Hurricane Katrina is long gone, but the preternatural storm rages on in New Orleans. New species from the Beyond moved into Louisiana after the hurricane destroyed the borders between worlds, and it falls to wizard sentinel Drusilla Jaco and her partner, Alex Warin, to keep the preternaturals peaceful and the humans unaware. But a war is brewing between two clans of Cajun merpeople in Plaquemines Parish, and down in the swamp, DJ learns, there’s more stirring than angry mermen and the threat of a were-gator.
Wizards are dying, and something—or someone—from the Beyond is poisoning the waters of the mighty Mississippi, threatening the humans who live and work along the river. DJ and Alex must figure out what unearthly source is contaminating the water and who—or what—is killing the wizards. Is it a malcontented merman, the naughty nymph, or some other critter altogether? After all, DJ’s undead suitor, the pirate Jean Lafitte, knows his way around a body or two.
It’s anything but smooth sailing on the bayou as the Sentinels of New Orleans series continues.
**A review copy of this book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.**
RIVER ROAD has to be one of the best books I read in 2012. I read it as 2012 was coming to a close and it ended the reading year with a bang for me. Picking up three years after the first book in the series, ROYAL STREET, Johnson continues to bring us a fantastic heroine charged with keeping the supernatural world in line while dealing with romantic confusion and an unwieldy magical staff.
RIVER ROAD, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways…
1. DRUSILLA JACO, a.k.a. “DJ”
DJ continues to be one of my favorite UF heroines mainly because she’s one of the most relatable I’ve come across. DJ is strong, smart and independent; she’s self-deprecating, a bit geeky, and full of a social awkwardness that makes me smile. She’s not without her struggles. DJ doubts her abilities, her work, her romantic life – all issues we can relate to regardless of the fact she’s a wizard. Different job, same problems. In the first book, she was very green in terms of being a Sentinel, but now, three years later, she’s starting to come into her own. She still needs to look things up in her magical tomes and bemoans not knowing enough, but she’s developing a stronger sense of self as Sentinel which makes her a wonderful character to watch develop.
I wasn’t too big of an Alex fan in ROYAL STREET. I preferred Jake’s easygoing nature and warmth. But Johnson really flipped the switch on me in RIVER ROAD. With three years gone by, Alex and DJ have developed a comfortable but layered friendship. Preserving a working relationship keeps the chemistry to a platonic distance. And that chemistry is undeniable. Alex admirably holds his obvious feelings for DJ at bay while his cousin, Jake, recommences his romantic overtures towards her. Awkward? You bet. By the end of the book, I was team Alex all the way and was practically yelling at him to make a move. What makes this romantic triangle work is its slow development. DJ has a lot to figure out and Johnson is giving her heroine the time and space to do just that. It’s going to make the resolution of this romantic conflict all the sweeter because of it. Oh, and let’s not forget the sexy dead pirate, Jean Lafitte, who also has his eyes set on DJ. With him in the mix, anything can happen.
3. THE MYSTERY
RIVER ROAD has a very well-drawn procedural feel to it as well. Someone is polluting the waters of the Mississippi and it’s up to DJ to figure out the culprit before two clans of mermen go to war and innocent lives are lost. DJ has her investigator hat on and works through theories and possible magical stopgaps as she slowly makes her way to the final solution. Walking with her through her investigative steps was fun and suspenseful; it also provided a great backdrop in which to add more to the overall word-building of the series through the introduction of mermen and nymphs, and all the baggage they bring to the politics and history of the supernatural world.
This is still one of the major strengths of this series. Johnson really excels at creating a layered supernatural world full of magic, power, and politics. The idea of the historical undead – the continued existence of past historical figures whose immortality is fueled off the collective memory humanity still holds for them – is still one of the most original ideas I’ve seen in a UF. Johnson adds to this world by bringing the fae to the forefront towards the end of the book. This is obviously where the next in the series is heading as DJ’s staff and bloodline have brought her to the attention of the effectively frightening fae. I’m intrigued by where RIVER ROAD leaves us in terms of this storyline. I have a feeling DJ is going to be pushed beyond her boundaries in the next book.
5. NEW ORLEANS
In some books, the city in which the story takes place can often be just a backdrop and easily replaced by any other city in the world. Not so with the Sentinels series. New Orleans is a character in and of itself. While Katrina played a major role in the first book, its aftermath plays an equally important role in this book. The city is rebuilding, dealing with neighborhoods that haven’t been able to bounce back and people who’ve decided not to rebuild. Furthermore, the magical pollution of the Mississippi was also a timely reminder of troubles in the non-fictional Gulf region. And it’s this reminder that keeps the story of mermen, wizards, dead pirates, shapeshifters, and all the magical mayhem and excitement of DJ’s world, grounded and relevant to our own in a very thoughtful way.
I finished RIVER ROAD in the wee hours of the morning and my first thought was, “Damn, this was good.” Honestly, if you’re looking for a strong UF series with a very relatable and likeable heroine, a unique world and well-developed magic system, then you would do well to pick up RIVER ROAD and it’s predecessor, ROYAL STREET. Hands down, RIVER ROAD was one of my favorite books last year. Read it. Now.