What Do I Know About Books? Legends and Lattes
Reaching out across the geeky-verse and looking at a book today. I recently finished up Legends and Lattes by Travis Baldree, and I wanted to take some time to look at this book. The sub-title of this is A Novel of High Fantasy and Low Stakes.
I saw this novel pop up a few places on my timeline on RPG Twitter. I wanted to pick it up, but I don’t read a lot of eBooks or actual books. Once the audiobook was available, I wanted to follow up on my previous interest.
The book is available in physical form, eBook, and audiobook form. This review is based on the audiobook. In this instance, the author reads the audiobook. Had I poked around a bit when I first saw this book, I could have guessed it would hit audiobook format, as the author has also been the narrator for a good number of audiobooks. The paperback is 316 pages, and the audiobook is six hours and 21 minutes.
There is some general danger that various characters find themselves in, but there isn’t much in the way of graphic violence, with the exception of one early scene, which involves harvesting monster bits. There are also some instances of people making assumptions about people due to their ancestry.
Why Visit Legends and Lattes?
From some of my favorite fantasy stories, and some of my favorite fantasy RPG setting materials, I have absorbed a love of “adventurers as a codified part of a culture.” In other words, people form adventuring companies to take jobs and explore ruins, and common folk know that some people have “adventurer” as a job description.
What I like about this kind of setting assumption is that it opens a whole host of storytelling elements that go beyond the standard fantasy tropes. People have stories they tell about adventurers. It’s a logical thing to look to hire adventurers to solve problems. Adventurers retire and pass on their knowledge. Adventurers end up with rival adventurers. In other words, we don’t just hear about “adventurer takes a job or explores a place and tries to get rich,” we hear about where they live, locations they frequent, and hints of other adventurer’s deeds.
While I picked up a lot of my love for these tropes from the Fritz Lieber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories and from the Forgotten Realms, I want to make it clear that Legends and Lattes isn’t quite like those stories, but it is the kind of story that could happen in settings with similar assumptions.
Without getting into too many spoilers, this book is about Viv, an orc warrior who is looking to retire. She’s good at performing violence, but it’s taken its toll on her, and she wants to get out of the adventuring business. After “one last job,” she sets off to the city to open a business where she can live a peaceful life, deriving satisfaction from performing a service for the community and making enough coin to get by.
From a fantasy story standpoint, dwarves, elves, orcs, gnomes, hobs, and demon-blooded sapient beings populate the world. In most cases, people have mild assumptions about these individual ancestries, although this varies. Viv intimidates people, although that’s as much due to her size and powerful build as from the fact that she’s an orc. People make assumptions about one of Viv’s eventual friends due to their ancestry as well. This is done with a light touch, and general subverted quickly in most cases.
In a bit of a twist from the standard “retired adventurer” trope, Viv’s business is a coffee shop. I think this is probably a good time to point out that there are a lot of somewhat amusing things that are played generally straight. Viv is introducing people to coffee. Modern day ways of preparing coffee come up over time, as do standard foods that might be sold in a modern coffee shop. There is a bit of playfulness in how these items are introduced, for the most part, the tone is a gentle smile instead of laughing and pointing and saying “see what we did there?”
The focus is almost always squarely on Viv trying to start her new life, within the context of her relationship to former adventuring partners, customers, and some of the power groups in the city, like local criminals, the watch, and students of the local wizard’s school. Viv gets to wrestle with making new friends, managing a business, and dealing with evolving relationships over time.
This was a comfortable, smooth read. That doesn’t mean there is no tension, but the tension comes less from anything threatening the world, the city, or even lives, and more about Viv realizing who she is and being able to hang on to her dreams. I’ll be honest, I would have loved more, for example, D&D novels with lower stakes, just showing you what life looks like in a D&D style setting.
In that regard, this book does that very well. You see how different ancestries live with one another, and you see how magic exists at different levels in the core assumptions of the world. You see what life may look like for someone that just lives and works in a high fantasy city, for someone interacting with the less fantastic. The humor is subtle enough to not undermine the assumptions of the world.
Off the Menu
This isn’t a criticism, but this is very much a book for people that are fans of fantasy worlds that include all the things that happen “off screen” compared to the big quests and if you want to see ex adventurers still doing adventuring things, this won’t be for you. While the end of the book was a satisfactory ending, I wish we had a little more time spent with a particular development that happens. We can strongly assume everything comes together, but a little more of that happening on the page would have been appreciated.
Qualified Recommendation–A product with lots of positive aspects, but buyers may want to understand the context of the product and what it contains before moving it ahead of other purchases.
If you are as invested in relationships and what fantasy cities look like when they aren’t preparing adventurers to head out into adventure, or when they aren’t being threatened by dragons or demons or giants, I think this is going to be an enjoyable experience for you.
There are a few places where if you pushed the “action” button a little harder, this would shift into a more traditional fantasy story, but I think what makes it more enjoyable to me is that it doesn’t hit that button as hard as other stories might.
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