Worn out after decades of packing steel and raising hell, Viv the orc barbarian cashes out of the warrior’s life with one final score. A forgotten legend, a fabled artifact, and an unreasonable amount of hope lead her to the streets of Thune, where she plans to open the first coffee shop the city has ever seen.
However, her dreams of a fresh start pulling shots instead of swinging swords are hardly a sure bet. Old frenemies and Thune’s shady underbelly may just upset her plans. To finally build something that will last, Viv will need some new partners and a different kind of resolve.
A sweet and cosy, very low-stakes fantasy novel with engaging characters and a heart: even if Viv and her friends are not terribly distinct from each other, they were a pleasant bunch to spend time with.
What I Liked
- Deliberate and humourous anachronism
- The wide cast of characters from Viv the Orc to Cal, a hobgoblin carpenter and Tandri, a succubus – all somewhat outcasts
- Thimble, the rattkin baker
- Amity, the dire cat
What Could Have Been Different
- More investigation of actual themes that were hinted at including prejudice and bigotry
- Deeper characterisation
- The extortion subplot
- More effort required to overcome challenges
This has been floating around in various social media feeds for weeks now, often with the tagline TikTok made me buy it… not the most compelling endorsement perhaps but, on a whim and with little time and energy on my hands I picked it up…
The premise is promising – as someone brought up on Dungeons and Dragons, and who has recently discovered Vox Machina and Critical Role! Our opening chapter sees a plucky band of adventurers defeat an enemy and Viv rips some sort of gem from its corpse before immediately retiring from the squad. Her afterlife? Setting up a coffee shop.
The plot that ensues is straightforward: Viv’s plans to open the shop hit a number of challenges and she instantly finds the perfect character to solve them. Need renovations? Meet Cal, the hobgoblin carpenter. Need a barista cum business manager? In walks Tandri, the succubus. Hmmm… food would be a good addition to the coffee house but how do we provide it? I wonder if that flour-stained customer could help…
It did feel to me that there was a huge opportunity in this cast of characters to explore prejudice and discrimination: as an orc, Viv is constantly commenting on hiding her fangs to avoid scaring others; Cal seems to find it difficult to find others to work with him; Tandri is judged and suspected because of her perceived sensuality and appetites… And yet all of the opportunity kind of evaporated. A quick apology tossed out and it was never brought up again and everyone was friends again. Apart from the occasional physical reminders – fangs, tails, paws – these characters didn’t feel terribly differentiated from each other at all. They were pleasant enough, don’t get me wrong, but not distinctive enough – and therefore you can’t really say that they are trying to challenge or subvert any of the classic fantasy tropes.
I did enjoy the deliberate anachronisms – the steampunk coffee machine, the modern business strategies, the creation of the biscuit and the chocolate croissants – and the creation of a very modern and familiar feeling coffee house in the fantasy setting.
Baldree introduces complications once the shop is up and running: the demand for extortion money by The Madrigal as some sort of local mafiosa crime boss is one such and I’m not sure I found the resolution of that one at all satisfying, but I’ll avoid spoilers. The other complication – an old colleague on the trail of that gem from the opening chapter – is more satisfying but introduced rather late…
Overall, whilst I was prepared to love this, I didn’t. I didn’t dislike it either but I found the novel would have benefited from a little more development and direction.