Reading for Writers: book reviews that take a look at how a book is written, and what we can learn from it.
Legends & Lattes took the twitterverse by storm and heralded, I suspect, a comeback for cosy fantasy. I, for one, am all prepared for the trend, and I think Legends & Lattes provided a wonderful kickoff.
Viv quits her job as a sword for hire and leaves her adventuring crew to start a new life in the city of Thune. She’s got a safe full of money, a good-luck macguffin and a big dream: to introduce Thune to the wonders of coffee. As she goes through the process of starting a small business and converting the citizens of Thune to coffee-drinkers, she starts to collect a new kind of crew. When rivals old and new start sniffing around Viv’s life, she has to figure out how to leave her old world behind for good, even if the high road has high consequences.
We’re starting this review with world building, because I think that’s what made it stand out to so many readers in the first place.
The wider world of Legends & Lattes feels like your run-of-the-mill D&D setting. The genius isn’t in the magic systems, the patiently devised geography, the intricate politics that divide the area. The genius is in the coffee shop. Baldree took me somewhere I’d been thousands of times, then took me somewhere I’d never been. Not many books can do that.
The worldbuilding is undertaken mostly through tone. It’s a homey, comfortable novel that feels like the coffee shop of novels. If you want a good example of how tone and worldbuilding need to be cohesive, read this book. The tone is truly what helped to immerse me and make me feel like I was reading something different.
The tag line on the front of the US cover reads, A book of high fantasy and low stakes, and that is exactly what we get. I think a lot of readers (myself included) found it refreshing to get a book with all the fantasy elements we love, but without life-or-death situations. I hope slice-of-life fantasies become more common, and between this and Psalm for the Wild Built by Becky Chambers, the bar is starting pretty high.
That being said, I didn’t love the plot. In some ways I found it a little…episodic, perhaps? Or thin on the ground? The overarching story was charming and fun, but I would have liked a little more tension overall. Not super-high stakes tension – maybe more of an emotional tension. The conflict that I thought would be the main conflict of the book was actually resolved around the mid-point, and I did like that. At the same time, I found it a bit difficult to buy in to how that particular conflict was resolved. So plot wise I’m a bit ambivalent, but I didn’t pick the book up for the plot. I picked it up for the spot-on vibes.
The strength of the characters isn’t in their complexity, but rather in the fact that they fit well into their setting. I could see myself going to Viv’s coffee shop and buying a latte. I did have a little trouble in the beginning with distinguishing Viv and Tandri’s voices, in particular, and I wouldn’t exactly say they contain multitudes. But the character work is solid and well-rounded, and the slow-burn romance worked really well for me. I thought, just KISS ALREADY multiple times, and in the good way.
These do sort of feel like D&D campaign characters written really well, but once again: that’s the vibe of the thing.
Read Legends & Lattes if…
- You want cozy coffee shop vibes
- You want the D&D worldbuilding and a less intense story
- You wish you were an orc ex-barbarian coffee shop owner
- You want all grimdark all the time
- You want your fantasy a little more epic
- You want a tight plot with lots of action