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Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree is a cozy fantasy that explores the NPC side of adventure fantasy. The narrative follows Viv, a successful barbarian-class orc mercenary who dares to ask how life could be different if she hung up her sword and brought something new to the world. Deciding to open an obscure business known as a ‘café,’ Viv relies on a magical item of good luck to lead her to the perfect location for her shop and to bring exactly the right people into her life for success.
But even magic cannot protect her newfound vocation from the vagaries of urban life or old alliances broken. Viv must resist her natural instinct to rely on her sword and her strength and learn to trust the friends she makes as she gets the hang of running a business and drumming up interest in a little-known thing called coffee.
The narrative of Legends & Lattes seeks to allow traditional fantasy races to break out of their stereotypical racial molds in the pursuit of what makes them happy, however (seemingly) unlikely. The story takes place in a medieval city populated by a variety of fantasy races like elves, dwarves, humans, gnomes, and many others, revolving around the coffee shop Viv builds out of an old, rundown livery. To aid in her own success, she buries a Scalvert’s Stone beneath the livery, where it should influence her luck in her pursuits.
Though the location Viv chooses and the people she draws to her aid prove fortunate indeed, issues of all kinds plague the fledgling shop in the form of gang threats, market obscurity, engineering breakdowns, racial stereotyping, blossoming love, busybody neighbors, and freeloading college students. As the Scalvert’s Stone comes under threat of theft, Viv must decide whether to handle the problem with a sword or diplomacy.
Viv picks up a clever hob carpenter to renovate the livery, a business-savvy succubus assistant to help her run the coffee shop, and a rattkin baker with a talent for inventing coffee-complementing pastries. Though she trusts the Scalvert’s Stone during the series of events that lead her to connect with her new business partners, Viv has a way of seeing to the heart of people and choosing them for who they are rather than for surface-level assumptions.
Her desire to transcend an orc’s traditional role in society in the pursuit of selling coffee allows her friends the freedom to transcend their own stereotypes. In return, they do the same for Viv, pushing her forward, helping her to not slide backward into the old ways she hopes to leave behind.
I dug the way that Legends & Lattes focused on letting stereotypical fantasy races breathe and become complex people, with desires and dreams beyond genre assumptions. I also enjoyed the cozy nature of the fantasy narrative, with no real sword fights, sorcery used only on a smaller scale than battle magic, and inventions that drive the medieval era forward. You know, how regular life might be in a fantasy setting for those civilians not setting off on sweeping adventures to save the entire world. All the characters make mistakes, insult each other by accident, and hurt each other’s feelings, but the narrative allows them room to immediately grow by apologizing and making up for their blunders.
The style was quick and easy to read. I found the plot slightly predictable where order of events was concerned—as I started being able to predict what would happen when in each chapter—but how those things happened and the outcomes still kept me reading. Lovers of those reimaginings of fantasy life that you see floating around as text posts from Tumblr are sure to enjoy reading Legends & Lattes. As is anyone who just wants to read about coffee shop life in a fantasy setting.
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