Viv is tired of the mercenary lifestyle. She’s undoubtedly good at it: not only does she have the intimidating, formidable build of her orc lineage, but also brains enough to pick and choose jobs and crews well. Enough that she’s still hale and flush, at any rate. But still: she finds herself bored, wishing for other things. And so, after one last job, she simply quits. Leaving behind the wild frontiers for the comforts of the city, she plans to open a shop serving one of the strangest, most pleasurable drinks she has come across in her adventures: coffee.
In an exhaustive piece about the publishing process, author Travis Baldree wrote about some of the themes he wanted to explore in his debut novel:
You aren’t stuck doing what you’ve always done. It’s never too late to start again. People are as important to your life as what you decide to do. It’s valuable (and sometimes very hard) to make room in your life for things that aren’t work. People are at heart good, often when you least expect it.
The result would be Legends & Lattes, a kind and compassionate story about starting over; about building peace and purpose; and about finding your family. A novel that is indeed, as many other reviews suggest, the equivalent of a warm drink in the middle of a hectic day.
I loved pretty much everything about this novel: from its wonderful cozy setting (which, despite Baldree’s purposefully minimal world-building, is still immediately familiar) to the way it explores the above-mentioned themes with exceeding empathy and compassion. But it’s the characters and their interactions that truly shine. Viv is a great protagonist, confident and able but still haunted by bouts of worry and apprehension. Tandri is a refreshing take on the succubus, their innate seductive abilities portrayed from an emotional angle rather than the standard sensual slant. Her rapport with Viv is lovely, and makes you want to see their budding romance flourish. Thimble has rightly become everyone’s favorite (he is, after all, the best), but Cal, the imperturbable hob-of-all-trades, is probably the one I’d like to hang out with the most. Even the quote unquote antagonists of the story get their due, with seemingly one-dimensional stock characters revealed to have surprising-but-welcome layers.
Things don’t have to stay as what they started out as.
Comparisons will no doubt be made to the late Terry Pratchett, that guiding light of feel-good fantasy, and while his influence is certainly evident here (the citizens of Thune would very much feel at home in Ankh-Morpork), what Baldree’s humane approach kept bringing to mind was actually the science fiction work of Becky Chambers. A Psalm for the Wild-Built, her meditative ode to slow living (and a book I’ve not stopped thinking/talking about ever since I first read it around this time last year) would be the obvious choice, also being a story about new beginnings and caffeinated drinks, but Legends & Lattes bears more in common with her Wayfarers series, largely plotless books about disparate characters coming together, forming familial bonds, and just… living life.
Which isn’t to say this book is completely lacking in plot. The cover may promise a story with low stakes, but, while there is certainly no world-ending crisis to overcome, there is still drama, mostly in the form of aspects of Viv’s past resurfacing to threaten her present lifestyle. There’s a veritable action set-piece, even, full of all the tension and turmoil that entails. Again, no doomsday scenarios of which to speak, but the stakes are solidly at a medium.
But Legends & Lattes is, at its heart, a gentle, quiet, reflective story, and I will return to it for those qualities. One of my favorite reads of the year.
Glancing around, Viv decided that she was extremely proud of the shop’s interior. It felt modern and forward-thinking, but also cozy and welcoming. The combined aromas of hot cinnamon, ground coffee, and sweet cardamom intoxicated her, and as she brewed and smiled and served and chatted, a deep contentment welled up. It was a glowing warmth she’d never experienced before, and she liked it. She liked it a great deal.