Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Legends & Lattes

Legends & Lattes
by Travis Baldree
Recommended Ages: 14+

Viv is an orc who has decided to hang up her sword, retire from slaying monsters and plundering crypts, and settle down for a change. It turns out that starting the first coffeeshop ever in the city of Thune might be fraught with danger and adventure. For one thing, a local gang known as the Madrigal has their hearts set on enlisting Viv as a client in their protection racket, but she hates the idea even though everyone says they'll make her pay one way or another. For another thing, one of her former questing partners is miffed about her sudden resignation, and has a suspicion about the secret Viv has buried under a flagstone in the middle of the painstakingly remodeled stable where she plans to set up shop. And then, of course, there's the whole question of whether she can cultivate a taste for coffee in the people of Thune before she runs out of money.

The real threat that keeps Viv, and the reader, in suspense is that she might have to take that sword down off the wall after all, when she knows, her friends know and you know darn well that if she does, the happy ending she has allowed herself to dream of and hope for has failed. Short of that, it's hard to see a way through without busting some heads. But lucky for Viv, she has some friends, including other members of her former crew as well as a diverse group of creatures she has gathered around her in Thune, like a found family. There's a succubus who is willing to try being a barista without even knowing what one is. There's a hobgoblin with a knack for using tools. There's a gnome who makes delicious baked treats. And there's a mild Adult Content Advisory for those of you who don't particularly care for same-sex romantic subplots.

This is emphatically not the sort of fantasy-world adventure that majors in cleaving skulls, hewing limbs and opening up gushers of arterial blood – though it has a tiny bit of that sort of thing – so if that's what you're looking for in a book focusing on orcs, goblins and whatnot, you may want to shop elsewhere. If you are intrigued by the question of what happens when a battle-scarred orc decides to retire and open a cafe, you'll be charmed. All the hard work of Viv and friends creates a sense of comfort, of home, and of being invested in the enterprise's success that you, as a reader, share. And a crisis does come that will shake you up. It's not about vast hoards of gold and jewels, or spooky dungeons, or thrilling combats, or calamities poised to undo the world and the heroic deeds needed to prevent them. It's just a little tale about a coffeeshop opening in a neighborhood that's no sketchier than it needs to be, with some sociocultural challenges to work through and, you know, a maguffin believed (perhaps inaccurately) to bestow on you the fortune that you desire.

This seems to be the kind of book that an AD&D dungeon master might create in the aftermath of an epic roleplay campaign, not so much based on the quest itself but a clever idea of what might happen to some of the adventurers afterward. Washington state-based author Travis Baldree is a sometime game developer (Torchlight, etc.) and audiobook narrator who describes this book as a "low-stakes cozy fantasy novel." It's actually his debut novel, and it has a sequel, Bookshops & Bonedust, coming out in November 2023. This book also features a bonus short story, "Pages to Fill," as sort of a prequel to the main event.

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