So after loving Steel Crow Saga, an obvious thing to do was check out Paul Krueger’s Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge, an earlier work that had somehow passed me by completely unnoticed.
This one is essentially an urban fantasy, set in the regular world (specifically Chicago, although a much more recognizable one than Jim Butcher’s Chicago) only with magic. But the magic here is… cocktail-based. The conceit is that eldritch monsters feed on drunk and lonely people late at night, and bartenders are a secret guild of protectors, who not only serve drinks but keep their customers safe. And to help them do this, they’ve created magic versions of cocktails that give them special powers—super-strength, invisibility, so on.
This is the kind of too-clever premise that could make for either an absolutely dreadful book or a reasonably fun one, depending on how well it’s handled. Fortunately, Krueger handles it well. The characters do a solid found-family thing, the writing has the same kind of energy that it did in Steel Crow Saga, and the absurd premise is taken just seriously enough—it’s developed out enough that it really does make sense to base a plotline around it, but not so much that you end up forgetting it’s inherently a lark.
This does feel a bit like a first novel—not for any particular reason that I can put my finger on, just something about the pacing or the characters is a little unpolished—but it feels like a really promising first novel. If the premise sounds like it could be fun, then you’ll likely find it so. Recommended.