Some time ago, I did a review for An Ember in the Ashes, with a one-sentence review for each chapter. I had a lot of fun with it, so I thought I would bring a similar format (with a couple added sentences) back for Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge by Paul Krüeger. Spoilers ahead.
The novel follows Bailey Chen, a recent college graduate ready to flex her new business degree. She’s not exactly taking Chicago by storm, though, instead working as a lowly barback in The Nightshade Lounge, owned by her best friend’s uncle. While closing up the bar one night, she discovers that cocktails, when made exactly right, grant the drinker magical abilities. Bartenders, like her friend Zane, imbibe these drinks to fight off monsters called tremens, demons that prey on drunks. Bailey eventually joins the ranks of the bartenders, mixing magical drinks and fighting demons while navigating her career and the politics of Cupbearer’s Court.
Last Call is a fun romp through Chicago, and there’s plenty of humor throughout the book. There’s some funny and self-aware moments that really made me smile. Some of the jokes do fall flat, particularly the character Bucket’s Canadian pride. The gag goes on so long that “Canadian” becomes Bucket’s one and only character trait, culminating into the reveal that his van has a huge Canadian flag on the side. I wanted to laugh at this, but after 90 or so pages of Canadian jokes, it just got old.
I was a little wary about a female protagonist being written by a male author, because it’s not uncommon for men to write women very poorly. This could be anything from oversexualizing female characters, having goals that only center around men, being a ditzy doormat, or just being a boring badass. (If you really want some entertaining examples, search “describe yourself like a male author would” on Twitter). I was pleased that I didn’t encounter any of these pitfalls. Bailey’s smart, ambitious, and she’s not afraid to take risks to do what she thinks is right. She makes mistakes and has to learn from them. Ultimately, her tenacity is what lets her triumph over her supernatural and mundane adversities.
The love triangle was far more problematic for me. Bailey develops a crush on Zane, who she had hooked up with once shortly after her high school graduation. Zane, however, has already found love with his fellow bartender, Mona. Mona is serious and quiet, and…that’s about it. The problem with this love triangle is that it doesn’t challenge the reader. The story structure is pretty predictable, so we can already guess that Bailey and Zane will end up together. What solidifies this, even before the end of the book, is just how boring Mona is. She’s great at killing demons, but she doesn’t share any of the characters’ excitement, or their interest for making a legendary Long Island Ice Tea. Mona had the potential to be a really intriguing character, but just ends up being flat and dull.
Because Mona is so boring and at times downright unlikable, there’s no reason for the reader to want to see her stay with Zane. The love triangle is cut and dry. We all know how it ends long before Bailey and Zane kiss.
Overall, though, Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge is a fun, light read, for anyone who likes cocktails and magic.
Now, the (mostly) one-sentence chapter breakdown!
Prologue: Is the cop going to show up again, or is this just in media res for no reason?
Chapter 1: The writing is actually funny, if a bit predictable.
Chapter 2: Hooray, the main character knows what the audience should have already known just by reading the back of the book.
Chapter 3: It’s moving pretty simply so far: Call to Adventure, Meeting with the Mentor and now answering the Call to Adventure.
Chapter 4: I’m hoping that the love triangle becomes somewhat more interesting, but I’m not holding my breath.
Chapter 5: Finally, we get to see Bailey fail at something!
Chapter 6: I’ll forgive the kiss because adrenaline makes us do crazy things, but I really doubt Bailey hasn’t seen Zane since high school.
Chapter 7: Good, an escape from the love triangle.
Chapter 8: The author does a good job making sure that Bucket being transgender is no big deal, but never stops reminding you that he’s Canadian.
Chapter 9: Okay, this was pretty awesome.
Chapter 10: How does Zane make the leap from “we just fought off an army” to “we need to make the alcoholic version of a philosopher’s stone”?
Chapter 11: The stuff at Bailey’s interview is funny, but could the book yell, “these guys are douchebags” any louder?
Chapter 12: I don’t know if I should complain about Mona’s blandness here, or the obvious foreshadowing that she’s probably immortal.
Chapter 13: Man, it’s awfully convenient that the person trying to brew the McGuffin is giving Bailey a job interview.
Chapter 14: Vincent’s my favorite, but being the mentor character, he’s about to get written off.
Chapter 15: YOU KILLED THE DOG?!
Chapter 16: Curious how Vincent thinks Bailey stabbed Bowie in the back by…using what he taught her to accidentally stumble on a devastating secret that will get people killed if she doesn’t do anything about it?
Chapter 17: I want to appreciate the Sailor Moon reference in this chapter, but Tuxedo Mask doesn’t wear an actual tuxedo. He wears a white dinner suit, which is one of the many reasons why Tuxedo Mask is just the worst.*
Chapter 18: Oh no, whoever thought the boring, stoic, and mysterious Mona would be the bad guy. Gasp.
Chapter 19: After watching Bailey kick ass throughout the book, she needs to get saved by someone at the last minute.
Chapter 20: Oh my God, Bucket. You’re Canadian. We get it.