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Legends and Lattes by Travis Baldree

A review by Nalini Haynes

Viv is an orc who, with her bad back, wants to retire from a life of adventuring. She seizes her prize from her band’s latest quest, a stone embedded in the skull of a monster, then leaves. In a new city she uses some kind of divining rod to find ramshackle disused stables. Viv tracks down the owner, purchases the stables, and sets about finding people to help her build her dream: a coffee shop like the one she discovered in a gnomish city. Eventually this shop acquires the name “Legends and Lattes”.

Tropes and misantropes

The author Baldree has significant street cred as a geek: a former game developer who is now a renown narrator of audiobooks. He clearly knows all the tropes. And he uses them. Abuses them. And pokes fun of them. It’s delicious. I would love to recount every trope used and abused but SPOILERS. So I won’t.

But I will mention just one: a macguffin. Merriam Webster defines a macguffin as

an object, event, or character in a film or story that serves to set and keep the plot in motion despite usually lacking intrinsic importance

And cites Hitchock’s use of the word as the first known historical reference.

If rabbit holes are your thing, look at TV Tropes’ Macguffin page. You can also look at Chekov’s gun while you’re there. And that’s all I’ll say about that.

Representation

The central character, Viv, is a woman orc. Historically orcs are “not white” characters. Worse still, Celia D’Anastasio describes the racist history of orcs:

“ORCS ARE HUMAN beings who can be slaughtered without conscience or apology.” This damning assessment of one of fantasy’s most ubiquitous villains comes from N. K. Jemisin, titan of modern fantasy and slayer of outdated genre tropes. As “kinda-sorta-people,” she writes, orcs are “fruit of the poison vine that is human fear of ‘the Other.’” The only way to respond to their existence is to control them or remove them.

Jemisin says she’s “orc-averse” because of racism intrinsically embedded into Orcs. (I admire Jemisin and have enjoyed most of her books while simultaneously being distressed and concerned by her portrayal of visually impaired/blind characters [do your research before appropriating disability!] and characters with albinism or albinism-like traits, who are “other”, super-N@zi-types or whatever. So the problem goes beyond orcs and we all need to do better.)

Legends and Lattes works to redress portrayal of orcs. Baldree undermines historical precedents by making Viv the central character, an adventurer who puts down her sword. And her character arc only humanizes her more from that starting point.

Race, sexual attraction

Throughout Legends and Lattes we meet characters representing various races. Baldree touches on racial segregation and racism and yet this is not a focus. And then there’s a hint – a foreshadowing – of possible same sex attraction. Doubts, character growth, possibilities…

Cosy Fantasy

Recently “cosy mystery” became the term for a mystery with a more… domestic setting. For a charming mystery. Wikipedia says

Cozy mysteries, also referred to as “cozies”, are a subgenre of crime fiction in which sex and violence occur off stage, the detective is an amateur sleuth, and the crime and detection take place in a small, socially intimate community.

Legends and Lattes is the high fantasy version of a cosy mystery, so it’s a cosy fantasy. Cosy high fantasy? CHF? Costasy?

Ooo. I put “costasy” and “cosy fantasy” into Google. “Costasy” is something in another language. But Book Riot has a post on cosy fantasies, with Legends and Lattes in the banner.

The verdict

This is not a laugh-out-loud story and yet Baldree’s twisting of tropes is amusing. His characters are charming. And the plot? I can’t quite say it was “riveting” in the sense of a thriller and yet it’s spellbinding. Legends and Lattes is the perfect pandemic read, light escapist fiction for those who need a break from all the stress of life and the stress of high-stakes high-octane fiction.

If you enjoy Queer stories with romance elements, try The Book Eaters and A Taste of Gold and Iron. I can’t think of any other low-stakes cosy high fantasy books I’ve read recently although The Gifts is on a par with Legends and Lattes for both Queerness and uniqueness in my opinion.

Book details

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
ISBN: 9781761264382
Format: eBook, paperback, audiobook – I read the paper version, 312p with “extras” including a short story and an interview with Baldree.
Imprint: Tor UK
Released: 2022
Category: fantasy, romance, Queer

Legends and Lattes: a navy blue cover features light blue curlicues and cup and saucer with burnt sienna drop shadows, apersand and outlines

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Nalini
Nalinihttps://www.darkmatterzine.com
Nalini is an award-winning writer and artist as well as managing editor of Dark Matter Zine.

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