Book Review: Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge by Paul Krueger
A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 2 of 5 stars
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Stand Alone/Book 1
Publisher: Quirk Books (June 7, 2016)
Length: 288 pages
Unfortunately, my high hopes for this book were not met, possibly a case of “wrong book, wrong time” or I’m simply not the right audience for this kind of urban fantasy (which I think is probably more likely).
Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge is billed as a “new adult” paranormal UF about a secret society of monster-hunting bartenders who gain super powers by imbibing their magical cocktails. The story stars Bailey Chen, a recent grad who returns home to Chicago with a business degree but no job prospects. To keep her parents off her case, she agrees to work as a bar-back at the Nightshade Lounge, a bar owned by the uncle of her childhood friend Zane.
Then one night at the end of a closing shift, a liquor cabinet left carelessly unlocked by one of the bartender leads to Bailey fixing up her own drink—what she figured to be a totally ordinary screwdriver. But walking home afterwards, Bailey encounters her very first tremens, a kind of beast-like demon. To her shock, she finds she is suddenly gifted with inhuman strength, enabling her to defeat the creature quite handily. Only then does her friend Zane let her in on the big secret: he and the other bartenders at the Nightshade are actually part of a large underground network of magical mixologists. By accidentally mixing the perfect screwdriver and killing a tremens with the powers it gave her, Bailey has suddenly come to their attention. For centuries, this group has been keeping the world safe from monsters by tapping into the magical properties of alcohol, and now Bailey has the opportunity to join their ranks.
So, this novel had a really great hook. After all, alcohol magic sounds like a boatload of fun. I also grant that it is unique, and not your typical urban fantasy. That said, though—and the irony does not escape me—had the story turned out to be a bit more conventional, it might actually have worked better for me.
The main problem I had with this book is the humor. I understand the story is meant to be a bit outlandish, or “sharp and funny”, but I personally found little to nothing that really amused me. The premise felt ridiculous, in an awkward and puerile sort of way (which is ironic too, given how this one is described as New Adult, but I’ve read Young Adult and Middle Grade books where the characters are more grounded and mature). I might have rated this book higher too if the story had been more fleshed out, but the plot was your standard paranormal fare and formulaic to boot.
It was also hard to take Bailey or any of her friends seriously when they all came across like cartoon characters–almost like clichés of clichés. Don’t get me wrong; I can totally understand wanting to give each and every one of your characters their own personality traits or quirky mannerisms in order to help make them stand out, and it might even have worked had the author not gone way overboard with it. While it was charming at the beginning, over time their idiosyncrasies just became unbearably silly. Case in point, the villain in this novel literally talks like a villain. Another example is Bucket, a character from Canada who cannot seem to stop talking about the fact that he’s from Canada. As a transplanted Canadian living in the States myself, I admit I smiled at the first couple of times he made references to Canadian bacon or milk-in-a-bag…that lasted for about ten seconds before the repeated jokes felt about as funny as nails on a chalkboard. Then there was our protagonist Bailey, an overachieving elitist who actually seems proud of the fact that she learns by rote rather than through any real kind of creativity or free thinking on her part. No, Bailey, that just makes you predictable and boring. Oh, and she also kissed a guy knowing full well he had a girlfriend. That’s just disgraceful. Bad, Bailey, bad.
There was one aspect of this book I truly adored though, namely those “excerpts” you can find between some chapters which are taken from The Devil Water’s Dictionary. This is the fictional mixologist’s guide to all things alcohol and magic, and includes the recipes, secret histories, and effects of all the various cocktails. These tidbits provide extra flavor to the story and I found them fascinating and creative.
However, overall this book and I just didn’t mesh. I’ve always preferred a more subtle kind of comedy, so no surprise that while I love the concept behind alcohol magic, I didn’t care too much for the over-the-top way it was handled. The characters were also way too unrealistic (and unlikeable). Still, given the subjective nature of humor, just because this book didn’t click with me doesn’t mean it won’t click with you, and if the novel’s description sounds like something you’d enjoy, it might be worth a shot. Unless his next book will be in a completely different genre and written in a completely different style though, I think this author and I will be parting ways for now.