And now for something a bit different…
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Paranormal, Horror
Setting: Chicago, a cocktail lounge
Magic System: cocktails/mixology
Magic Wielders/Force for ‘Good’: bartenders
When I first read about Quirk Books’ plan to publish this book, I was not interested. I’m not a fan of horror, paranormal isn’t my first choice and demon is one of my keywords for “do not read.” I like fantasy, but not necessarily urban fantasy, and I am particular about the types of magic and magic-wielders I will read about. However, when one of the publicists put an image of a page of “The Devil’s Water Dictionary” up on Snapchat, offering an Advance Readers Copy to anyone who could guess which upcoming title it was from, I couldn’t resist. Pages of an old mixology book mixed in (ha, get it? mixed… I need more sleep) to the story instantly peaked my curiosity. Mixology magic? Suddenly, this became a type of magic/magic-wielder that I wanted to read about.
Here’s how they describe the book on Quirk.com :
College grad Bailey Chen has all of the usual new-adult demons: no cash, no job offers, and a rocky relationship with Zane, the only friend still around when she moves back home. But her demons become a lot more literal when Zane introduces Bailey to his cadre of monster-fighting bartenders.
It turns out supernatural creatures are stalking the streets of Chicago, and they can be hunted only with the help of magically mixed cocktails: vodka grants super-strength, whiskey offers the power of telekinesis, and tequila lets its drinker fire blasts of elemental energy. But will these supernatural powers be enough for Bailey and a ragtag band of mixologists to halt a mysterious rash of gruesome deaths? Includes 13 cocktail recipes from an ancient book of cocktail lore.
Now that (granted, for me this is in hindsight) is a great premise. I didn’t really expect to like it, though it being from Quirk gave me hope (I had felt the same way about Grady Hendrix’s Horrorstor, after all). It took me a bit to get past the idea of there being “demons,” and a little time to warm up to the story, but once I did it was pure enjoyment from that point on. Critical reading and prior reservations flew out the window. The prologue gave me a taste of how the author was handling the paranormal aspects and once the main storyline began and Bailey was introduced, I was just along for the ride.
[There’s a paragraph I love about pancakes and how “Pancakes understood her.” on pages 69/70 of the Advance Readers Copy, but I can’t quote it here (I have a whole list of quotes I thought I might use, but…) unless I verify it with a finished copy. It is one of my favorite paragraphs in the book. I woke up craving pancakes the morning after reading it, so I made some and continued to read the book while having them for breakfast. Check out my Instagram feed if you need proof.]
Some of the things I like about this novel include having a protagonist that was a young asian woman. I like the lack of disrespect towards her parents. I like the relationships between her and other characters and how they are portrayed. I like the mixology magic and how it is slowly explained, though not to an exhaustive extent. I like the overall lack of info-dumping that sometimes happens in fantasy – though I suppose this being basically our world with the addition of the mixology magic and the Tremens (weird beasts that feed off inebriated humans) makes that sort of thing less likely and “world-building” much less necessary. The Tremens are described, but not with much detail, and I am fine with that. Have I mentioned the “not a fan of horror” thing?
One slight criticism is that, while it is great to have diversity, just throwing a label on a character to have it there doesn’t seem the best way to go about it. I’m not, however, going to complain about the surface treatment of tertiary characters, as I didn’t really mind in this case. What I didn’t like in particular, and never do, was the excessive amount of foul language. Last Call is definitely not a good choice if you object to swearing in books (though a friend with a higher tolerance and a sharpie… no, wait, that is censorship and, besides, the human mind does have this tendency to fill in the missing words, so just skimming over them is the easier option).
One of the things Paul Krueger does particularly well in this novel is the final confrontation. This climactic battle scene is what left me wanting to see this made into a movie (even though most movies don’t live up to their book). I also really enjoyed, for the very first time, the author’s acknowledgements. Never before have I wanted to read every word of an acknowledgement page. Actually, it was two pages, and it was just fun – and so was the overall experience of this book.
So, overall, a bit lacking in details (but that is a positive here, for me) but a pleasant (that’s my lame attempt not to say ‘fun’ again so quickly) reading experience if you just go with it. It is a quick, light (for horror/paranormal) read that introduces what might just be my favorite magic system ever.
Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge by Paul Krueger | Quirk Books, June 2016 | paperback, 288 pages
This review refers to an advance readers copy I received, for free, from the publisher through Snapchat. There was no expectation of anything other that that I would read it, as far as I am aware. Nevertheless, the above is my honest (sleep-deprived) and hopefully spoiler-free review (should I not have described the Tremens at all?).