Royal Street – Suzanne Johnson

About the book

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.

336 pages (paperback)

Published on: April 10, 2012

Published by: Tor

Author’s webpage

This book was provided for review by the publisher.

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I almost didn’t read Royal Street. I don’t have luck with urban fantasy books that have a beautiful woman on the cover. I tend to think I can predict the plot before I crack the cover, so why bother? I was about to disregard this book forever when I read the back and saw the words “Katrina” and “New Orleans.” That changed everything. You see, I lived on the Gulf Coast for six months after Katrina, about two miles from ground zero. The town I lived in was 98% flattened; all but completely destroyed. The day after I arrived the army found a bunch of bodies floating in the bayou about a mile from the house I was staying in. There are images in my mind from this period of time that will never leave. I can honestly say that this experience changed me forever. So I saw these words on the back of the book and I knew I had to read it, if for no other reason than to see if the author did Katrina justice.

Royal Street centers on the story of DJ, a junior sentinel wizard whose job is to help ensure that various paranormal creatures don’t invade the city from the mysterious beyond. Then, Katrina strikes and DJ’s mentor and teacher goes missing and, determined to find him, and keep post Katrina New Orleans safe since the hurricane knocked out the safety net keeping this world and the other one separate, DJ stays incredibly busy, while never losing sight of her goal.

The plot is very exciting, and there is a ton of action, adventure and handsome men packed in the pages to make the book fly by. One of the things that impressed me about this book was the magic system. Johnson created a magic system that is unique and she spends a nice amount of time delving into how it all works, which makes this urban fantasy world refreshingly complex. This complex magic system works well in the chaos that Katrina leaves behind, as do many of the issues DJ faces throughout the book. New Orleans is complete chaos, and Johnson utilizes this to weave an urban fantasy tale that seems to fit flawlessly into it all. This blending of post-Katrina chaos and the urban fantasy happenings really work well together to help the believability of the work as a whole.

However, there are two sides to this coin. While, for the most part, I found Royal Street to be a surprisingly refreshing addition to a lot of what is stacked on urban fantasy bookshelves, there are problems, and most of the problems are exactly what I expected them to be – that is to say, there are plenty of clichés hidden in these pages. For example, DJ is incredibly beautiful with a hard luck past. She laments her nonexistent love life. Her partner after Gerry disappears is incredibly handsome, mysterious and dangerous. The undead pirate following her is also incredibly handsome, and I bet you can’t imagine that there is some tension between DJ and just about half the male cast in the book. In the end, the clichés overwhelmed most of the unique qualities this book contained and succeeded in making Royal Street feel watered down and “safe” within the urban fantasy parameters.

That being said, I read this book to see how Johnson dealt with Katrina, and I must say she did a superb job, and it’s probably due to the fact that she’s from that area and knows what it was like. She brought back memories of stinking refrigerators full of rotten food blocking streets, ruined ovens, areas where there used to be houses, but after Katrina only contained a sad foundation, or even less, trucks and cars that were…. Everywhere. It really was an incredible time, and honestly, I would have been really upset if the author used Katrina as a plot device without doing it justice. I was glad to learn that I didn’t have to be upset. Johnson did a wonderful job at showing what Katrina did, and the chaos it left in its wake.

In the end, Royal Street is a fun, predictable and rather cliché urban fantasy but for all that, it’s a solid debut and shows Johnson as a promising new talent. There isn’t much that really stands out here besides the magic system and the use of Katrina as a superb plot device. This is one of those popcorn books that will scratch your itch if you’re after something that will give you a mental vacation – just don’t read it expecting something that redefines the genre as we know it because you’ll be sorely disappointed.

3/5 stars

One thought on “Royal Street – Suzanne Johnson

  1. Thanks for this review Sarah, even though you didn’t enjoy it as much as much as you wanted to, and I know better than anyone your struggles with UF, you’ve pretty much convinced me that I’ll really enjoy this book when I get to it.

    I hope to give it a go by the end of the month.

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