Friday, May 27, 2016

Creatures, Barkeeps, and Cocktails. Oh My!

Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge

By Paul Krueger

Publisher: Quirk Books

Pub. Date: June 7, 2016

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

In reading Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge, the first thing I noticed was the emphasis in the promotion to call this a "New Adult" Novel. Once I figured it was a targeting ploy and not a "new novel for adults", I endeavored to find out what it meant. Goodreads to the rescue. Their explanation: "New Adult fiction bridges the gap between Young Adult and Adult genres. It typically features protagonists between the ages of 18 and 30". So okay. In our status-focused and age-focused civilization, I guess the typical 20 year old is not ready to bridge the gap between Suzanne Collins and Jackie Collins yet. You need to take baby steps.

That new targeting ploy becomes even odder when I finally got into the novel. Let's look at the premise. Bailey Chen has just graduated college. She has no real prospects yet and is not sure what to do with her life. She has taken a job at a local bar as a barback which has the dubious distinction of keeping her around her old friends, especially her friend Zane with whom she has an unreturned infatuation. But one night she makes herself a Screwdriver (vodka and orange juice if you are not a drinker) on the sly and finds she has special powers for about an hour. On top of that, vicious creatures called tremens begin showing up. She soon finds out the bartenders are really an old form of magicians/warriors whose ability to mix drinks is really an ancient form of potion making. In other words. making a drink right does way more than giving you a buzz.

It is a very clever idea, maybe even inspired. Equally inspired is the inclusion of several drink recipes and background on that drink and its ingredients. But problems come up very quickly, not the least that "new adult" designation. The characters are in their twenties but the dialog is in the teens. It just doesn't feel right. The protagonists in this novel have no business near a liquor bottle not to mention bar tending. But there are other issues. While the premise is fine, the necessary background and build-up isn't . We are given a cursory background for the bar tending gig but the threat they fight is uncomfortably vague. What exactly are they and where do they come from? We never really find out. What we have is a good premise with a thin story and little atmosphere. That is not a good thing when you are writing a fantasy, even an urban one.

And that is the problem. When all is said and done what we have is a rather regular and nondescript urban fantasy that doesn't know if it wants to be teen or adult. Most of the characters are formula driven with the exception of Vincent, a blind bartender, who is a noble and feisty addition. A cute gimmick only goes so far in making a novel stand out. This one doesn't stand out.

Overall, it's a cute story. But without something to make you care or to immerse yourself in this alternate reality, it falls flat. Perhaps it is too obviously trying for that target audience. It isn't really ""New" or "Adult". And that is why I have to say give it a pass. Maybe you can try to make one of those cocktails. But if you are reading and enjoying this "adult" book you probably should be carded.

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