LEGENDS AND LATTES: A NOVEL OF HIGH FANTASY AND LOW STAKES is one of those books that comes like a storm out of the gates and pretty much receives universal praise, which is rare enough for an indie book. This is also one of those books that manages to hit so many sweet spots that you still want to talk about it anyway. Still, as a reviewer, it occurs to me that I want to talk about elements that get overlooked in the majority of the praise I've seen, which concentrate on the fact it is "heart-warming", "comfort food" (coffee?), and "noblebright." It is a book that has plenty of conflict but in terms of personal rather than with swords, though you keep assuming that's going to happen any minute now.
The premise is that Viv is an orc barbarian adventurer who helps slay a monster called a Scalvert Queen that, from our brief encounter with it, is either like the xenomorph queen from Aliens or a shoggoth or both. Taking the seemingly worthless stone that forms in its stomach as her only reward, Viv heads to Thune city in order to build herself a new life. Specifically, Viv wants to build a coffee shop. This is a notably peculiar choice of profession not because of Viv's status as an orc, of which gets no commentary, but because most people in Thune have no idea what "cough-y" is and think it sounds vaguely gross. I mean, that pun only works if they're speaking English but we'll blame the gods for that.
And that's it.
It'd be wrong to say the book is plotless, far from it, but its plots are all centered around Viv's desire to leave her life as an adventurer and enter into nonviolent small business ownership. That involves dealing with the local thieves guild, quirky customers like a bard who has somehow gotten his guitar magic-ed up into an electrical one, and a former member of her adventuring group who believes the Scalvert Stone must have a far vaster value than they knew when Viv took it. All of the plot centers around keeping her coffee shop open, successful, and not involving violence to protect it. The latter of which she would be very good at using but would be the opposite of why she began the business in the first place.
Which is what really sets L&L apart from other stories is they say low stakes and they mean it. I've long said as a writer there's nothing that can be achieved by saving the world that you can't achieve by saving a town. One of the things that ruined one of my favorite shows, Supernatural, was the fact after the 5th season they kept trying to up the stakes after the apocalypse when the show was at its best talking about saving each other or regular humans. In Viv's case, the story works fantastically with its focus on the day-to-day of desire to create lattes and convince people to try them.
I also give props for this book almost managing to cross the finish line by being unique by being NEARLY entirely devoid of fantastic racism. Another book would have had Viv constantly under suspicion for the fact she's an orc opening a business or harrassed for it. They'd comment on the fact a ratkin is working in the kitchen (something even THE MUPPETS TAKE MANHATTEN had issues with). No, Thune is apparently an incredibly cosmopolitan city where gnomes, dwarves, elves, orcs, and other get along to get along. Sadly, there is a single exception with Tieflings (I mean succubi), as poor Tandi was sexually harassed out of university due to every one of her fellow students thinking she was down to succubus.
I also admire the book's firm commitment to nonviolence even when the reader is frustrated with it. Certainly, we the reader want Viv not to knuckle under the local thieves guild and tear them a new one. However, Viv just does not want to do that sort of thing anymore. It's not even guilt, it's just that it isn't who she is anymore and her reconciling with her old adventuring buddies is an interesting story beat. They don't know why she left, why she did it so abruptly, or why she's suddenly against adventuring. Watching them try to support her in her new endeavor anyway is heartwarming.
Part of what makes Legends and Lattes so good is the fact that it happily takes the time to develop a large ensemble cast that never quites get the entirety of the focus. In addition to the aforementioned aspiring heavy metal (heavy mithril) artist, there's a gnomish chess master playing with himself, a hobgoblin carpenter that may have been crushing on Viv but is happy for her regardless, and other people who are plain memorable.
With the death of Sir Terry Pratchett, there is a massive hole in fantasy that isn't epic or grimdark, and while no one will be able to fill that hole--it's clear that his legacy is definitely living on. This book, like ORCONOMICS, is one that manages to be put up there with my collection of his works. Which is the highest praise I can give.