Travis Baldree’s 2022 Legends & Lattes: A Novel of High Fantasy and Low Stakes is a secondary-world fantasy novel.
Life for orc barbarians like Viv is a sequence of small wounds leading up to the final, fatal blow. Viv rejects this time-honored career path. Having successfully held up her end of the Old Final Job, she takes her share of the wealth—a Scalvert Stone—and walks away from the dungeoneering life.
New adventures await in the thriving field of food services.
Viv intends to combine a very old folk tale with a very new business. Scalvert Stones are said to provide prosperity (so Viv believes; the text she consulted was rather vague) when deployed correctly. Having located just the right confluence of ley lines in a tumble-down former livery stable in the city of Thune, Viv uses a small part of her accumulated wealth and begins the lengthy process of creating Thune’s very first coffee shop.
One of the skills Viv acquired while adventuring is an appreciation for a team with diverse skills. Lacking carpentry skills, she hires Cal, a hob whose shipwright skills adapt nicely to converting the former stables into a café. Once the café is open, she hires succubus Tandri as an assistant. Everything goes exactly as Viv planned … almost.
Nobody in Thune is familiar with coffee, thus crowds of caffeine-addicts fail to manifest. Free samples attract the curious and the stingy, but the key breakthrough involves adding another member to the team. Timid ratkin customer Thimble hesitantly reveals that he is an adept baker. Coffee in combination with delicious baked goods proves a winning combination.
There are just two small flies in the ointment1. The first is that the neighborhood Viv selected is Madrigal territory; the gang provides “protection” in exchange for a monthly fee Viv does not want to pay. The second is her former team-mate Fennus, who has convinced himself that by settling for the Stone in their final job together, Viv must have somehow cheated him out of something precious.
Both problems have an obvious solution: take her trusty sword Blackblood off its wall brackets and begin separating heads from necks. Simple, obvious, and wrong for the Viv that Viv wants to be.
In addition to being willing to recruit and listen to people with skills she lacks, Viv also heads into her new commercial venture having done a fair amount of research (although clearly not market research because until she opened her café, there were no coffee-shops in Thune). It turns out many would-be entrepreneurs lack any interest in developing relevant skills, which is why so many businesses fold almost immediately.
This isn’t just a secondary-world fantasy but one almost certainly influenced by tabletop roleplaying games, particularly various flavours of D&D. Olden time D&D had very narrow views as to what occupations were suitable for persons of various races2. Players and later versions of the game pushed back against that. This novel is part of the pushback. There is in fact a running theme of characters rejecting the roles society deems suitable for persons of their race.
Legends & Lattes was published by Cryptid Press (for whom the ISFDB’s entry is notably limited) in February 2022. It later received a Tor edition in June 2022. That’s pretty unusual. Weir’s The Martian wasn’t picked up by a conventional publisher for three years after its original self-pub. Scalzi’s Old Man’s War also took several years to go from self-pub to conventional. Why was Legends & Lattes picked up more quickly?
While the prose and characterization are workmanlike, functional, and suitable to purpose, the book isn’t a literary standout. IMHO, the novel’s appeal rests on the fact that L&L is an aggressively amiable novel. Violence is frequently dangled as a possibility, but the plot then subverts expectations. In most RPGs, and a lot of SFF novels, all problems, from gangs to romance, can only be solved by bisecting someone with Chekov’s greatsword. Travis Baldree begs to differ, and I expect it is to this amiability that readers and acquisition editors react so favorably.
1: There’s actually another fly in the ointment, but not for Viv. Tandri has a stalker who by bad luck joined the Madrigals.
2: Because Gygax was hella racist and thought that genocide was Lawful Good behavior.