Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge, by Paul Krueger, is an urban fantasy that I suspect may appeal especially to older young adults. Set in contemporary Chicago it plays tongue in cheek with the idea that the magic induced by ingesting alcohol facilitates the fighting of demons. The story asserts that, when correctly mixed, certain cocktails grant the drinker superpowers. These may then be used to fight the dangers that lurk in the shadows of city streets.
The protagonist, Bailey Chen, is a recent business graduate from an Ivy League college who has yet to secure the dream job she has been working towards since High School. She is living with her parents and doing bar work, using whatever tenuous links she still has in her home town to find an entry into what she regards as the grown up world. Even her bar job required nepotism. Her boss, Zane, is an old school friend, a former one night stand she lost touch with believing that she could do better than retain an attachment to someone like him.
Bailey discovers that Zane is a member of an ancient order of city guardians who work as bartenders. Using mixology and magic they seek out beasts called tremens before the dangerous creatures can feed on inebriated passers by. The bartenders are overseen by Tribunes answerable to the Cupbearers Court. As with any powerful organisation there are those within it whose aim is to increase their personal influence by whatever means.
Bailey joins the order and works alongside Zane to serve customers, grapple with monsters, and deal with the feelings they still harbour for each other. Their loyalties are tested when an old feud comes to the fore and it is unclear who they should trust.
Alongside the nighttime excitement, a well paid job at a tech startup becomes a possibility and Bailey must decide what she wants to do with her future. Saving lives is all very well but she has been dreaming of a secure job with benefits for a long time.
Throughout the book are scattered recipes for the cocktails the bartenders use along with background details on the ingredients and the powers endowed. These are taken from a book of ancient lore and include the impossible elixir, The Long Island Iced Tea, which enables the drinker to
“manifest more than one magical ability simultaneously, withstand greater amounts of pain and damage, and even cheat death.”
Naturally many have tried to mix such a drink and thereby achieve immortality. One would think they would learn from every such plot ever written that these endeavours are ill advised.
Bailey breaks the order’s rules and, in so doing, uncovers an audacious plan. Who can she turn to for help, and can they summon the powers needed to protect the lives of city revellers? Magic and mayhem ensue.
The plot is fast and fun with plenty of in jokes and goofy awkwardness. The cast of characters are effortlessly diverse, their self styled foibles gently mocking but always good humoured. The play on words and ideas never tries to be too clever, understating the obvious to effect.
An enjoyable romp that takes many old tropes and mixes them up in original ways. The bartenders and barristas of this world can indeed be life savers. And none should wish others to suffer from the tremens.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Quirk Books.