Royal Street by Suzanne Johnson
Publisher: Tor/April 10th, 2012
Sentinels of New Orleans series
Kind thanks to Tor for providing a review copy
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.
Hurricane Katrina is coming, and Drusilla Jaco is battening down the hatches. Well, as much as she can. She’s gone to stay with her grandmother, out of the danger zone, but her mentor, Gerry St. Simon has stayed behind to weather the storm. When she finds out that he’s gone missing, she heads back to New Orleans to find him, and gets much more than she bargains for.
Drusilla is a junior wizard, and her specialty is physical magic (potions and such). As she combs through the wreckage of her mentor’s house, she’s at a loss as to how to go about finding him, and when the handsome and very capable Alex Warin shows up, claiming to be her new partner, all bets are off. Royal Street managed to surprise me in almost every way, which in an increasingly crowded genre, is getting harder and harder to do. Drusilla reminded me very much of Sookie Stackhouse (minus the mind reading.) She’s empathic, and does have quite a bit of magical talent, but in this first book, she’s still very much finding her way. When Alex bursts onto the scene, in the midst of a battle with undead pirate Jean Lafitte, you’d think that sparks would immediately fly and a romance would be inevitable, yes? Well, not so fast. Alex is undeniably hot, and his protective nature is certainly attractive, but there are more important things to worry about, namely some decidedly voodoo tinged murders plaguing the city and of course, the search for her mentor, Gerry. Then there’s Alex’s cousin Jake, who owns the local bar, is ex-military, and is refreshingly “normal”, which is an undeniable attraction for Drusilla. And Jake is certainly attracted to her too.
The setting of post Katrina NOLA is also a character in and of itself, and adds nicely to the atmosphere of this sparkling debut. Ms. Johnson’s writing is very polished and the pace of the novel is compelling without being too urgent. The characters get to know one another, and genuine friendships are formed, and one-sidedness is not to be found. Even the seemingly diabolical Jean Lafitte has a “better side”. I loved her concept of the Beyond, where the undead, the dead, and other supernatural beings make their home, and it will provide plenty of material for future novels. I, for one, want to explore Old Orleans more and get to know its colorful inhabitants better. Add to the mix characters right out of NOLA’s jazz age, shape shifters, plenty of magic, and compelling storytelling, and you’ve got the recipe for a great read! I identified with Drusilla immensely and can’t wait to follow her on her next adventure!