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Literature / Legends & Lattes

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Make coffee not war.

Legends & Lattes: A Novel of High Fantasy and Low Stakes is a Slice of Life Fantasy novel by Travis Baldree. It follows the trials of Viv, an orc Barbarian Hero, who retires from the life of an adventurer and moves to Thune, opening the city's first coffee shop.

Despite Viv's best efforts to settle into a life of quiet commerce, adventure follows her anyway. She gets tangled up with the city's Thieves' Guild, and is threatened by one of her old adventuring companions who wants to steal a magical object Viv is using to ensure her shop's success.

Bookshops & Bonedust, a prequel, was released in 2023.

Legends & Lattes contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Affably Evil:
    • Lack of the Madrigal's Thieves' Guild is quite friendly and prefers words to violence. He actually gets annoyed with Kellin when his threats overstep the bounds of conversational good taste.
    • This applies to the Madrigal herself, who wants to find an arrangement other than breaking legs and burning down shops.
  • Agent Peacock: Fennus is a reserved dandy who wears too much perfume and talks down to everyone he meets. While he first seems to be a Dirty Coward who avoids direct combat, he eventually displays stealth, magical knowledge, acrobatic talents, and the fact that he's cunning enough to avoid a straight fight winds up making him more dangerous. A fine contrast to the hulking Barbarian Hero Viv.
  • And Now for Someone Completely Different: While the majority of the book is told from Viv's perspective, the epilogue suddenly switches to Fennus's, assuring readers that he gets his due comeuppance.
  • Barbarian Hero: Viv was one of these as an adventurer, and was the tank of the group.
  • City of Adventure: Thune is a city populated with orcs, succubi, dwarves, elves, and other races in a D&D-like fantasy setting.
  • Cool Old Lady:
    • Viv's neighbor Laney is just a fussy, gossipy old lady, but despite her complaints about noise she still welcomes Viv into the neighborhood and comes in to check that she's doing well. When the shop burns down she even comes over to help with the rebuilding process.
    • The Madrigal is an elderly lady and a lot more Affably Evil than Viv expected.
  • Darkest Hour: When Viv's coffee shop is burned down by Fennus and the Scalvert's Stone is stolen. Viv is bankrupt due to having spent her life savings building it up, and turns on her friends in anger.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Viv makes and carries out careful plans to get the shop itself up and running, but has no idea how to promote and advertise, assuming that people will just come — even though no one in Thune has ever heard of coffee or has any notion why they would want to buy it. Fortunately, Tandri has the business savvy and artistic talent to get things running.
  • Don't Make Me Destroy You: The problem with the Madrigal's protection racket isn't that Viv can't handle it, but that she doesn't want to go back to that life or to get her coffee shop caught up in it. The Madrigal winds up negotiating with her to give payment in pastries instead.
  • Equivalent Exchange: Tandri mentions a principle called Thaumic Reciprocity, wherein any energy expended in creating a magical effect eventually rebounds. Much of magical study is figuring out how to redirect or minimize the blowback. When the shop burns down, Viv initially thinks it's her good luck reversing thanks to the Scalvert's Stone, but it turns out that isn't the case.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: The Madrigal runs a protection racket, and she will kill to uphold it, but she has a general dislike of assholes and doesn't take any pleasure in her criminal activities. When Fennus tries to manipulate her against Viv, she warns Viv instead and agrees to take her tribute in pastries rather than cash.
  • Everyone Can See It: Friends and acquaintances as diverse as the shop's carpenter Cal, the retired adventurer Durias, and even Viv's old friend Gallina pick up on Viv and Tandri's growing attraction. They all try to nudge Viv into noticing it for herself.
  • Fantastic Racism:
    • Viv has experienced anti-orc prejudice in the past and instinctively downplays her fangs to avoid scaring people. Thune in general is a bit more cosmopolitan than most other places, so all she gets now are some odd looks.
    • Tandri the succubus points out that Thune's cosmopolitan nature is a bit more paper-thin for herself, as people follow the letter of tolerance as opposed to the spirit. The law allows her to live there and attend university and hold a job, but everyone still assumes she Really Gets Around. That judgement is what drove her from studying at the university, and she's still being stalked and harassed by an old classmate.
  • Fluffy the Terrible: Amity, a gigantic dire cat that takes up semi-residence in the shop. It lives up to its name, as long as patrons have good intentions, but it helps chase off Kellin and Fennus. And kills Fennus in the epilogue.
  • Friend in the Black Market: Thimble knows a guy who does at best a gray market in imported spices. Viv decides the baked goods are worth not asking questions.
  • The Friend Nobody Likes: Fennus was disliked by everybody in Viv's old adventuring party, but they put up with him because he was competent.
  • Gaslamp Fantasy:
    • The story is set in a high fantasy kingdom, but gnomes have invented Steampunk coffee machines as well as stove-powered ceiling fans and refrigeration.
    • The prequel short story "Pages to Fill" is set in the gnomish city of Azimuth, which does indeed have gas lamps on streets (which all alight at once in the evening) and in houses. Azimuth is generally technologically ahead of Thune, which still employs people to light lamps manually.
  • Gentle Giant:
    • The story covers Viv's attempts to become one of these instead of The Big Guy role that she covered in her previous job as an adventurer.
    • Pendrick is a broad-shouldered and muscular lad with large hands who's an expert at handling large stones. He's also a Shrinking Violet who prefers to play music than do manual labor.
  • Greed: Fennus believes the Scalvert's Stone is something far more valuable than treasure and wants it beyond anything else. This despite the fact there's no proof it has any actual powers, and Viv took only the stone, leaving a vast fortune amassed from the Scalvert's victims for Fennus and her other companions to divide.
  • Hate Sink: Kellin is a creep who is stalking Tandri, and even his criminal cohorts dislike him.
  • Heroes Prefer Swords: As an adventurer, Viv's primary weapon was an enormous, threatening-looking greatsword called Blackblood.
  • Implied Death Threat: Cal prompts Viv to hang her sword, Blackblood, on the wall as a warning to the Madrigal's gang. They both hope that its mere presence will resolve the situation, since Viv really doesn't want to fall back into her violent ways.
  • It Will Never Catch On:
    • A lot of the people in Thune think coffee is something that will never catch on. Especially since Viv can initially only describe it as being not-like tea, since they have no other frame of reference.
    • Pendrick invents rock music and quite possibly the heavy metal guitar. Viv encourages him to stick to a symphonic electric guitar in the coffee shop.
  • Jerks Are Worse Than Villains: In-Universe, Viv explicitly states that she has some respect for criminals who use violence to get what they want, since even though she wasn't a criminal she knows what a life of violence is like. But she has no respect for Kellin and his ilk, and what's more, she knows that the Madrigal agrees with her.
  • Lethal Chef: Laney is apparently a horrible baker, and the one pastry that we see is left outside uneaten. She keeps trying to get Thimble to swap recipes, but he keeps doging.
  • Ley Line: Dropped by name as one of the sources of magic. Viv builds her shop on a confluence of ley lines to draw power to the Scalvert's Stone.
  • MacGuffin: The Scalvert's Stone is formed in the forehead of a Scalvert Queen (a ravening monster with a huge head containing many Extra Eyes). According to some legends and ancient songs, if placed in the right location it will bring good luck and a "ring of fortune" to its owner. "Ring of fortune" is a archaic term for boon companions and people with similar natures to the owner, so Viv finds herself awash in optimistic dreamers. The success of her shop is a natural result of all their earnest hard work.
  • Magic Feather: Viv is unsure if the Scalvert Stone has any magical properties at all. The coffee shop is a rousing success, but only after hard work and effort by everybody involved, and Viv never knows if it is thanks to the Stone or themselves. The actual truth is more complicated. The stone doesn't draw "luck" or "fortune" specifically, but like-minded people, and once they've come together it is their working together that brings success.
  • Magitek: The coffee machine might have some gnomish magic in it, though it also burns oil for heat. Pendrick the bard's "thaumic lute" is clearly an electric guitar that uses magic for its amplification, with which he invents something very like rock music.
  • Meaningful Name: The Madrigal's head lackey is named, appropriately enough, Lack.
  • Mega Neko: A dire-cat (a cat roughly the size of a wolf) starts hanging around the shop, so Tandri names her Amity and feeds her pastries. She occasionally scares off unsavory customers, wakes Viv and Tandri when the coffee shop goes up in flames, and kills Fennus.
  • Mundane Made Awesome:
    • It is the story of a woman opening up a coffee shop. It's just she's an orc barbarian and it's in a high fantasy setting.
    • Coffee itself is depicted as a nearly-magical substance no one has ever heard of before, as are Thimble's pastries and chocolate.
  • Must Have Caffeine:
    • Averted, surprisingly. Coffee entices Viv less for its caffeine than the general taste and aroma of it. When she does drink several cups in a row out of nervousness, she gets so jittery she almost fumbles Tandri's job interview.
    • Thimble, however, insists on unlimited free coffee as a condition of working at the shop.
  • My Species Doth Protest Too Much: Tandri is a succubus who doesn't have any of their Really Gets Around qualities and Gallina is a gnome who is a knife expert with no interest in science.
  • Named Weapons: Viv carries a greatsword named Blackblood.
  • Neighbourhood-Friendly Gangsters: The Madrigal turns out to be far more reasonable and practical than Viv expected. She's willing to take payment in confections. She also helps rebuild the store after Fennus burns it down. It turns out she actually was hoping to revive the area, and the coffee shop fits perfectly into her plans.
  • Non-Linear Character: Durias the retired adventurer is often seen playing chess with himself, but Tandri never sees him move the opposing pieces despite shamelessly snooping. It turns out he's playing chess with a version of himself sometime in the past. He also mentions that he "can't remember which go-round this is" and has Time-Travel Tense Trouble regarding whether he's had this experience already.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Downplayed, Viv never deliberately presents as less intelligent than she is, but since she's an orc people tend to underestimate her intelligence anyway. The prequel story "Pages to Fill" shows that she is willing to let people continue to believe so if it serves her ends.
  • One Last Job:
    • The prologue opens with Viv completing her last job as an adventurer, slaying a Scalvert Queen. Unlike most examples, nothing went awry during the job itself and all of her teammates knew it was her last job, but everybody is still surprised when she really does just up and leave at the end.
    • The prequel short story "Pages to Fill" shows Viv and her team pursuing Bodkin, a thief who has stolen schematics and plans to sell them. When Viv manages to capture her, Bodkin explains that this was her "last job" because she had fallen in love and wanted to retire. Viv believes her (Or at least believes her enough) and lets her escape, but still takes back the schematics so they can give the people who hired them something.
  • Orgasmically Delicious: Thimble's baking is good. Tandri once points out that it sets off her succubus senses with how much it makes her feel.
  • Orphaned Etymology: In this universe, the word "latte" came from its inventor, a gnome named Latte Diameter. The etymology of "coffee" itself (which is of Arabic origin in real life) and other coffee-shop terminology, like the spices and chocolate that go into the pastries, go unexplained. Avoided in the case of biscotti, which is invented outright by Thimble and, like the latte, named "thimblets" after its creator.
  • Overcomplicated Menu Order: Averted. Since no one in Thune knows any more about coffee than Viv does, they happily order from her simple menu of black coffee and lattes, hot or iced.
  • The Place: Legends & Lattes is an Alliterative Title in the vein of Dungeons & Dragons, but in-universe it's the name of Viv's café, invented by Cal complete with a sword-and-shield motif for the sign.
  • The Power of Friendship: Viv's success doesn't come from the magic of the Scalvert's Stone, but instead from the hard work and companionship of the friends she made along the way. Although the Scalvert's Stone may have used magic to make them all friends in the first place. Maybe.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: The Madrigal would prefer to just have Viv pay up, and gives her an extended deadline because a confrontation wouldn't work out for anyone. In the end, she accepts free food in lieu of payment. It turns out not to be entirely selfless on her part because she recognizes the coffee shop is raising the quality of the area and attracting new businesses to her territory.
  • Precision F-Strike: While she's not shy about swearing, Viv only uses "fuck" when she wants to make a point. When Tandri talks about how she was driven from university, Viv says "Fuck those motherfuckers" to make her laugh. When the shop burns down, she starts using it again as a sign of her reverting to her Barbarian Hero instincts in the wake of losing everything.
  • Pronoun Trouble: Viv defaults to using the pronoun "he" for the Madrigal, but her old teammate Taivus uses "they" when he reveals that he and the Madrigal have had dealings before. When Viv finally does meet the Madrigal, she is surprised to learn that she's a woman.
  • Protection Racket: The Madrigal runs the standard racket on any businesses in their territory. They're reasonable as far as these things go, giving Viv a generous amount of time to pay up so that she can get her business going first, but they also do mean it: if you don't pay, you're dead. Viv doesn't want to pay them, but she also doesn't want to fall back on violence, so the Madrigal offers a surprising compromise: Pay them off in pastries and coffee instead of in coin.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: The Madrigal's gang doesn't really want to engage in any of the criminal activity they're threatening to do, as that is far less profitable in the long run.
  • Rat Men: Thimble is a rattkin, a bipedal mouse about half the size of a human. He is shy and soft-spoken, mouselike, but doesn't carry any negative stereotypes regarding cleanliness, and is in fact a genius baker with exacting standards in his kitchen.
  • Real Men Take It Black: Averted. Viv keeps trying to point out customers can add milk and not be diluting it.
  • Retired Badass:
    • Viv opens the story sick of adventure, wanting to settle down and run a shop. Her efforts to stay retired drive much of the plot's drama.
    • Durias is an aged regular at Viv's shop, and she is very surprised to learn that he was an adventurer himself in his youth.
  • Running Gag: Tandri repeatedly updating the menu with elaborate descriptions of the new menu items.
  • Screw You, Elves!: The primary source of conflict in the story turns out to be Fennus, one of Viv's former adventuring companions. Fennus has every negative stereotype associated with elves; he's smug, condescending, prissy and dismissive.
  • Severely Specialized Store: At opening, Legends & Lattes sells coffee in two varieties (with or without milk), and nothing else. Once Viv hires a baker, they begin steadily expanding the menu with cinnamon rolls and other pastries, but the drinks menu remains sparse until Viv acquires a supply of ice to add cold coffees as an option. Since almost no one in Thune has heard of coffee before, there isn't any demand for more specialized varieties Viv doesn't have experience with.
  • Shame If Something Happened: Parodied. When Viv suggests that she'll happily kill all of the local mob enforcers threatening her, Kellin points out they'll just burn down her shop. His boss Lack irritatedly reminds him he's supposed to imply, not state.
  • Simple Solution Won't Work: Viv could unsheathe her sword upon having her new café threatened by the local Protection Racket, but she doesn't want to. Yes, it would take care of this problem very quickly, but then her new café would be just another part of her adventuring life instead of what she did after. Even if she saved her business, she would still lose it anyway.
  • Slice of Life: The story is about an orc barbarian opening a coffee shop. Nothing more or less. In between the plotlines dealing with the Madrigal's thugs and Viv's former teammate Fennus are many scenes depicting the renovation of the shop out of a neglected livery, the trials and tribulations of getting the good citizens of Thune to try Viv's weird gnomish "bean-water," and the day-to-day running of the shop, including interactions with regular customers. And rebuilding the place from the foundations after Fennus burns it down.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Kellin insists that his former schoolmate Tandri is as attracted to him as he is to her. Tandri is quite emphatic this is not the case. Kellin, unfortunately, is now a member of the Thieves' Guild, preventing Viv from simply throwing him out on his ear. Viv makes him back off by threatening to tell the Madrigal about him, as she doesn't like assholes.
  • Stating the Simple Solution:
    • Gallina thinks that Viv and her old adventuring party could wipe out the entirety of the Madrigal's gang. Which Viv agrees is possible (though it'd be tricky to get them all before they torch the shop or attack one of Viv's employees), but not something she wants to do because she's put that life behind her.
    • Tandri, meanwhile, states the other simple solution; just pay the Madrigal her protection money. Viv's shop is doing great business so she could likely afford it, and there's minimal benefit to antagonizing and potentially fighting against a known crime boss and potentially ruining the positive reputation she'd built up.
  • Supreme Chef: Thimble, the rattkin baker who agrees to start working for the titular coffee shop in exchange for a living wage and free coffee, and because he feels that the menu needs expanding. The café's business really takes off when he starts adding his heavenly cinnamon rolls to the menu, and he invents biscotti, which they name "thimblets". Viv eventually gives him carte blanche in the way of funding—whatever ingredients he requests, she'll source for him, and she's very unhappy to lack the space for a double oven to make his job easier. When the shop is burnt down and rebuilt, they expand the kitchen.
  • Take a Third Option: Stuck between paying the Madrigal protection money or going back to her old violent ways, Viv settles for paying off the Madrigal in pastries, at the Madrigal's own suggestion.
  • Technicolor Fire: When Fennus burns the shop down, he does it using magical green flame that spreads unnaturally quickly over the exits, creates no smoke, and repels water.
  • Thieves' Guild: The Madrigal's gang, which operates like normal mobsters in the fantasy city of Thune.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Between Tandri and Viv, which puts Viv in an awkward position because Tandri has suffered sexual harrassment everywhere she's gone and was driven out of the university by it.