Legends & Lattes
(2022) Travis Baldree, Tor, £16.99, hrdbk, 300pp, ISBN 978-1-035-00730-1
Legends and Lattes is a Fantasy book that is pretty much what the title suggests.
It is a story of what happens in Fantasyland when the battles have been fought and won. In fact, the book begins with the end of a fight. At the end of it, Viv, an orc barbarian, finds herself the recipient of the Skryling Stone, an object with power. At the end of this huge battle after a long quest, she decides to finally retire to achieve an ambition. She leaves her mercenary group, takes her life savings (and the Skryling Stone) and goes to Thune, where she buys a run-down stables, turning it into a coffee shop.
It’s a fairly straight-forward plot. This is really about mercantile capitalism, a Dragons Den kind of dream-fantasy where characters achieve their dreams through various adversities. When you shorten it down, the basic plot is about the creation of a business from humble beginnings with the introduction of a relatively new product (coffee), biscuits and ambient music to the public, making it a success. And I suspect that this may be why it is so engaging.
Of course, this not entirely possible on her own. Viv finds herself reeling in a trusted group of associates – a wary yet artistic succubus named Tandri, who is no push-over, a stalwart yet gruff hob builder named Calamity, or Cal for short, and a shy rattkin named Thimble whose mastery in the bakery is second-to-none. Hand-made biscuits and cinnamon rolls are soon added to the coffee.
All seems to happen conveniently well, although there are a few bumps along the way. Much of the story is about how Viv and her compadres cope with these challenges as they happen. There’s the local mafia to deal with, for example, and some unfinished business from Viv’s past that reappears and needs to be dealt with. There’s even a rather shy and sweet romance. Generally, all ends well.
Legends and Lattes is one of those comfortable Fantasies, where all is easy to recognise and understand. The phrase “cosy fantasy” has been bandied about with such books lately, and I can see why Legends and Lattes fits the brief. There’s little blood and gore, no naughty language and a lot of good-natured behaviour that I can see would win many readers over. The characters and situations are quickly engaging, which means that despite the book’s short-givings, there’s more to like than dislike. There’s at least one plot-hole that I saw which could have brought the book to a quick end, but really the reader becomes so willing for the characters to succeed that such issues become easily forgotten. The added attraction of good food and drink in such a benevolent setting is a difficult one for many readers to ignore. (And if you’re really interested, there’s recipes at the back of the book.)
In short, with Legends and Lattes the reader pretty much gets what they want and expect. There’s not much bite here, but a lot of charm. The point that the book left me wanting more is a sign of its winnable charisma, and the extra short story at the end of the copy I got showed me that this scenario has further potential. Unsurprisingly with such a feel-good factor, I understand that the book has been nominated for Best Novel at this year’s Nebula Awards and a second book is on the way. I can see why.
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