Being a total sucker for Louisiana in general, NOLA in particular, and sassy supernatural stories in between, this new series could've been written with me in mind. There are moments when I wonder if the 'dark fantasy' genre isn't full to overflowing but, as Royal Street proves, there always seems to be room on top for one more.
Mind you, it is getting tough for authors to find any original wrinkles to add to the magic / monsters mix of myth in the modern world, and you won't find many new concepts in here. The standard ingredients are thrown together with some panache, however: an unready and inexperienced apprentice forced to take on overwhelming odds; an intriguing mix of supernaturals including weres, wizards and whathaveyou; an inevitable overload of love interests; an unwelcome partner; an ambivalent ruling council, and a bad-tempered cat. There's romance but it's low key, not an in-your-face shagfest as some supernatural series can be.
The author has a lively writing style, easy to get along with, and the pace of the tale is generally fast 'n' light. It's not over-burdened with deep philosophical debate or strikingly stylish prose -and I did get a little frustrated with the heroine's seemingly irrational grump towards the guy who'd been sent to help her. I'd've thought that if you're up to your ass in alligators then a guy who comes fully loaded with automatic weaponry would be seen as an asset, and got a little tired with her adolescent attitude towards him in the early stages of the book. It smoothed out as the threat developed and our heroine's hidden secrets started to bubble up until, by the end, I was romping through the pages. Really enjoyed the use of historical characters, too, which is a nice tweak to the usual format. Hope to see more voodoo queens and jazz musicians in future books in the series. The author also does a creditable job of walking us around New Orleans and its battered bars and gin joints; she's nothing like as flowery as Anne Rice, but there are echoes of the same love of the city and its unique architecture and ambience.
Overall, Royal Street is as enjoyable as a frothy coffee with caramel syrup, and about as substantial. But that's no bad thing: this genre is all about escapism, and it surely serves out a good dollop of that.
on 15 August 2013
What a treat this was. I've had my eye on this series for a while now. Doesn't it have the most fabulous cover art? Thankfully, I found the inside of the book just as appealing as the outside. If you like any of the following in your urban fantasy, you should get along with this book (and series) very well:
Sensible, non-stupid protagonist
Interesting, complex and well-written secondary characters
Just enough romance to appeal, without overtaking
Villains you kinda-sorta have a crush on on the sly
Interesting hierarchies within the supernatural community
Magicky woo woo stuff
A well-plotted mystery with a thrilling conclusion
Vibrant and easy to visualize setting
Great dialogue and engaging narration
Wizards, weres, vamps, shapeshifters, and my favourite of all: historical undeads kept alive by the magic of memory (so. freaking. cool!)
If you don't like any of those things...WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?
Just kidding. But seriously, this is a great start and I enjoyed Drusilla - DJ - Jaco very much. I also have my beady eye on the hunk of man goodness that is Alex, and Jean Lafitte? What an interesting fellow. I'll reserve judgement on him for now until I delve deeper into his delicious undead brain.
I also really enjoyed the focus being on wizards for a change. And a female wizard to boot. Such a great idea to have your main character have an almost limitless potential for awesome. As long as she knows the spell for it, and can summon enough power, she can do pretty much anything. Which is so much more exciting than if she were, say, a werewolf or something.
What can you do? I can be a wolf.
What can you do? ANYTHING!
Which would you pick? Yeah, me too.
So I hope I've convinced you to go check it out. It should be on the shelf of every UF lover, without exception. I will not accept excuses.
4 Stars ★★★★
Drusilla Jaco (DJ) is an inexperienced wizard living in New Orleans at the time of Hurricane Katrina, when her mentor goes missing. She attempts to find him with the help of the Elders (those who manage and govern magic) and their appointed `enforcer' Alex. DJ must overcome forces from `Beyond'; a drunken pirate and a master of voodoo, as well as exert her independence and ability.
There was a lot to recommend this book. It is the first in a series and if it is seen as an introduction to characters then it's a passable easy read. The description of the devastation after the hurricane was some of the best writing in the book and was written with feeling and sensitivity. Unfortunately, it took too long for the plot to get going and when it did everything that happened was largely predictable.
I would read another in this series but I can't help but feel that Janet Evanovich and other similar authors have mastered this style of writing and this felt like a pale comparison.
I enjoy novels with a fantasy element but ‘Royal Street’ is total fantasy and I found it rather too much. Main protagonist Drusilla Jaco (DJ) is a junior wizard and via her mentor is thrown into safeguarding New Orleans as Hurricane Katrina allows all sorts of weird beings to return from the dead and slip into the city where killings are taking place. Most of the characters, both friends and enemies that DJ encounters, are make believe shape-shifters, zombies, elves, fae, magicians etc. but also some real individuals as the pirate Jean Laffite and cornet player Louis Armstrong. She conjures up some, and she returns some from and to the preternatural beyond, and most importantly she has to save her missing mentor.
Perhaps due to the nature of the subject I found author Suzanne Johnson’s writing to be simplistic, and it lumbered along from one scenario to the next without any sense of tension. DJ is naïve as she misses opportunities and makes poor decisions to unnecessarily put herself and others in danger. However the setting in New Orleans and the linking to Hurricane Katrina are intriguing, especially with the area’s reputation for voodoo, plus the reality of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation and its aftermath. In addition a love triangle is introduced, but DJ confuses love and lust and nothing matures as she is repeatedly distracted. At the conclusion of ‘Royal Street’ there are numerous open-ended threads and a sequel is expected. I hope this will drop use of the irritatingly pretentious word ‘preternatural’ and use just ‘supernatural’.
I was looking forward to starting this new series but was a little apprehensive as it's touted as a mix of Sookie Stackhouse and Harry Dresden. I've read books in both those series and wasn't a major fan or either, unfortunately. I was hoping the similarities to those books and Royal Street would be superficial and hopefully just a marketing ploy to tempt fans of those series to it. Like the Sookie books this is set in Louisana and like Harry Dresden's world the main focus are the Wizard sentinels.
The main character likes to be known as 'DJ' (although everyone calls her a different name - DJ, Drucilla, Drucilla Jane, Drucilla Jaco, jolie...too many names, truth be told) and she is a New Orleans assistant sentinel. When the story opens Hurricane Katrina is about to strike.
I liked the world building and some of the secondary characters and the actual story isn't bad...I just didn't warm to 'DJ'. She annoys me quite a bit, actually. One minute she's a strong independent woman taking control with a devil-may-care attitude, the next she's out of her depth with mostly everything. A few times it almost got the better of me but I forced myself to stay interested so I could find out where it was all headed and reach the conclusion. The 'love triangle' situation was a mountain out of a molehill really and was almost a major stumbling block for me. It was only ever going to be a triangle if DJ let it be and since she's so fickle and indecisive it all just got a bit tiresome.
I'm hoping she matures a bit in the next book and puts all that nonsense behind her, now that she's got a bit more experience and has a better idea of what she's supposed to be doing and is capable of.
I'll read the next one because I think the series has potential, I'm just not completely on board....yet.
on 24 July 2013
See my review of this book, and many more, at TalesfromtheGreatEastRoad.wordpress.com
Drusilla Jaco, DJ to her friends, thought her job was hard - mixing potions, helping to guard New Orleans from supernatural creatures (including attractive undead pirates), and negotiating politics with the Elder wizards. When the city is warned to evacuate due to the oncoming Hurricane Katrina, her mentor Gerry insists DJ leaves while he stays to defend the city from whatever may come. DJ watches safely as her city avoids the worst of the hurricane, only to be severely damaged by flooding. As heartbreaking as it is to watch, DJ's worst nightmare comes true when she gets a call from the Elders: Gerry has disappeared and the walls between the Otherworld and the mortal world have weakened.
Partnered with the stubborn, but good looking, Alex who works for the FBI, and hiding from the undead pirate she tricked who is back for revenge, DJ must help rebuild New Orleans and protect it from the supernatural monsters now unleashed. With a serial killer targeting wizards with voodoo rituals and the rise of disturbing questions about Gerry's views concerning the Elders, DJ may have her work cut out for her.
The use of Hurricane Katrina was very interesting, and justly done. Seeing the damage done to New Orleans through DJ's eyes, and her relief and guilt as she realises just how lucky she was to have escaped and have her home undamaged, was almost painful to read. Her heartbreak was real and helped to make DJ a sympathetic character.The descriptions of the city were also thorough, creating some very moving scenes. The few scenes in the Otherworld towards the end of the book where also very enjoyable. Hopefully, the Otherworld will be explored further in the rest of the series as it was isolated to Old Orleans, and had the potential to be far more varied in both setting and characters.
The romance in Royal Street is of the slow-burn variety, beginning with hostility between DJ and her partner Alex, slowly becoming friendship as they trust and confide in each other. Both DJ and Alex are likeable characters, despite their faults - namely both being stubborn, unnecessarily so at times. Jean Lafitte, the undead pirate and other half of the possible love triangle, on the other hand, was a character who was much harder to like and trust - though this does make him quite interesting. His motives are constantly unclear as he changes allegiances and plans with no notice. It is only obvious that he looks out for himself. Though this makes his character interesting and unpredictable, as a romantic interest it makes him unstable and fairly unbelievable, since he has tried several times to kill DJ. Other than his looks, there doesn't seem to be any other reason to be a romance with.
The use of voodoo in this book was very interesting, but could have been expanded. In fact, this seems to be the biggest fault with Royal Street. Though a few ideas and especially the world building was not as extensive as it could have been, as this is just the first of the series, I can only hope that these great ideas are further explored in the next novels, which I will be reading.
This series shows promise; I love the voice of DJ, most of the other characters are intriguing [especially Jean :)], the amount of other preternatural aspects for future books in the series is very interesting & is pretty much limitless, and the humour is genuinely funny and isn't forced onto every page, unlike a lot of similar books.
However, there is a but... the pace of the book is uneven - it starts slowly as we are introduced to the main characters, picks up as the mystery elements are introduced, slows again as DJ connects the dots, then ends strongly.
One star down.
I've removed another star, but bare in mind that this one is down to my personal reading preference, not down to the author's writing skills. The cliché I hate, the dreaded multiple-love-interest subplot, is present. Having to follow the thoughts of DJ as she drools over two guys is a bore, and it slowed down the book's already uneven pacing more, and distracted me from the main plot. There is also another guy waiting in the background, so I'm wary that DJ - and the author - is going to go all Anita Blake on us in the not too distant future...
Post Twilight this cliché has become over-worn and is now a common problem for me in most new urban fantasy reads; if the book has a female lead, then the authors automatically assume we all want to read about their love lives, and further assumes that we all day-dream about macho alpha types competing for us.... I'll read a romance if I want romance or smut, but when I want urban fantasy I just want to read fantasy in an urban setting.
I found the main plot and various characters interesting enough to pick up the second book in the series ], but at the minute this isn't a I-must-sit-up-all-night-to finish-the-book series. It does have the potential to get there though. I just hope that the author drops the love triangle/potential square.
To be honest I was pretty sold on this title by the book blurb and I was lucky enough to be able to get the first three to read back to back. Add to this the fact that I’d considered using a certain pirate within as a principle player in one of my own projects and I was more than interested to see what would occur within.
What unfurls, for me is a book that sadly starts off very slow. The introduction to the characters feels not only a little forced but also awkward without it feeling like its natural progression to the story overall. And yet, as you make your way through, the authors idea’s clearly come through as the mysterious plot wends its way into the readers imagination. It is a story that takes some getting used to and I hope that after an awkward beginning that the series will go from strength to strength.
on 10 December 2012
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.
Drusilla "DJ" Jaco is a 25-year old deputy sentinel and empathetic wizard, an apprentice of sorts to Gerald St. Simon, whose position with the Congress of Elders is to protect the residents of New Orleans from unwanted encounters from entities from the Beyond. But when Hurricane Katrina hits and St. Simon goes missing, the inexperienced Jaco is tasked with not only finding her boss but also protecting the devastated region from supernatural encroachment - the hurricane has opened the borders to the Beyond and chaos is all but inevitable. Her mission is made more difficult when she is partnered with a bravado-pumped enforcer named Alexander Warin, who Jaco initially judges thusly: the "body of an Adonis, brain of an anchovy."
While trying to find St. Simon, Jaco also must also deal with a series of bizarre ritualistic murders while also fending off the oversexed and potentially dangerous ghost of the infamous pirate and privateer Jean Lafitte.
DJ is a wizard who works alongside her boss Gerry to protect New Orleans from the supernatural creatures that are able to cross over from the beyond. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina Gerry is missing and the boarders between worlds are thinner than ever, there is a serial killer on the loose and it is up to DJ to try and sort out the mess. The Elders have sent her a new partner to help but can she trust Alex or does he have his own agenda?
The author is a one time resident of New Orleans and was there when Katrina hit, and It is that Katrina element, however, makes me hesitate; there is a level of discomfort in seeing a real tragedy translated into a world of fiction. And these are the elements that stand out most brightly in the novel: the guest appearance of Louis Armstrong with his saxophone, the local undead pirate population, and, of course, the natural and human disasters that were Katrina and New Orleans. A voodoo god stops by and the city is drawn with clear prose and purpose.
The mystery is intriguing, keeping the tension and pressure up to the very end. Because the heroine's strength lies in potion and ritual magic, she's often forced to rely on her smarts and stubbornness rather than magic.
Royal Street is the start of an urban fantasy series that has a lot of potential, there were some problems but I can see these being worked out over time and I'm definitely interested in reading River Road which is due to be published later this year. For a debut novel I was impressed with the world building, I enjoyed the mystery and although I did spot some of the twists in advance there were a few things that managed to surprise me. It will be interesting to see where Suzanne Johnson takes this series and I'm looking forward to seeing more of this world.