Review: Legends and Lattes - Travis Baldree
Genre: Cozy Fantasy
Published: Tor, November 2022 originally self-published by the author, February 2022
My Rating: 3/5 stars
I feel like I’m one out of 6 other people in the world who hasn’t given this book 5 stars, and in doing so I might as well tattoo “I hate fun” on my forehead. I understand the appeal and I’m cheering on the genre of cozy fantasy as much as anybody else. Yet low stakes in high fantasy does not mean a low bar for a successful story.
What I liked:
The concept of Legends and Lattes is cozy fantasy in its purest form. If you’ve ever wondered what your Dungeons and Dragons characters are doing in their down-time between adventuring; this book offers a little glimpse into that reality. Viv is an Orc Barbarian who, after a final brutal quest, finds she has had enough of her warriors life. With the pocketed bounty of her final raid and settles down in the town of Thune to pursue her secret dream; opening a coffee-shop. From there, we follow her new low-stakes life, where adventure-maps are replaced by chalk-board menu’ and the biggest quest is for an oven large enough to bake enough cinnamon rolls.
Along the way, Viv gathers a posse of delightful characters to help her run her shop, from a sapphic succubus-barista to a rat with an extraordinary talent for baking (make sure that Pixar doesn’t come for that copy-right there, Travis!). As a concept, especially for a short palette-cleanser for high fantasy readers, I think it’s great. The execution was just so, so basic.
What I didn’t like:
This book was just okay; it doesn’t do anything wrong, but doesn’t quite nail any of its elements either. The plot is virtually non-existent; we see Viv going through her days, adjusting the menu (which I didn’t’ need repeated to me each and every chapter…) and coming up with new inventions to improve shop (think the fantasy-version of a gnomisch-espresso-machine or a ceiling fan). Although I was expecting low stakes, I was expecting some element of story, and therefore conflict of some kind. We get none: every challenge Viv faces is overcome with way too much ease there is no discernable arc or tension and the “message” behind it is wafer-thin. Because of that, any character-development feels unearned. The characters themselves feel very shallow, having their main characteristic being their fantasy-race and the fact that they’re “nice-despite-looking-tough”. Their interactions remain very superficial and loyalties are never tested. The title of “found-family” doesn’t feel earned to me, as the book doesn’t succeed to establish that level of connection between these characters; there’s basic co-worker interaction, and then a romance falls out of thin air. I really need more on-page chemistry or supporting each other through challenges to call something a found fantasy.
Finally, I want to address this books origins as a self-published NaNoWriMo project. One of the biggest traps of writing on a system of words-per-day is creating very many words and very little story. This clearly happened here too. Loads of elaborate descriptions of mundane events, repetitive sentences and passages that could’ve been cut without losing any content. I’m rooting for the authors success, but I do feel an extra round of editing, maybe even to short-story length, would’ve made his writing a lot better.
Overall: a nice palette cleanser as a “side-quest” to break your high-fantasy journey, but don’t expect anything more than that. I had a fun time but this live up to the 5-star hype for me.