LEGENDS AND LATTES: A NOVEL OF HIGH FANTASY AND LOW STAKES by Travis Baldree is one of those rare novels that comes out that I have absolutely nothing but praise for. It fills that Terry Pratchett-shaped hole in my heart. While not to the level of that grandmaster of mirth, his world is evocative of Discworld and tells a cozy story about an orc barbarian who wants to open a coffee shop. The juxtaposition of the modern of the fantastical doesn’t have as much zing but it is still deeply amusing and makes this one of my favorite reads of 2022.
As mentioned, the premise is an orc barbarian has decided to give up her life of violence and treasure hunting for one of serving coffee. The problem is no one knows what coffee is. In the city of Thune, it’s only known as a gnomish drink no one has tried if anyone has heard of it at all. Spending her life savings on buying a livery, Viv starts hiring a hobgoblin carpenter and a tiefling (excuse me, succubus) waitress to help spruce up the place.
Viv has a secret, though. When she was on her last adventure, she pocketed a magical object called the Scalvert Stone. Supposedly, it will result in whoever possesses it having great fortune. One of Viv’s former adventuring companions, Fennus, has become obsessed with the idea she cheated him out of something illustrious. There’s also a local Thieves Guild in town that is used to collecting protection money but actually doesn’t want to resort to violence. They also don’t want Viv setting an example that other people can’t pay their dues.
A very interesting twist in this book is the fact that it is all about Viv wanting to avoid getting into any violent encounters. So much fantasy fiction is devoted to action and bloodshed, it’s fascinating that Viv’s highest aspiration in life is not to have to kill anyone ever again. It’s not something she’s ashamed of in her past or guilty over. It’s just something she doesn’t want to do anymore and feels like she’ll fall back into old habits if she does.
The book’s low stakes are, indeed, also low stakes. The only thing at stake is the Scalvert Stone, which Viv isn’t sure works, and her coffee shop. There’s no worlds to save, maidens to rescue, monsters to slay, or demons to banish. Thune really seems like a genuinely nice place as compared to most Dungeons and Dragons-esque settings. Much of the typical fantastic racism is not to be found and dwarves work with orcs as well as ratkin or gnome without much in the way of issues. The worst example of it is the sexual harrassment that poor Tandi gets for being a succubus.
There’s not even any real villain in the books, though Fennus comes closest. The Thieves Guild is a lot more practical than most criminals in fantasy. Their leader is actually interested in the idea Viv’s coffee shop could make the area more valuable by attracting new business, which certainly benefits the thieves in the area. Even Tandi’s stalker, Kellin, is someone who is rather easily intimidated by Viv’s presence. This is a novel about following your dreams and figuring out what you will do to achieve them.
It’s just fun.