Escape Velocity

A curated Collection of Fantasy and Science Fiction Media

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Veteran adventurer and orc barbarian Viv decides to throw in the towel and live a peaceful life instead. She has an idea for a shop selling a dark exotic brew she once tasted on one of her adventures… called coffee. But how to convince people to buy a drink they don’t even know exists?

Listened to the audiobook with Travis Baldree himself – well read, especially for an author (rather than a professional narrator)

I listed Legends & Lattes as my surprise of the year for 2023 – not because it was the very best book I read, but because I was expecting to hate it and I totally didn’t.

So usually, I get a bit annoyed with the trend of taking a basically modern story, and just smearing a fantasy sauce over it to make it ‘unique’ or to appeal to a certain audience. That goes even more when the fantasy sauce is the bland Dungeons & Dragons-omni fantasy that makes you roll your eyes every time a gnome is introduced with goggles in their pink hair. Well, that’s basically Legends & Lattes. It’s about an orc barbarian who retires from adventuring to start a coffee shop. That’s the type of premise that I usually steer clear of because I just know it’ll rub me the wrong way.

So why did I pick it up anyway?

I have an opinion on the novel that wins the Hugo every year, but I hardly ever actually read all the nominees. So when WorldCon is coming up, I always get this itch to read a least a couple of the shortlisted books so my opinion feels slightly less baseless. So, I saw Legends & Lattes on the shortlist, and I saw it was only eight hours long, and I figured, sure, I’ll give it a shot. Out of my comfort zone. You know the drill.

And to my surprise, I really liked it! Legends & Lattes is unapologetic, fun, light, and short enough never to lose momentum. Yes, it is very much a ‘modern’ story in a fantasy setting, down to a miraculous coffee machine that looks and functions exactly like one would at your local coffee shop and a store where you can apparently get stuff like ginger and cardamom with no trouble.

But… Legends & Lattes never tries to be a fantasy story. It actively rejects a lot of the axioms of the genre and Baldree plays with the tropes. It is cozy and cuddly and simple and short, unambitious and therefore comfortable. In short, it is just right.

Really, I guess my greatest gripe with the book is that it displays some very obvious coffee fetishism that is totally lost on someone that doesn’t actually drink coffee – no, mr Baldree, if you’re not an avid coffee addict, it smells and tastes terrible! When you have your first time coffee drinker characters lost in just-short-of orgasmic bliss at the first sip, your own addiction is very much on display…

Ah well, it is all made right by the cutest mouse baker ever put to paper and the sheer lack of pretention. I think it is a real pity it didn’t actually take home the Hugo – I liked it a lot better than Nettle & Bone.

Although Legends & Lattes is not explicitely a Christmas book, I feel it was made to be read around that time. For me it scratched exactly the same itch as a Christmas movie: cozy, heartwarming and not too complicated. I really liked the concept of a ‘real world’ cafe transported to a fantasy setting.

The book isn’t really trying to do anything more than that, so I probably shouldn’t try holding it to any higher standards. However, I still could not help wishing for just a little bit more. While the characters were by no means badly written, I lacked a feeling of true connection with them. This kept me from being as fully enthusiastic about the book as I might otherwise have been.

Still, I enjoyed it, so would recommend it for anyone in need of a comfort-read.

I like the idea of “cosy fantasy”, I really do. And I didn’t dislike Legends & Lattes. I was just expecting a little bit… more? Especially because of how obsessed everyone else seemed to be with this book. Heck, even Peter really enjoyed it.

I want to explain my criticisms of this book, but I think most of them could easily be countered with “that’s the point”. Nothing much happens. The stakes are kind of low. But of course, it’s supposed to be low stakes, it’s cosy fantasy after all.

Perhaps what is missing for me is some contrast. I do enjoy this kind of story but usually, I’d find it in the form of fanfiction of characters I already know and love. When we see “cosy” fanfiction, these stories are usually in stark contrast to their original work. Most fiction focuses on the drama, the action, the “un-cosy”. Then in fanfiction, we get to see the characters kick back and relax. In Legend & Lattes, we don’t know much about the hardships the characters (may) have experienced in the past. Baldree does give us some insight into Viv’s past, but it’s not quite enough to make me glad for her that she’s finally got the time to relax and enjoy the cottagecore dream of opening a cute coffee shop.

I did love most of the characters. Cal, Tandri and Thimble were absolute highlights for me. Though I didn’t hugely care for Viv, personally.

I also have to agree with Peter in that coffee really isn’t that good when you first try it. The fact that everyone in Legends & Lattes loves it at first sip is probably the most fantastical element in the book. However, I would argue that the smell of coffee is amazing, and would explain people being drawn to the shop.

I think I would have preferred to see this story unfold in the form of a cosy video game, where you get to run the coffee shop yourself. As a novel, it fell a little flat for me.

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