Suzanne Johnson – Royal Street

As the junior wizard sentinel for New Orleans, Drusilla Jaco spends more of her time mixing potions and retrieving pixies than she does sniffing out the supernatural bad guys that slip over from the preternatural beyond. It is DJ’s boss and mentor, Gerald St. Simon, who is tasked with protecting the city.

But when Hurricane Katrina hammers the city’s fragile levees, it unleashes more than flood waters. As the winds howl and Lake Pontchartrain surges, the borders between the modern city and the otherworld start to crumble away…

Now the dead and the restless are roaming the Big Easy, and a serial killer with ties to voodoo is murdering soldiers sent to help the city recover. To make it worse, Gerald St. Simon has gone missing, the wizards’ Elders have assigned a grenade-toting asshat as DJ’s new partner, and an unsavoury, undead pirate called Jean Lafitte wants to make her walk his plank.

If she’s going to survive, DJ will have to learn that loyalty requires sacrifice, allies can be found in unlikely places… and that duty mixed with love creates one bitter gumbo.

When Royal Street was first published in the US, I read some reviews for it and thought it sounded as very interesting book, so when I was offered a review copy by the book’s UK publisher I didn’t hesitate in saying yes, hoping to find out whether my impressions from the blurb and the reviews were correct. What spoke to me most in those reviews was the praise Johnson garnered for her portrayal of New Orleans immediately after Hurricane Katrina. Having watched the horrible after-effects of Katrina on TV and living in a country where about a quarter of its territories are below sea level and thus vulnerable to flooding, this was an element that resonated with me. It turns out that the reviews didn’t lie; the portrayal of New Orleans and its survivors was strong and heartfelt.

In addition to the interesting setting, Johnson creates an intriguing magical setting, with a magical community divided into human wizards, who live in our world and the rest of the magical beings who mainly live in the Beyond, but try to crossover to our plane every chance they get. In addition to all the regular supernatural creatures, or preternaturals as they are called in Royal Street, Johnson has added the historical undead, spirits that are being kept alive – or rather undead and kicking – by people’s vivid memories and veneration of them. These historical undead make for an interesting ingredient in the world and allow Johnson to include legendary New Orleanians such as Jean Lafitte and Louis Armstrong without having to fabricate a history where they were turned into vampires. The structure of wizarding society into classes divided by skills ruled by the Elders was well thought through and it’ll be interesting to see how these Congresses are developed in following instalments of the Sentinels of New Orleans series.

While Royal Street has a very cool protagonist in the person of DJ and some very likeable characters – even one of the villains is likeable– its characters are also where for me the first cracks started to show. As stated, she’s a cool character. She’s not a big fireworks throwing wizard, she’s a Green Congress wizard whose powers manifest through potion and ritual. She’s also an empath and Johnson uses this to great effect to show how hard life after Katrina is, when she has DJ move through the city half-shielded. But DJ also has some less enjoyable traits. The one that drove me to distraction most was her constantly harping on about the physical attractiveness of the male characters. After hearing about Alex’s imposing physique or Jake’s cute dimples two or three times I got the picture, but DJ keeps repeating it. Even to the point that she refers to her opponent’s impressive musculature in the middle of a serious fight. This bugged me and I thought it lessened DJ’s character.

In addition, there are some predictable plot elements that were somewhat disappointing. First of all, the love triangle – why must there always be a love triangle? – between DJ, Alex, and Jake. I usually dislike love triangles, but in this case it had the added annoyance that there isn’t a clear cut preference. It seems as if even the author doesn’t know who she wants DJ to end up with, which in my case led me to just being annoyed with DJ for leading both these equally nice guys on. Similarly with a revelation on DJ’s bloodlines about three quarters on in the book, which had been telegraphed so clearly that to me at least it wasn’t such a big surprise.

Despite these issues, however, I did really enjoy the time I spent in Johnson’s New Orleans. Royal Street was a fun and pacey read, that left me looking forward to finding out what happens next. And yes darnit, I do want to know who DJ ends up choosing. If you like your urban fantasy atmospheric and with more than a touch of romance, Royal Street will be right up your alley.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.


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