Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree fits into the low-stakes, cozy fantasy genre. I’ll admit that I am not the target audience for this book. However, when I picked it up at Costco I had heard of it through my regular consumption of BookTube. I was intrigued and this last week I read it.

I experienced things for the first time since my workshopping classes in college. As I read, that part of my brain wired for writing craft was analyzing everything. For those that don’t know what this is like, emotionally it is similar to how I expect Neo felt in the Matrix when he could see the code falling around him. For this reason, I changed how I wanted to talk about this novel. Originally, I planned on following the “3 Things…” trope I started in the last two videos, but there is so much to talk about. A more apt vehicle for this novel is the workshop critique.


The prologue starts with Viv, an orc warrior tired of battle, pulling a gem from the skull of a recently done-in baddie. She abandons the troop of heroes she traveled with right then and there with little explanation. The book starts with Viv entering a sleepy town split in half by a river. It is clearly sleepy since the streets are practically empty when she arrives. She wanders through the town using a magical device to find a nexus point in the lay lines crisscrossing the city. There is a livery, falling apart and abandoned, in a great location for an off-the-main-street coffee shop. She tracks down the owner, buys the property, gets the deed, and starts the reno.

To do the construction she hires Cal, a hob, to build the coffee shop. She trusts him easily as seen by her handing over her coin purse for him to buy materials. After the construction is complete, she places a help wanted sign on the local jobs board. The next day Tandri, a succubus, shows up and takes the job. Before the business opens, a local thug (whom Viv thought could have been a city official at first) has been coming by to demand “dues”. After they open, the thug returns a few more times to remind Viv that she has only so much time to make the payment.

Throughout the success of the business in the initial few days, Viv expands into baking by hiring a ratkin named Thimble. The confections that Thimble makes are orgasmic (literally Tandri clearly has an orgasm when eating a cinnamon roll made by Thimble). The business continues to prosper and a local student of the thaumic arts, Hemington, or Hem as Viv calls him, (who was investigating the properties of the building but hates hot drinks) spends his time getting close to unearthing Viv’s secret. She has placed this gem under the floor to bring her business good luck. She gets him on her side by allowing him to cast some experimental wards on the premises. His spells eventually turn into an alarm system Viv uses to tell her if the gem is stolen.

There is also a local musician who begins to work regularly in the coffee shop. Pendry is timid but desires to play the lute for people. He becomes the butt of jokes between Viv and Tandri as the two of them become closer friends. And I must insist that though Viv seems overly eager to view Tandri as a partner in personal and business life (this is indicated often by phrases such as “or their shop” and “perhaps a partner” –not exact quotes, I didn’t want to spend the time finding them when a paraphrase works), Tandri and Viv do not express anything approaching romantic interaction until well near the last third of the book.

Eventually, Viv gets worried about having to pay the Madrigal the dues and uses a rune stone given to her by her old adventuring companion to summon help. They show up and Viv doesn’t know what she wants help with. Tandri insists that Viv does not solve the problem with violence, so the old adventuring companions leave slightly frustrated at being called to help. They get over it though, as is evident at the end of the book when they help her rebuild the coffee shop.

Viv decides to meet the Madrigal alone and unarmed. The two of them talk briefly and part with an amicable solution to the problem at hand. The Madrigal just wants free confections. Business progresses just fine until one of her old adventuring companions, Fennus, shows up to steal her lucky charm under the floor. This magical cat that has been staying on-site occasionally helps to scare him off. Viv turns to Tandri for help protecting the stone (which Viv doesn’t move. This guy comes to take the stone, finds the location, and Viv just leaves it there). The solution is that Tandri begins to sleep at the coffee shop with Viv.

This sleeping arrangement tickles the emotional strings of Viv, but it is not sexual in the slightest (even though Tandri is sleeping with Viv as both of them are undressed.) A few days pass and Viv is planning on expanding the kitchen to allow Thimble to make more confections. Fennus is planning on coming to take the stone soon, says the Madrigal. And indeed he does. He lights a magical fire and the place burns down. He steals the stone while Viv and Tandri are trying to escape with their lives. They manage to save the coffee machine and money box but nothing else.

The community comes together and helps them rebuild with considerably less money spent on Viv’s part due in part to a loan the Madrigal gives her through Cal. The place is rebuilt. Viv worries that the coffee shop will not be as profitable going forward because of her lost lucky charm, but this wisen gnome that has been playing chess in front of the shop (and he suffers from either reverse time travel or time looping) informs her that the song she based her belief in this lucky charm on doesn’t tell the lore correctly. The stone doesn’t bring money, but people (a found family). They agree not to do anything about Fennus since the stone will only bring him people that are assholes. In the epilogue, the magical cat pounces on him when he returns (though we don’t know if he is killed or not).

Before the shop is burned down, Viv and Tandri go on a picnic. This is when we find out that Tandri was the target of discrimination at the local magic college before she dropped out. They don’t do anything romantic at the end of this date. However, after the business is rebuilt at the end of the novel, and after Viv offers to make her found family equal partners in the business, Tandri and Viv find time alone and kiss for the first time.

What Works

The idea of the story (an orc warrior tries to settle down by starting a coffee shop) I found to be intriguing. I bought the book on this idea. Even though I believe execution is important, this book has shown that a good idea that is well marketed can get people to buy.

I also found the fire chapter to be when the story hits its stride. The action is paced well and I genuinely felt tension over whether Viv and Tandri would both survive. Given the short length left in the novel, that outcome wasn’t certain.

The world was also interesting. Much of the fantasy I read is not focused on creatures like succubae and ratkin, so reading a story where much of the world is a mishmash of creatures from all over the fantasy landscape was a new experience for me.

I can see how this story might appeal to readers of cozy, coffee shop romances. This feels like what I would expect from that genre but with fantasy trappings. I think this is also why the book has become so popular.

What Doesn’t

A workshop critique should not try to be mean or derisive to the writer. It should concern itself with the execution of the idea in as objective a manner as possible. I want to make this clear since I believe that this book failed to execute. I don’t believe Travis Baldree (the writer) should stop writing, but I do want future work from him to stand up on execution and not an idea and marketing alone.

So, where do I see room for improvement? What should we be seeing in this novel that we should try to avoid in our writing? Well, there is more than a little.

To start with, I don’t buy the character Viv at all. We are told she is this battle-hardened orc that doesn’t mind getting cut up and scraped. We are told she has been thinking of this business plan for years. However, she consistently relies on other characters to help her fill in the holes for problems she didn’t anticipate. More than a few times we see Viv say, “I didn’t think of that.” It makes me wonder what she did think of other than money. She is also overly timid in her interactions with Tandri. I guess you can fall back on she is battle-hardened but not romance-hardened, but I shouldn’t have to add that in to make the character work. I want at least a few scenes where her warrior self comes through in the clearly romantic desire she has for Tandri.

Along with the descriptive issues I see with Viv, I also don’t understand her motivations. Why doesn’t she just go to the gnomish city and live out her retirement drinking coffee there? I don’t get any indication of why she wants to sell coffee in this sleepy little town to begin with. This almost seems like the idea “she is selling coffee in a place that has never heard of it” is the driving force and we just have to accept that the character is doing what she does in service of this idea. Ideally, we want the motivations of characters to be clear so we can understand how they drive the action around them.

Related to the action, everything is too easy. I am not sure if this is a trope in cozy romance novels or not, but most of the plot is driven by obstacles and not conflict. This is a very important thing to understand, so I will elaborate. Conflict is one of the main ways to make the story interesting. Conflict comes from an obstacle that demands something from the character that the character doesn’t want to/cannot do. Obstacles extend the plot but are usually not interesting. They are both things the character is willing to do and can do. Many of the “conflicts” in this novel are just obstacles. Other characters are willing to and do step in to help Viv out when she has a problems almost immediately. The genuine conflicts are the fire chapter and the Madrigal plot line. The fire chapter is a conflict because we are unsure if Viv can overcome being burned alive. This doubt about her ability to escape and then rebuild afterward leads to a conflict. The Madrigal (and here you should be imagining a mob boss I think) problem is a genuine conflict. On principle, Viv is unwilling to pay the Madrigal. This conflict is ultimately a let-down since both of them resolve the solution in an unsatisfying way. The Madrigal, we are told, is a force all over town. She extorts money from people for protection. Such a feared character we expect to find satisfaction in either power or resources, but instead she gets it through an allowance of free food. Unless these cinnamon rolls are drugs (which they might be due to how Tandri orgasms whilst eating one) I don’t see how this is a payment worthy of the Mob-like figure we are supposed to see. All the tension, less the Tandri romance, falls flat because of how easy it is solved.

That Tandri romance also bugs me. However, I think this has more to do with my lack of familiarity with the cozy romance genre. I can’t imagine two consenting adults acting like this when one of them is a succubus. I need more explanation about Tandri’s character because she could just as easily be any other species of mythical being. One traditionally associated with sexual pleasure demands justification if she isn’t going to act sexual in any way other than by eating a cinnamon roll. As a side note, I want all my cinnamon rolls to do for me what they do for Tandri.

The general advice on how many characters to have in your novel is “just enough and no more.” To achieve this, it is best to consolidate characters if possible. This happens a lot when movies and TV adapt novels. The movie cuts a plot line, and now the character supporting that plot line can be cut as well. Hand the dialogue and roll in scenes to a different character who can also say/do the requisite plot movements. The Madrigal and Laney (an elderly neighbor who is a bad cook but behaves in a grandmotherly fashion to Viv) is an example of the potential to consolidate characters. Laney doesn’t drive the plot at all. She is more of a signaling device to the cozy genre I believe. The Madrigal is another old lady in this novel, but she does drive the plot. How much more interesting would it have been if Laney were the Madrigal? The answer is a lot. There is tension when we meet Laney for the first time. She is the only person who has approached Viv. The significance of this led me to hold out hope until the Madrigal scene that they were indeed the same. That would have added a layer of complexity to the Madrigal character that I really would have liked to see.

This novel also has more classical problems that can plague any manuscript. The dreaded showing vs. telling is rampant in this novel. This reliance on telling details of characters and plots leads to some of the issues I had above with character development. If we were to see the characters behaving as they are told to us, I would accept them to a higher degree.

The telling issue bleeds over into some more basic writing fundamentals. The novel is written in third-person limited from the perspective of Viv. And yet we get this sentence, “He took another, longer sip and burned his tongue.” This is Cal when he is given a latte for the first time. The longer sip is something Viv would be able to notice, and therefore we would as well. But the burning of his tongue is not. Now if Travis showed us what Cal’s reaction to burning his tongue was, then this would both be more satisfying to read and could be done without a break in POV. There was another POV break, but I am not going to look for it. I suspect that it too dealt with a telling vs. showing issue at its root.

Lastly, there are many places where odd phrasing disrupts my ability to get drawn into the novel. The first occurrence of this (though I admit might only be an issue with how I view cloud formation) is the sentence, “Above, the clouds began to clot and thicken, threatening rain.” Clot! I have to stop myself from belaboring the point because this really rubs me the wrong way. Clouds are not a liquid that congeals. They don’t clot, they coalesce. The action of coming together is the same, but these words connotate very different things. Blood clots. And there are things like this in many other places. I want to excuse these phrasing issues just because I looked up the backstory of Travis and he does audiobook narration. Some of these may be holdovers from other books and not original to him. Regardless, I want phasing to pull me in not out.


I had a genuine interest in exploring the ideas promised by the novel’s cover blerb. And I think this novel can teach us a lot about how to improve our writing if nothing else than by being a cautionary example. However, I am baffled by the book’s popularity.

Leave a Reply

Privacy Statement