Review: Royal Street by Suzanne Johnson

Format read: ebook provided by the author
Royal Street by Suzanne JohnsonFormats available: ebook, paperback
Genre: Urban fantasy
Series: Sentinels of New Orleans, #1
Length: 337 pages
Publisher: Tor Books
Date Released: April 10, 2012
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

As the junior wizard sentinel for New Orleans, Drusilla Jaco’s job involves a lot more potion-mixing and pixie-retrieval than sniffing out supernatural bad guys like rogue vampires and lethal were-creatures. DJ’s boss and mentor, Gerald St. Simon, is the wizard tasked with protecting the city from anyone or anything that might slip over from the preternatural beyond.

Then Hurricane Katrina hammers New Orleans’ fragile levees, unleashing more than just dangerous flood waters.

While winds howled and Lake Pontchartrain surged, the borders between the modern city and the Otherworld crumbled. Now, the undead and the restless are roaming the Big Easy, and a serial killer with ties to voodoo is murdering the soldiers sent to help the city recover.

To make it worse, Gerry has gone missing, the wizards’ Elders have assigned a grenade-toting assassin as DJ’s new partner, and undead pirate Jean Lafitte wants to make her walk his plank. The search for Gerry and for the serial killer turns personal when DJ learns the hard way that loyalty requires sacrifice, allies come from the unlikeliest places, and duty mixed with love creates one bitter gumbo.

My Review:

The conflict between duty, love and the search for identity make for just the kind of delicious (and generally spicy) recipe that New Orleans is particularly known for.

Suzanne Johnson’s first book in her Sentinels of New Orleans series combines the darkness of voodoo with the sweet spell of jazz, as all the ghosts of this magical city come out to play. However, the word “play” can have a rather sinister meaning for what Johnson has labeled “the historical undead”.

Drusilla Jaco starts the story as the assistant sentinel for New Orleans. She’s a green wizard. Not necessarily green in the sense of untried, although there’s a bit of that, but green in the sense that her powers are from the earth. DJ is a potions mistress. Her mentor, Gerry, is the red court physical power.

Then Hurricane Katrina sweeps in, and changes the game. Katrina wipes away New Orleans as DJ knew it, as everyone knew it. The “rules” force DJ to leave the city, while Gerry stays to maintain the wards against the Beyond. Ten days later, the wards are down, the Beyond is breaking through, and Gerry is nowhere to be found. The Elders (there are always Elders) think he’s dead.

DJ doesn’t believe it. She can’t believe Gerry’s gone. So she comes home to the devastation, the utter wreck of post-Katrina New Orleans, only to find that there is a serial killer stalking the National Guard and leaving voodoo sigils behind…and that there is a Council Enforcer at her doorstep, sent by the Elders to be her new partner.

The Elders believe that Gerry has betrayed his oaths.

Oh, and Jean Lafitte is after her. The pirate wants payback for a previous incident, and now that the barriers are down, he has plans for her. Being dead is not a problem for him. Not at all. The crazy thing is that if he weren’t dead, DJ might be interested.

Her new partner, Alex Warin, is also plenty interesting. Except that he believes that Gerry betrayed everything that the man taught her. But Alex is overbearing and over-protective into the bargain. DJ doesn’t want or need that much protection. What she needs is someone to believe in her.

And help finding the serial killer, especially since he’s marked her house.

The Map of Moments by Christoper Golden and Tim LebbonEscape Rating A: Royal Street does an amazing job of evoking the mystery of New Orleans and the despair of the Katrina devastation.  I would have enjoyed Royal Street just for that part alone. (Another urban fantasy that mines this same period incredibly well is The Map of Moments by Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon)

Then there are the two parts of the Royal Street story that made it shine as a fantasy, particularly urban fantasy.

One was the mining of the history and mystery of New Orleans and its melange of cultures and myths. In Johnson’s worldbuilding, behind our own world there is the Beyond. New Orleans is special, because belief in the past is SO strong, that behind New Orleans is Old Orleans, where the historical undead reside as long as people believe in them. A lot of people in New Orleans believe in a LOT of the dead. DJ has encounters with Marie Laveau, Jean Lafitte (frequently), one incredibly evil character and on the flip side, one quite sweet and surprising person.

The city of New Orleans is a character in her own right. As she should be.

Royal Street is the start of an urban fantasy series, and as such, it is really about the birth of a wizard, Drusilla Jaco. She discovers that she is not who she thought she was. She begins the search for her true power. Since the series is going to be her journey, I suspect that search is going to take a while.

DJ is someone who is worth following. She takes an emotional battering and gets up and keeps on fighting. She learns from her mistakes.

What is going to be very interesting will be to see whether any of the possible romantic entanglements develop. There are potentially three men in her life; Alex Warin, the enforcer who shapeshifts into a handsome extra-large golden retriever-type dog (DJ usually likes the dog better), Jake Warin, Alex’s ex-Marine cousin who just found out that the world is more dangerous than he imaged the hard way, and even Jean Lafitte, for whom death does not seem to be a barrier to romance.

River Road by Suzanne JohnsonI can’t tell you how happy I am that the second book in the series, River Road, is already out!

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