I’ve long been a fan of Quirk Books, starting with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and continuing on through many other titles, not least of which was last month’s release, My Best Friend’s Exorcism, a fun little tale with plenty of ’80s references for old fogeys like me. This month, the company has released Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge by Paul Krueger, a story with a cool concept – cocktails, properly created, help the main characters fight demonic creatures by giving them superpowers.
The execution of this cool concept was a bit meh, unfortunately. There’s every reason for me to relate to the main character, a recent college grad named Bailey. She and I are both Asian, and we both went to pretty good schools, and our parents are similar in their goals for us. Bailey is a relatively likeable person with some kick-ass potential, except when she goes after a mediocre guy who has a girlfriend. She doesn’t mean to, but somehow she kisses the guy anyway. Ah, you had potential, Bailey.
Sadly, most of the other characters in this book feel like caricatures, and it seemed like there were bits missing to explain their relationships. The animosity between two bar owners was not really well-developed, and there could have been great material there. Bailey’s sudden switch to the other bar did not feel at all natural. Zane, Bailey’s romantic interest, had nothing special about him and I couldn’t figure out why she liked him. The stilted and awkward romantic bits were not fun. The secondary characters might well be interesting if more developed, but were reduced to one-note personalities that didn’t add much, and their actions didn’t always make sense. There’s the Surly Girlfriend, the Guy from Canada, the Really Evil Bad Guy, and Obi-Wan Kenobi.
The plot is amusing, though. Bailey, living at home and trying to figure out what to do with the rest of her life, is working as a barback because her high school friend, a guy who used to be interested in her romantically, pulled a few strings with his uncle Garrett. She accidentally discovers that every time Zane and his bartender co-workers take a “cigarette break” they’re actually protecting the city from these demon-things called tremens. Turns out, she rather likes this and isn’t too bad at the work, so she becomes a bartender-in-training. The drinks she creates give the drinker a special superpower that lasts until the body has absorbed the drink (about an hour).
And then she kisses Zane, and they fight. So she’s assigned to a different bar – the Long & Strong, because of course there’s a whole society of tremens-fighters with their own governing body and everything. There, she trains under Vincent Long. As it turns out, Vincent and Garrett are not friends. There’s bad blood there. Also, the holy grail of this tremens-fighting community is the Long Island Iced Tea, and Zane and his father are pretty close to making one. There’s a shady corporation involved and a climactic battle at a major Chicago landmark.
This story, written differently, could totally have riveted me. As it was, I read the whole thing almost in one sitting – and was disappointed. I did really enjoy the excerpts from the fictional mixologist’s guide, The Devil’s Water Dictionary, which lists the power of each cocktail and reveals its magical history. It actually inspired me to look up the real (non-magical history) of these drinks so I could see where the truth deviated from fiction. And it made me want to try my hand at mixing drinks (not that I thought they’d have any magical properties).
But what could have been a rich backstory is given short shrift. Parts of the plot seem contrived and unnatural, and anything that required emotion was not dealt with well. I mean, Zane found out some pretty scary things about his dad, and his reaction is virtually non-existent. And I just didn’t buy the Zane/Bailey romance at all. It had no weight to it, no flow, and no rhyme or reason for its existence or continuation.
Ultimately, Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge boasts a great title, a creative concept, and lots of unrealized potential. I thought it was fun overall as a free book given to me for review purposes, and I’d probably read a sequel to see if some of its faults had been addressed. But if you’re looking for the next The Mortal Instruments, maybe try the next book on your list.
Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge by Paul Krueger was published June 7, 2016 by Quirk Books and can be purchased at bookstores and online for $14.99. For more information on this title, visit www.quirkbooks.com/lastcall. Here’s a small taste of what you’ll find in this book: