High Fantasy with a double-shot of self-reinvention
Worn out after decades of packing steel and raising hell, Viv the orc barbarian cashes out of the warrior’s life with one final score. A forgotten legend, a fabled artifact, and an unreasonable amount of hope lead her to the streets of Thune, where she plans to open the first coffee shop the city has ever seen.
However, her dreams of a fresh start pulling shots instead of swinging swords are hardly a sure bet. Old frenemies and Thune’s shady underbelly may just upset her plans. To finally build something that will last, Viv will need some new partners and a different kind of resolve.
A hot cup of fantasy slice-of-life with a dollop of romantic froth.
Travis Baldree has some interesting projects to his name. To begin with, he is a game dev veteran of Torchlight, Fate, and Rebel Galaxy, and in 2017 he began narrating audiobooks. He’s perhaps most well-known for his work on Will Wight’s Cradle series. Then in 2021, he took part in NaNoWriMo and somehow in less than 3 months got his edits done and whatever else needs doing to send a young novel out into the world and that novel is, of course, Legends & Lattes. Of course, the book was published through indie publisher Cryptid Press so I presume he had some help there but still, colour me impressed. This is a wonderful little book.
I saw Legends & Lattes floating around my Twitter feed a fair bit in late January. I follow a lot of TTRPG nerds, bookworms, and video gamers so there is a lot of crossover interest in a book advertised as a “cozy fantasy novel about an orc barbarian-ess who retires to open a coffee shop”, alongside that absolutely beautiful cover art. I immediately knew I had to keep my eye out. The thing is, come 22nd February I was between books and whoopsadaisy, my finger slipped. Usually, I like to wait for reviews to come around when I’m purchasing so I can make a judgement but I couldn’t resist. The world needs a “cozy fantasy” genre and I had to check this out.
Oh my god, you guys, this book is actually the feeling of drinking a nice hot beverage (shall we say… coffee?) on a rainy day. Relaxing and blissful. Most of the novel is literally just about building Viv’s coffee shop, a quirky Gnomish thing that most of this world has no idea about, making new friends in this new city after hanging up her adventuring sword (literally), and growing the business. And somehow it’s lovely. Yes, I usually like a little more action in my books but sometimes a little banter between an Orc Barbarian lady and her new Hob friend as they turn an abandoned livery into a coffee shop is just what you need.
The entire cast of characters, too, are an absolute delight. Viv herself is nervous about this new venture, after hacking and slashing her way through dungeons and monsters for years, and she takes a few magical precautions to help her along. She doesn’t exactly believe in herself, but she certainly believes in the idea and that draws some wonderful people to her. First off, Cal, the Hob who helps her build up the shop. He is so willing to help, and while he comes off a little wary at first, he’s really taken by Viv’s drive and I always smiled when he entered the scene. Then we meet Tandri, a sweater-wearing succubus who longs to live her life without the reputation of her ancestry constantly following her around. She is an excellent business partner and seems to understand exactly what the coffee shop needs. Her and Viv’s friendship is so lovely too. I may have liked to see a little more growth between them but I think what we do get is really sweet. There are other people Viv ends up befriending as well, some fantastic regulars, including a massive smoky dire cat who turns up exactly when she wants to.
Don’t assume there is absolutely nothing happening within Legends & Latte, however. Yes, the stakes are low and it maintains its cosy feeling from beginning to end, there are a couple of threats Viv and her friends need to deal with and by the end of the story, they have. I really enjoyed getting a little look into this new fantasy world and how the city of Thune works, so much so I’d love to see more of it. Heck, I’d love to get an epic fantasy adventure within this world! Or perhaps, more cosy fantasy books in different areas. I think Travis has a great talent on his hands for worldbuilding and storytelling and I’d love to see what else he can do!
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