TITLE: Royal Street
AUTHOR: Suzanne Johnson
PUBLISHER: Tom Doherty & Associates/TOR
PUBLICATION DATE: April 10, 2012
ARC received from publisher via Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.
SYNOPSIS VIA GOODREADS:
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.
Royal Street by Suzanne Johnson is a wonderful introduction to a new series. With some interesting world-building and a relatable protagonist, Johnson has succeeded in creating a new world and heroine that I look forward to continuing to explore.
The plot of Royal Street is fairly straightforward. Wizard Sentinels are the police of the supernatural world, keeping preternaturals in check and protecting the mundane world from threat. Drusilla Jane Jaco, or DJ, is a junior sentinel for NOLA who is itching for more responsibility and more interesting assignments. She works closely with Gerry St. Simon, the senior Sentinel and the man who has basically raised her like his own. Katrina hits and Gerry goes missing. Meanwhile, as a result of the hurricane, the borders between The Beyond, a parallel world where preternaturals live, and the mundane world, where we live, weaken. Supernatural beings begin crossing into the mundane world at will, making it very difficult for the Sentinels to police the borders. Strange symbols also begin appearing at murder sites throughout the city. DJ and her new partner, Alex Warin, are tasked with finding the killer, protecting the borders, and figuring out what happened to Gerry. It is precisely Gerry’s disappearance that is the central storyline of the book. And for me, it was the most interesting aspect of DJ’s overall mission. DJ is faced with reevaluating everything she thought she knew about her relationship with Gerry and his past, and Johnson effectively brings the reader on DJ’s journey, causing us to question what we think we know about him as well.
There was a lot of originality in the Royal Street world. As someone who tends to prefer vampires and werewolves for my paranormal fare, it was refreshing to read a UF novel with a wizard as the main protagonist. I liked the idea of wizards being this organized body of supernatural beings – almost like a professional organization where you get licensed and are grouped into specializations, or Congresses. DJ is part of the Green Congress – she specializes in potions and rituals. She is not this kick ass wizard able to do physical magic, but rather one who has to prepare potions for battles, which adds an element of uncertainty in her confrontations with physically or magically stronger beings. I also thought the separation between the Beyond and the Mundane added a lot of potential for exploration. In Johnson’s world, vampires, weres, fae, mermen, dwarves, goblins and the like live almost exclusively in the Beyond, separated from humans. With the breaches brought on by Katrina, I look forward to seeing what havoc is created by these “pretes” crossing over into the Mundane and learning about the mythologies that surround each group.
I also liked the concept of the “historical dead.” Johnson created something really original here, where key historical figures live an immortal life in the Beyond because their power is fueled by our memory. They fade into mortality as we, in the mundane world, begin to forget them. As a result, Johnson is able to do some fun things with historical characters, the infamous pirate Jean Lafitte for one.
“Keeping up with him would require running, and there is no dignity in running after any man for any reason, injured or not.”
DJ herself is smart, funny, and witty while also being socially awkward in the romance department. She is confident but with a dose of self-doubt that makes her relatable. When partnered with Alex Warin, the chemistry between the two is obvious and provides some entertaining exchanges.
“The fight wasn’t over,” I said through gritted teeth. “I’d have won it.”
“Right,” he said. “And something just flew past your window. It was oinking.”
One minor quibble I do have is precisely Alex’s character. He was a little too distanced for me to really connect with and I felt myself being unsure as to whether or not I wanted the two in a romantic relationship. I understand the point of Alex is that he is hard to read, and maybe Johnson did too good of a job in keeping him that way. I’m interested in seeing what she will do in Royal Street’s follow-up, River Road, to develop the relationship between the two. This is especially true since DJ has several competitors for her affections – Jake Warin and Jean Lafitte – and I found myself leaning towards team Jake.
Finally, one of the greatest aspects of Royal Street is one of its main characters: New Orleans. Johnson loves this city and it comes through in the writing. She sets the story during the post-Katrina relief efforts, introducing each chapter with a quote from the Times Picayune newspaper.
“Saturday, September 17, 2005: Today in New Orleans, a traffic light worked. Someone watered flowers. And anyone with the means to get online could have heard Dr. Joy’s voice wafting in the dry wind, a sound of grace, comfort and familiarity here in the saddest and loneliest place in the world.”
Chris Rose, The Times-Picayune
I loved these quotes. It helped in setting the context and mood. It added to the claustrophobic feel of the novel. The events in this book really only take place in a couple of locations, mainly DJ’s house. And it fits. New Orleans was recovering from a disaster of epic proportions. It makes sense that there are not many places to go and it underlines the sense of urgency and desperation DJ felt to get out and do something to find her mentor and solve the murders taking place in the city she loves.
I give Royal Street a solid four howls. I highly recommend this to anyone looking for a strong UF to sink their teeth into. It is a wonderful start to a new series and I am looking forward to seeing how Suzanne Johnson continues to develop the world of Drusilla Jaco, New Orleans Sentinel.