#309—Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree

Have you ever retired a character in HackMaster or D&D? Ever wondered what they did after their life as an adventurer? That’s the premise of Legends & Lattes, where an orc fighter has decided she’s had enough of combat and wants to try running a business in a city selling a wonderful gnomish drink she discovered during her days on the road: coffee.

You’ve probably heard of the term “cozy mystery,” a mystery novel where, you’re invested in the characters and want to see how things play out, but there isn’t exactly a lot of stress, (even though there’s been a murder). The kind of mystery you enjoy reading by a fireplace with a hot drink on cold nights.

This is the fantasy adventure version of that.

Viv is an orc warrior who wants a simpler life, but to do so she needs a bit of help, and a bit of magical assistance. That comes in the form of a rare gem taken from a Scalvert Queen she and her party slay at the start of the novel, and is the only treasure she asks for before she and her adventuring party part ways, letting them split the rest of the creature’s hoard.

Through the Scalvert’s Stone, she’s led to the town of Thune, where she buys a run down stable and converts it into a coffee shop. And well, there you go! This story is essentially her journey of getting this shop off the ground and the people she meets along the way—from a Cal the hob carpenter, a succubus server named Tandri, and a ratkin baker called Thimble.

That’s not to say it’s all smooth sailing, or just filled with the minutia of opening a store. There are threats, such as the local protection racket looking for tribute. But really, I was far more invested in seeing what they would invent next or how certain conventions we’re used to at our own coffee shops would worm their way into this world.

And you know what? It works. And it’s a reminder that not all good stories need to be about high stakes. If you’re invested in the characters and their plight, you’ll want to read more. And I did. Heck, by the end I was trying to imagine how I might turn a corner of my kitchen into a micro coffee shop.

Travis has an easy-to-read style, the kind I try to use in my own writing. Some writers have such mastery of the language that their stories are almost poetry, and I admire that, even envy it, but in my own writing I’d rather be straightforward and clear and let the story be what carries the reader away, rather than the language.

Travis does this mainly through Viv. For someone who has such a simple dream, you really do understand why it’s so important to her, and why the life she used to lead isn’t what she wants anymore.

Of course, that doesn’t mean her past is completely willing to let go of her, and that’s one of the challenges she faces throughout the book. Certain problems crop up that could easily be handled by old Viv through judicious amounts of violence. But isn’t handling things that way a slippery slope? If she really wants to have a different life, she’s going to have to find a different way to handle those problems.

Also, not all of her former adventuring team understands why she left in the first place—some even think she’s holding out on them.

The supporting characters in the book are equally engaging. From a grunting hob who’s shunned by most of the “regular” townfolk to a succubus who keeps herself covered up because of men’s expectations, to a ratkin baker who says little but you can’t help but adore because of how excited they are by their craft.

It’s no accident that these characters are all species who, in the early days of D&D, would have been enemies to smite. This story is about those on the outside finding a place to belong. They might have horns or green skin or fur, but really, it could very well be you or me in their place.

The current edition of Legends & Lattes includes a bonus short story, “Pages to Fill,” which leads up to how Viv was inspired to run a coffee shop in the first place. Also, a prequel novel came out back in November, Bookshops & Bonedust, where an injured Viv is forced to take some R&R in a beachside town’s bookshop.

Ultimately, this is a breezy story about finding happiness, contentment, and fulfilment in life. The path to such things might not always be smooth, but it is always worth striving for.

Who wouldn’t want to cozy up to a story like that?

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