Spoilers Below! You’ve been warned. Also, all reviews are subjective. My opinions are my own. I’m writing this review as an author critiquing another author’s book, in an attempt to improve my own writing and editing skills.
Goodreads: Legends and Lattes
I had difficulty with this one. Now to be sure, this is a good book. It’s well written, with homey characters. This book is marketed as being ‘Of High Fantasy and Low Stakes,’ and that’s true. This book is very cozy, having a found family vibe. But I found this book to be occasionally stressful- which is good, meaning this book is nonetheless tense despite it’s coziness. I’ll explain the stress later.
WHAT IS THE TARGET AUDIENCE? WHAT GENRES? WHAT MAJOR TROPES?
- Found Family
- Adventure Questing Fantasy (Tropes Inverted)
- Cozy, low stakes fantasy
- Coffee Fantasy
- Food porn (descriptions of pastries)
IF YOU ARE IN THE TARGET AUDIENCE, OR THE GENRES/TROPES SOUND INTERESTING TO YOU, SHOULD YOU READ THIS?
MY EMOTIONAL RESPONSE/ FUN FACTOR
This book is pleasing and fun. It was at moments tense, and I felt empathy for the characters. I’ve never read anything like this before, and I value this more as a result.
Overall, I give the story’s Emotional Resonance: (5/5 Stars)
Note: MY STAR GRADES ARE NOT A MEASUREMENT OF QUALITY. They are a measurement of how well this book fits *me* as a specific reader with unique biases, and how well I synched up with this story. I default to giving books 3 stars, so this having 5 stars is a sign of how much I enjoyed it.
To put this review/study in proper context, you must know my starting point.
I like reading nonviolent books on occasion. This book goes out of it’s way to have a nonviolent protagonist. Viv is a retired barbarian warrior (of the Dungeons and Dragons mold). She quit her old job, and opened a coffee shop. Now she sells coffee and cookies to people.
- The Goblin Emperor (Nonviolent fiction)
- Sunshine (Coffee House Fiction)
- A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet (Found Family)
CONCEPT AND EXECUTION
This book’s concept is the story of a Dungeons and Dragons adventurer who goes into retirement, and starts a coffee shop. As a barista, she has to juggle the many stresses of being a small business owner on one hand, with the local mafia on the other, as well as her old adventuring life catching up to her.
This book is executed exceptionally well, especially considering that this is this author’s debut. Paced at a brisk 320 pages, this book contains a wholesome plot, good character arcs, and an emotionally fulfilling narrative. Quite frankly, this self published book is better than A LOT of books published from actual publishing houses.
CHARACTERS AND CHARACTERIZATION:
This book’s greatest strength is it’s characters.
This book was very warm and fuzzy when Viv is making friends and finding
successes running her business. I think the author almost did too good of a job
in writing this book. Viv’s predicament struck a cord with me; I had empathy
for her struggling like a fish out of water, trying to make her way in a world
against her. The sheer mundane nastiness of her situation- again,
being a small business owner whose livelihood is threatened by both the mafia as well as old enemies Viv tried to escape by retiring- I found to be really upsetting.
While only two of the main characters were actually human, nonetheless
I saw a bit of humanity in all of them. From Viv the orc, to her succubus
business partner, to their gnoll carpenter and anthropomorphic rat baker, all are various
shades of adorable, while maintaining a unique personality apiece. Viv is stoic
due to her years of being a warrior; Tandri has a chip on her shoulder due to people only seeing her for her species, a succubus, and not a person; Calamity the gnoll is laconic due to social isolation from all the other carpenters who shun him; Thimble is a genius chef who is looking for his big break, hampered by being such a small, overlooked rat. Genre-wise, this book is adventure party fiction- a genre where an adventuring party goes on a quest to save the day. Viv, Tandri, Cal and the rest are the adventuring party. Only instead of this book being a standard adventure, the tropes are deliberately inverted. In this context, this book works well.
(Also, does anyone else think Tandri was some variety of ace? I got ace vibes from her.)
PACING AND STRUCTURE
SPOILERS IN THIS SECTION!
This book is largely well paced. If I were to have one quibble, I felt that it took too long for the coffee house to actually open in the beginning. This book’s slow start could have been remedied by somehow opening the coffee house earlier.
This book was structured episodically. I think it had three acts: act 1 was before the coffee house opened, act 2 was after the coffee house opened, and act 3 was after the coffee house burned down.
SWEET GOOGLY MOOGLY, burning down the coffee house was a twist I did not expect. This book was 3.5 stars for me, until that twist. That twist is what brought it up to 5 stars. The twist allowed all the side characters introduced throughout the novel to shine and help Viv after Viv helped them.
PLOT, STAKES AND TENSION
I enjoyed every minute of reading this book, but Viv’s situation was so stressful for me I had difficulty forcing myself to read all of it. I have no problem reading books with world ending stakes- such large stakes are by their very nature abstract and emotionally easy to handle. This, by contrast, I almost quit reading because the stakes here struck too close to home. By any definition, that’s well-written.
As is this book’s calling card, this book is ‘of High Fantasy and Low Stakes.’ The only stakes here are the fate of the coffee shop and Viv’s mental health. And it was freaking wonderful.
I complain (a lot) about how a lot of series see the constant need to up the stakes with each and every volume. Using the ‘Dresden Files’ as an example, in the early books the protagonist had difficulty defeating a single vampire; in the most recent book he’s smiting gods. In the early books, he’s motivated to kill vampires because he wants to save his loved ones those vampires threatened. In the most recent books, he fights the gods to save the entire planet.
For the record, there’s nothing wrong with occasionally raising the stakes. But in long running series, if you constantly raise the stakes in each and every volume, eventually those stakes cease to have any meaning. I’ve stopped really caring about the ‘Dresden Files’ series because it’s scope has simply gotten too big for my tiny little brain: in the early books I cared that Dresden was fighting to save his kidnapped friends, however in the late books I don’t care that Dresden is fighting to save the world. The world is simply too big. I can’t wrap my brain around it. It’s okay for a series to save the world once every few books, but having crushingly huge stakes each and every time just doesn’t work (for me).
AUTHORIAL VOICE (TONE, PROSE AND THEME)
This book’s tone was picture perfect. It hit the lighthearted D&D vibe right in the heart, despite upsetting so many of the related adventure party tropes. The prose folded perfectly into that tone.
The book’s theme of found family was probably the best executed example of which I’ve read in a long time, if not ever. Viv employed and made friends of so many people throughout the novel, only to lose everything when the coffee house burned down. Then the book’s theme turned back around on Viv: where before she helped other people, other people now helped her. This hit the pitch-perfect note, making the story resonate.
SETTING, WORLDBUILDING AND ORIGINALITY
This book wasn’t setting out to be original, and that’s what made it work. You’ve seen how many times I’ve mentioned Dungeons and Dragons in this; this book is a deliberate reference to settings such as that. This book felt as if an orc warrior retired, and opened up a coffee hose in Dalaran. Or a qunari warrior retired and opened up a coffee house in the Free Marches. Or a goron retired and opened up a coffee house in Castle Town. You get the idea. This book deliberately played into the tropes of adventure fantasy for the purpose of inverting them.
I started with the ebook, then switched to the audiobook. This was the correct decision. The author read the audiobook, and the author is also a professional audiobook narrator. He did a good job bringing the characters to life.
As an author, I want to improve my own writing/editing skills. To that end, I like to learn lessons from every story I read. Here’s what I learned from this story:
- Low stakes can be more emotionally evocative than high stakes, so long as you handle them right. I care more about an orc’s retirement than the fate of the world, if you handle it right. Motivation matters; relying on stock motivations of ‘saving the world’ gets trite, so instead go for something smaller and more personal.
- Found family stories rock.
This book is great. Check it out if you want a short found-family story.
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