Monday, May 13, 2013

Urban Fantasy Review: River Road by Suzanne Johnson

River Road by Suzanne Johnson:  Adult Urban Fantasy, 2nd in a series

Royal Street was one of my favorite books of early 2012, so I was so thrilled when the second installment, River Road, appeared within a year. Three years have passed since the exciting events of the first title in the Sentinels of New Orleans series, and Drusilla "DJ" Jaco is still keen on proving herself to the wizard Elders. Her mystery solving skills and her magic are put to the test as she investigates some freaky water pollution that's causing illness among the local mer-people.

World: What's cool about book two is how much DJ's world has changed in the several years since Royal Street ended. The supernatural and the mundane have become far more integrated, which means more potential problems for the wizard community and for sentinels like DJ. Of course, it's also really fun to read about. I'm still impressed with how vividly Johnson brings to life the New Orleans area and community. If you're the type of person who thinks UF should highlight the city it takes place in, then you'll love this series.

Characters: Jean Lafitte. 'Nuff said. LOL, but seriously, I love that pirate. DJ is still a cool chick to hang with for 300+ pages, although I was somewhat annoyed that her blossoming romantic life took over a good portion of the story. I know it happens in everyone's life at one point or another, but three dates in one book is a little much (esp. for UF). One thing I like about DJ is her easy confidence in her wizarding skills, but for some reason the girl can't pick out an outfit to save her life. I suspect things with her suitors will only going to get more complicated as the series progresses, and I'm not sure I think that's a good thing.

Pros & Cons: I can't rave enough about Johnson's attention to details when it comes to setting, magic, and general world building. Plus, DJ has a strong voice that draws you in and keeps you in the action. My biggest disappointment has to be the lackluster performances of her support team, including her partner Alex and enforcer-in-training Jake. I liked both characters when they were introduced in Royal Street (and still do despite this mini rant), but neither seemed to contribute much of anything towards helping DJ solve the story problem this time around. I hope both men get the chance to redeem themselves in book three instead of wasting all their time fighting over the girl (even if it is entertaining ;)).

Fresh Factor: Johnson has a knack for taking supernatural creatures and bringing them to life in new and interesting ways. The mermen and nymphs stand out as great examples in this particular story, and I can't wait to see what she does next (I'm especially looking forward to learning more about the mysterious elves).

Overall: I have to say, I think I enjoyed Royal Street a bit more than River Road, but I'm definitely hooked on this series anyway and have to give it 4 out of 5 stars. DJ is transitioning from novice sentinel to running the show in her territory, and it's so great to see her grow as a character.

Check out the excerpt below, and follow the links to get all the deets for the Sentinels of New Orleans series. Cheers!

Short Excerpt River Road

The minute hand of the ornate grandfather clock crept like a gator stuck in swamp mud. I’d been watching it for half an hour, nursing a fizzy cocktail from my perch inside the Hotel Monteleone. The plaque on the enormous clock claimed it had been hand- carved of mahogany in 1909, about 130 years after the birth of the undead pirate waiting for me upstairs.
            They were both quite handsome, but the clock was a lot safer.
            The infamous Jean Lafitte had expected me at seven. He’d summoned me to his French Quarter hotel suite by courier like I was one of his early nineteenth-century wenches, and I hated to destroy his pirate-king delusions, but the historical undead don’t summon wizards. We summon them.
            I’d have blown him off if my boss on the Congress of Elders hadn’t ordered me to comply and my co-sentinel, Alex, hadn’t claimed a prior engagement.
            At seven thirty, I abandoned my drink, took a deep breath, and marched through the lobby toward the bank of elevators.
            On the long dead-man-walking stroll down the carpeted hallway, I imagined all the horrible requests Jean might make. He’d saved my life a few years ago, after Hurricane Katrina sent the city into freefall, and I hadn’t seen him since. I’d been desperate at the time. I might have promised him unfettered access to modern New Orleans in exchange for his assistance. I might have promised him a place to live. I might have promised him things I don’t even remember. In other words, I might be totally screwed.
            I reached the door of the Eudora Welty Suite and knocked, reflecting that Jean Lafitte probably had no idea who Eudora Welty was, and wouldn’t like her if he did. Ms. Welty had been a modern sort of woman who wouldn’t hop to attention when summoned by a scoundrel.
            He didn’t answer immediately. I’d made him wait, after all, and Jean lived in a tit- for- tat world. I paused a few breaths and knocked harder. Finally, he flung open the door, waving me inside to a suite plush with tapestries of peach and royal blue, thick carpet that swallowed the narrow heels of my pumps, and a plasma TV he couldn’t possibly know how to operate. What a waste.
            “You have many assets, Drusilla, but apparently a respect for time is not among them.” Deep, disapproving voice, French accent, broad shoulders encased in a red linen shirt, long dark hair pulled back into a tail, eyes such a cobalt blue they bordered on navy. And technically speaking, dead.
            He was as sexy as ever.
            “Sorry.” I slipped my hand in my skirt pocket, fingering the small pouch of magic-infused herbs I carried at all times. My mojo bag wouldn’t help with my own perverse attraction to the man, but it would keep my empathic abilities in check. If he still had a perverse attraction to me, I didn’t want to feel it.
            He eased his six-foot-two frame into a sturdy blue chair and slung one long leg over the arm as he gave me a thorough eyeraking, a ghost of a smile on his face.
            I perched on the edge of the adjacent sofa, easing back against a pair of plump throw pillows, and looked at him expectantly. I hoped what ever he wanted wouldn’t jeopardize my life, my job, or my meager bank account.
            “You are as lovely as ever, Jolie,” Jean said, trotting out his pet name for me that sounded deceptively intimate and brought back a lot of memories, most of them bad. “I will forgive your tardiness— perhaps you were late because you were selecting clothing that I would like.” His gaze lingered on my legs. “You chose beautifully.”
            I’d picked a conservative black skirt and simple white blouse with the aim of looking professional for a business meeting, part of my ongoing attempt to prove to the Elders I was a mature wizard worthy of a pay raise. But this was Jean Lafitte, so I should have worn coveralls. I’d forgotten what a letch he could be.
            “I have a date after our meeting,” I lied. He didn’t need to know said date involved a round carton with the words Blue Bell Ice Cream printed on front. “Why did you want to see me?”
            There, that hadn’t been so difficult—just a simple request. No drama. No threats. No double- entendre. Straight to business.
            “Does a man need a reason to see a beautiful woman? Especially one who is indebted to him, and who has made him many promises?” A slow smile spread across his face, drawing my eyes to his full lips and the ragged scar that trailed his jawline.
            I might be the empath in the room, but he knew very well that, in some undead kind of way, I thought he was hot.
            I felt my face warming to the shade of a trailer- trash bridesmaid’s dress, one whose color had a name like raging rouge. I’d had a similar reaction when I first met Jean in 2005, two days before a mean hurricane with a sissy name turned her malevolent eye toward the Gulf Coast. I blamed my whole predicament on Katrina, the bitch.
            Her winds had driven the waters of Lake Pontchartrain into the canals that crisscrossed the city, collapsing levees and filling the low, concave metro area like a gigantic soup bowl.
            But NBC Nightly News and Anderson Cooper had missed the biggest story of all: how, after the storm, a mob of old gods, historical undead, and other preternatural victims of the scientific age flooded New Orleans. As a wizard, I’d had a ringside seat. Now, three years later, the wizards had finally reached accords with the major preternatural ruling bodies, and the borders were down, as of two days ago. Jean hadn’t wasted any time.

Royal Street
Sentinels of New Orleans Book One
Suzanne Johnson

Genre: Urban Fantasy 
Publisher: Tor Books
ISBN: 978-0765327796
ASIN: B006OM459U
Number of pages: 337
Word Count: approx. 94,000
Cover Artist: Cliff Nielsen

Book Description:

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 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 assassin as DJ's new partner, and undead pirate Jean Lafitte wants to make her walk his plank. The search for Gerry and the 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 roux.

River Road
Sentinels of New Orleans, Book 2
Suzanne Johnson

Genre: Urban Fantasy 
Publisher: Tor Books
ISBN: 978-0765327802
ASIN: B00842H5VI
Number of pages: 336
Word Count: approx. 92,000
Cover Artist: Cliff Nielsen

Book Description:

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.

About the Author:

Suzanne Johnson writes urban fantasy and paranormal romance from Auburn, Alabama, after a career in educational publishing that has spanned five states and six universities. She grew up halfway between the Bear Bryant Museum and Elvis' birthplace and lived in New Orleans for fifteen years, so she has a highly refined sense of the absurd and an ingrained love of SEC football and fried gator on a stick.


miki said...

I love the series!!! and i share your passion for Jean^^ so glad our favorite pirate with have his own novella soon... nothing better to wait until book 3 Elysian fields^^

Ella Gray said...

Hey miki - I can't believe I forgot about the novella! Thanks for reminding me, it will definitely help with the wait for book 3 :)

bn100 said...

Very nice review

Carole Remy said...

What a helpful review, Ella! Thank you. I love these two novels, and can't wait for the third. Suzanne Johnson is indeed an adept world builder!


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