbishes an old livery stable and gradually adds features of a modern independent coffee house, right down to the university student who studies for hours without buying anything. If you feel a deep sense of satisfaction when you watch home improvement shows, or if you love renovation romance novels, you will be so, so deeply satisfied with every new development.

This is also going to delight fans of found family tropes. Viv is an orc, Cal is a hob, Tandri is a succubus, and Thimble is a rattkin. All of them are used to being judged based on their appearances. The coffee shop allows all of them to create new lives for themselves. It’s heartwarming to see them gradually build close friendships, and I love that this happens in parallel with the coffee shop becoming a place where the neighborhood can come together and enjoy being a real community.

None of this would work if the characters didn’t feel solid and real. I became deeply attached to them very quickly. Yes, there is a romance, and yes, it’s great. It doesn’t feel wedged in or impulsive – it’s just a natural progression of the relationship that two characters have been building all along.

Allow me a digression. Fantasy author Jim C. Hines published his very first novel, written in college and titled Rise of the Spider Goddess in an annotated form. It’s a selfless, hilarious, and fabulous writing class, as he points out every single thing wrong with his book, and there are many, many wrong things. One thing he pointed out that has stuck with me is that in some fantasy novels, including Rise of the Spider Goddess, the world begins and ends at the edges of whatever the characters are doing and/or seeing. Hines uses the work of Tolkien as a contrast. In Tolkien, one never doubts that all kinds of stories have, are, and are going to, take place far beyond anything the reader comes into contact with. Middle Earth feels lived in, even for those of us who don’t read the appendices. We believe that “the road goes on and on,” even when the characters don’t go all the way down it.

I’m not saying that the author of Legends and Lattes, Travis Baldree, is the next Tolkien, because, among other things, this is a small scale story as opposed to Tolkien’s expansive work. As the author puts it, it is a “Novel of High Fantasy and Low Stakes.” Also, it’s a tribute to fantasy tropes, not an invention of them. However, the author is very good at making the world of the characters feel real and expansive. I never doubted the reality of this world, one in which hard work and relationship building plays a much larger role in getting things done than magic, even though magic is everywhere. Likewise, even though I never got to see much of Viv’s relationships with her old raiding party, I believed in those relationships.

The author has also been compared to my beloved Terry Pratchett, may he rest in peace. The humor is more rare and more subtle, but he shares with Pratchett a warm and optimistic tone. Bad things happen in this story, but there’s an overall sense that people want to be decent most of the time, and that crime pays, but not always in the currency one might desire. Mostly, the idea of beginning the story after the main character is done adventuring, and sticking to that is really innovative and comforting.

Some readers might be disappointed by the relative lack of plot in this book, although there is a smattering of action and a lot of headaches for Viv involving the local crime boss. However, this was exactly the comfort read that I needed. It’s as sweet and warming as a latte (which is described on the menu as “a sophisticated and creamy variation [on coffee].” If you are in the mood for a comfort read in which decent people do homey things, and you don’t mind being hungry while you read (those cinnamon rolls!!!) then this is the book for you.

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