Cover for Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree

Worn out after decades of packing steel and raising hell, Viv the orc barbarian cashes out of the warrior’s life with one final score. A forgotten legend, a fabled artifact, and an unreasonable amount of hope lead her to the streets of Thune, where she plans to open the first coffee shop the city has ever seen.

However, her dreams of a fresh start pulling shots instead of swinging swords are hardly a sure bet. Old frenemies and Thune’s shady underbelly may just upset her plans. To finally build something that will last, Viv will need some new partners and a different kind of resolve.

A hot cup of fantasy slice-of-life with a dollop of romantic froth.

Anyone who knows my wife knows she’s, well, calling her a ravenous reader is doing a disservice to her book consumption habit. Books being such a central passion in her life, I’m always asking her what she’s reading, what she’s read, what she liked, and what she didn’t, and so it was that at some point she told me about this book she loved by an audiobook narrator that she really likes: Legends & Lattes.

So, I will absolute profess to some initial skepticism. I’ve long been a fantasy reader, having initially cut my teeth on pulp horror from the likes of Stephen King and Dean Koontz before taking a hard turn to David Eddings and Robert Jordon. So I’m far from unfamiliar with the genre. But I’ll freely admit that a fantasy book about an Orc opening a coffee shop seemed… a bit far fetched?

In hindsight this was, honestly, a pretty dumb assumption on my part. Terry Pratchett made an entire career out of building a fantasy world (Discworld) in which books are centered around the invention of modern contrivances (paper money, movies, the telegraph, etc). Why not a coffee shop?

Well, as the year was winding down I ran across a book recommendations post on Hacker News and decided to poke around, and I’ll be damned if Legends & Lattes didn’t earn a mention! I relayed my surprise to my wife, and she offered to re-listen to the book with me on our anniversary vacation1, and you know what? It was great!

On it’s face Legends & Lattes follows a pretty classic formula: our hero, Viv, has decided she’s done with her life of violence as a member of a band of mercenaries and wants to retire. Having previously encountered Gnomish coffee during one of her adventures, she has a dream: to set up her own coffee shop in the town of Thune, a place where coffee is completely unknown (except among the occasional Gnomish immigrant). As she pursues her dream she draws a cast of characters around her and, together, through various ups and some serious downs, Viv’s coffee shop is ultimately a success.

Sounds pretty straight forward, right?

But when you look past the surface there’s some real heart and depth to this story. Viv, an enormous Orc with muscles and reflexes trained through years of combat, stands out wherever she goes. Yet, despite that intimidating exterior, she is kind and sensitive, with a dream of creating a place that’s cozy and inviting and creates joy and a sense of community. She is, in short, a misunderstood misfit. As she says:

“…I don’t really know what I’m doing.” She hooked a thumb at the greatsword on the wall. “This is what I know, what I’ve always known. I just want to know something else, now. To be something else.

As someone currently on sabbatical after twenty years doing the exact some thing and now looking for that “something else”, let me tell ya, I can appreciate that sentiment.

Through the course of the story, Viv pulls together a cast of characters that, themselves, are misunderstood misfits: Tandri, her succubus business partner; Cal, the hob carpenter; Thimble, the ratkin baker (and culinary genius); Pendry, the labourer-turned-Troubadour; Amity, the enormous dire-cat and shop mascot. But being a misfit herself, Viv is able to see past the surface of these people to who they really are and who they really want to be.

Importantly, Viv doesn’t jealously hold her dream tight. She shares it. And through that sharing, these people are able to realize their own dreams, and ultimately find family together.

This book is often described as “cozy” because, while our characters experience both highs and lows, Mr. Baldree refuses to put them and the reader through too much hardship. Rather, the core of the story is in the journey these characters take together. Like “Ted Lasso” or “Brooklyn 99” or “Community”, the reader is allowed to simply enjoy the trip. And, you know, sometimes that’s all you want or need. In a world that seems to prize the “gritty” story, Legends & Lattes is a breath of light, fresh air.

Earlier I mentioned Discworld, and that’s the closest touchstone I have for this book. Now, to be clear: this is not satire! However, there are definitely some parallels, here, and my feeling is if you enjoy Pratchett’s work you’ll probably enjoy this one. The Watch subseries, in particular, with its many books about accepting folks who are different–werewolves, vampires, Igors, etc–shares a lot of the same vibes.

And if you’re a foodie in general or a coffee lover in particular, be warned: you’ll probably come away with some cravings!2

Oh, and somehow I nearly forgot to mention: obviously we listened to this in audiobook form, and given Mr. Baldree is an audiobook narrator and performed this book, one shouldn’t be surprised that it was fantastic! Mr. Baldree is adept at creating unique voices for each of the characters and never failing to ensure he’s fully in character as he voices dialogue, making the audiobook incredibly charming and easy to follow. I also enjoy the natural pace of his narrating and never felt a need to speed it up or slow it down.

Finally, before you ask, yeah, I’m sure I’ll end up checking out Bookshops & Bonedust at some point when I’m looking for another nice, cozy read.

  1. Our 20th no less! Happy anniversary, love! It’s been an incredible up-and-down journey together and I know the next 20 will be nothing less than extraordinary. 

  2. I was actually in the midst of a caffeine break while we listened to this book–my sleep had really been suffering and my coffee habit was definitely not helping–and it was honestly pretty torturous listening to how much Thimble enjoyed his lattes…