It all depends on your definition of ‘cosy,’ I suppose. I’ve been wrapping up George Saunders’ A Swim In a Pond In the Rain, in which he takes seven short stories and dissects them for meaning and demonstration of craft. I mention this because one of the common descriptions of Legends will almost always contain variations on the phrase ‘low stakes’ or ‘cosy.’ ‘Cosy,’ of course, usually applies to amateur female-sleuth mysteries of a certain type, and honestly, seems kind of diminutive. Perhaps it refers to the atmosphere of a pleasant coffeeshop? Regardless, as there is no mystery and the coffee shop is a process, I hesitate in that word choice. Moving on. Are stakes low? Does ‘nothing’ happen?
It strikes me that what Saunders says about Chekhov’s Gooseberries can be said about Legends:
“A story means, at the highest level, not by what it concludes but by how it proceeds… The story is not there to tell us what to think about happiness. It is there to help us think about it. It is, we might say, a structure to help us think.”
Legends thinks very hard about what it means to reinvent one’s life and to take unfamiliar risks. It uses an extremely familiar characters–orcs, elves, gnomes and humans–and an equally familiar setting–a generic fantasy world with a touch of 19th century technology. In short, if you’ve spent an hour playing Dungeons and Dragons or in World of Warcraft, you’ll fill in the blanks just fine. In fact, I think you are expected to. Baldree focus most of the narrative on Viv’s quest to build her dream coffeehouse. As common as that sounds, coffee is unheard of in this part of the world, so she reaching her goal will require some clever approaches. She’s got an ace up her sleeve to help her succeed.
‘Low-stakes,’ I think, mislead my idea of what to expect. For Viv, these are very high stakes: she’s walked away from a lucrative career as a mercenary with a few good friends to settle down in a new city and open the coffeehouse. The events in the story continue to challenge Viv, both emotionally and socially. Her new role as business owner means she can’t resort to swinging a sword every time trouble appears.
I’m just saying that … maybe, if you treated the rest of your life the same way you do the shop—invested in it the same way—then the cost would seem less.”
Is it then, cosy? Despite the clear roles of a D&D adventuring party, there are no adventures and the solution to the plot will not be slaying the Big Boss. There is a notable absence of horror which, frankly, is a relief, but don’t interpret that as a lack of threat, violence or physical danger. There’s pervasive humor, both in a gentle way and in a more ribald fashion, particularly from the old woman living down the street:
“I don’t mind tellin’ you, this beats the smell of horse apples, any day of the week.” Her eyes disappeared in the dried-fruit crinkle of her grin. “I’d always hoped we’d clear the high bar set by horseshit.”
Should you read this? Maybe. There’s perhaps a few flaws. Personally, I’d think it’d be a stronger work if it went through the writing mill one more time, but perhaps someone said, “hey, this is about an orc. We’re not talking Tolstoy, here. No need to get fancy.” But you know, in some ways we are: we’re looking at how one person steps out of the system and changes their life. I think it’s worth my time re-reading, and I look forward to the next installment Baldree releases.