Legends & Lattes: Book Review

This month’s pick for the Sword & Laser Book Club, and the winner of their Madness In March Tournament was Legends & Lattes, a book that had been on my recommendations list for quite a bit, so it’s time to take a look at it.

There’s a concept in fandom – the “Coffee Shop AU” – where characters from a franchise (or franchises) can sit down in a coffee shop and hang out without drama. Legends & Lattes takes that concept and applies it to the idea of a heroic fantasy (or in particular a Dungeon Fantasy) world, similar to that of the Forgotten Realms and other D&D campaign settings. In this case, the novel follows an adventurer, Viv, who has decided to get out of the game and is going to try her hand at opening a coffee shop, with the focus being the difficulties of opening a coffee shop in a place that doesn’t necessarily know what coffee is and why they want it.

Now, somewhat unfortunately, I’ve never really been in a position to take advantage of “coffee shop culture” – I either haven’t really had a coffee shop near me, or if I did, it’s been in situations where I haven’t really been able to just sit down and hang out – I either haven’t had a job that allowed for that, or, well, I’ve been unemployed at the time. So the idea of Viv more or less building coffee shop culture out of whole cloth is interesting as executed here.

The tagline of the novel, that it’s of “High Fantasy and Low Stakes” is very much apt – it’s almost the novel equivalent of an iyashikei series, or a “healing” novel. There is stress, there is tension, and there is failure and recovery from that failure. However, the stakes are low, and because of this the stress and tension is more personal. That’s where the “almost” comes in – this isn’t in its entirety the chill vibes of something like Laid Back Camp or Restaurant To Another World.

It feels odd, almost, to fault the series for this. I don’t know if it’s a case where the English language publishing market (outside of the portions that work with localization of Japanese works) wouldn’t accept something like Legends & Lattes without some moderately significant drama (even if it’s relatively low-stakes drama, compared to the rest of the works published in this genre). It feels almost like if this were an anime or manga, the more melodramatic parts of the story would have been toned down some, to let the more healing portions – a person choosing a life away from violence and one where she can make her own safe place – encompass more of the entirety of the work.

Otherwise, the only really other bits that make me scratch my head are a few points in the development of the coffee shop itself within the story. The coffee shop starts off not serving baked goods, and Viv doesn’t understand why it’d be a good idea – when she’d gotten the idea to start the shop after going to a Gnomish coffee shop in her travels. Only later after she finds someone to handle the baking, and after sales of coffee alone become unable to support the site does she have an oven installed and one of the friends she’s made building the cafe becomes the baker.

This made me scratch my head, because I’ve never been in a coffee shop of any kind or any size that didn’t either have baked goods, or a place for them if they were sold out. This is made more of an issue because while coffee shops aren’t widespread, they exist – Viv got the idea of opening her own after going to a coffee shop somewhere else. One of the comments made in the Sword & Laser Discord chat made the comment, mainly in jest, that Viv was making her way through the coffee shop tech tree. That is what this feels like – like a player hadn’t accrued enough market research points to unlock the Coffee Shop upgrade.

I did enjoy the book, and I did think it had a chill vibe, but I wish we were in a situation where the story could fully commit to being, effectively, a Western Iyashikei story – the narrative equivalent of a warm blanket and a cup of coffee to read under a warm blanket with a cup of coffee.

Legends & Lattes is available physically from Amazon and Alibris, and digitally also from Amazon & Kobo – buying anything through those links supports the site.

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