‘Legends and Lattes’ is a slice-of-life fantasy about an orc who, tired of a life as a mercenary, decides to retire to the city of Thune and open a coffee shop. The catch? The inhabitants of the city have never heard of coffee. A tale of found family and persistence in the face of adversity, this is a heartwarming read – although one that takes time to get going.
Viv is a solid main character – quite literally. As a recently retired orc barbarian, she’s used to getting her way through physical intimidation – the practicalities of opening a coffee shop and persuading residents who’ve never heard of coffee are a mystery to her. Determined, strong, and with a good heart inside her gruff exterior, she makes a likeable if not standout protagonist. She can be somewhat blind to interpersonal relationships, but despite that she always manages to surround herself with good people.
Cal, Tandri, and Thimble make up the main supporting cast. Each have intriguing backgrounds that are only minimally explored, bringing up plenty of potential for spinoff or prequel novels (a prequel surrounding Viv is already in the works). Tandri, a succubus, is especially interesting, but the interplay between all the characters is excellent. Baldree is better at weaving relationships than the individual characters, and the way these evolve is neatly done.
The worldbuilding is minimal – Thune is a generic fantasy city with the standard repertoire of high fantasy races such as dwarves, orcs, and gnomes. In many ways, this is a contemporary novel that happens to feature fantasy characters and a low-tech setting. The simplicity works, allowing a focus on character relationships and the central plot.
The writing is conventional, with a central plot of the day-to-day travails of running a coffee shop and starting your life anew, and subplots involving local politics and an old enemy from Viv’s barbarian days. The subplots serve dual purposes of rounding out details of Viv’s old life and raising the stakes of an otherwise very quiet novel. Overall, the subplots enhance rather than distract, although don’t expect duels or great bloodshed.
The main issue with this novel is the pacing. The first half is focused on establishing the coffe shop, and this is very slow, not offering the reader much chance to connect with Viv or the storyline. Things improve in the second half, but it isn’t until the last 20% that the reader could be called fully invested. With stronger character work, some of these issues might have been ironed out – but this is a debut, and Baldree certainly succeeds in persuading the reader to read something a bit different.
Overall, ‘Legends and Lattes’ is a solid debut and a nice change of pace from the typical high fantasy. Recommended to fans of TJ Klune’s ‘The House In the Cerulean Sea’ and ‘Under the Whispering Door‘.
Published by Tor (Pan Macmillan)
Hardback: 10th November 2022
(Previously self-published by the author)