Review: “Royal Street” by Suzanne Johnson

Title: “Royal Street”

Author: Suzanne Johnson

Genre: adult, paranormal, urban fantasy

Release Date: April 10, 2012

Summary: 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.

☆: 4/5 – a great new urban fantasy debut!

Review: I have to say, taking on during-and-post-Katrina New Orleans as a urban fantasy setting automatically earns my interest and readership, and Suzanne Johnson is pretty brave to take on such an awful event while turning into a setting (and then turning setting into an extra antagonist!). So I knew I had to read this once I read the blurb came out. While the setting is awesome (and what Johnson did with it is even more awesome), it fell flat in certain areas that I wish it really hadn’t in a kind of stereotypical way when it comes to the urban fantasy genre. But still, I think it’s worth the read, and definitely one of the more interesting urban fantasy debuts that I’ve read within the last year.

DJ is a great heroine – think of a female Harry Dresden that’s geekier-than-thou with a lot of failure under her belt, and who’s not really described as being sexy (unlike of SO much of the urban fantasy genre). That made me like her right away – though I do think that Johnson did take a little TOO much from the Dresden playbook in terms of (one of) DJ’s semi-antagonists, the Council of Elders. But I thought the idea of different Congresses for different types of magic was fascinating, and one that gets explored more in future books. I like that we have kind of a non-typical UF heroine in this book, and that really just kind of set the stage for me as a whole.

But where it fell flat for me was the part about having a male partner, in law enforcement, that’s a huge asshole (at first), who also happens to be a shapeshifter (spoiler alert!). Those two elements of having a male partner in UF seem/feel like they’ve been done to death, and I wish Johnson had come up with something else in terms of Alex’s character. His most dynamic parts were the parts where he debuted, and the parts where he did a more “mundane” job as protector with lots of big guns (and a grenade), and that just didn’t do it for me. It wasn’t enough.

But the rest of the world that Johnson built more than made up for Alex as a disappointing partner – as I said before, using during-and-immediate-post Katrina as a setting is extremely ambitious, but Johnson really made it work. To be honest, the worldbuilding is really the main feature of the book, as it creates the setting-as-antagonist, makes up most of the main arc, and also is a huge part of who DJ  is as a MC. Johnson made New Orleans and everything it went through (including Rita, after Katrina) a wonderful, rich world full of magic as connected to the otherworld, the Beyond, with breaches bigger than the destroyed levees in the hurricane for DJ and Alex to take care of, with lots of the “historical undead” (celebrities of history that aren’t quite…well permanently dead) making appearances to both help DJ and Alex and to make their lives hell when the afteraffects of the hurricane wasn’t. There were so many details all interwoven throughout the book that connected to DJ, Gerry, the Congresses, and the Elders and then cycled back into the setting that it really grounded me and I immediately felt comfortable (despite all of the sadness that is Katrina) within it. Everything ties back into the setting, and because of the hurricane, turns it into an antagonist that DJ and Alex must overcome in order to close the breaches to the Otherworld. It’s very difficult to make your setting into a character and even more difficult to make it another antagonist, so Johnson really scored huge here with being able to pull it all off. It made up for all of the elements that I just couldn’t quite get into or weren’t for me, and hands down, her worldbuilding abilities (and her creation of DJ as a character) are what really made this book work for me.

Oh, and having Historical Undead!Louis Armstrong as one of the good guys? AWESOME. Made my day, as well as the Historical Undead!Marie Laveau as the bad guy from the beyond (Lafitte was okay, but I love my Voodoo Queen!).

So even though I don’t read much adult urban fantasy, I really enjoyed this story as a whole (and it makes me want to read more adult urban fantasy as a genre).  There’s something for everyone in terms of readership – for those who are new to UF as a genre, and for veterans of the genre, I think everyone will find something they’ll like (if not love) about this book. It’s also pretty YA-safe, and that was kind of a pleasant surprise. I love sexy UF books as much as the next gal, but sometimes it’s nice to have a not full o’ sexy times UF book just as a change of pace.

Final verdict? Aside from my gripes, I really enjoyed “Royal Street”, and was pretty engrossed the whole time. I didn’t lose interest or get bored at any one point of the book, and it was a pleasure to read. “Royal Street” is out from Tor/Macmillan in North America as of April 10, 2012, so be sure and check it out then as it’s definitely worth the read. I can’t wait for book 2!


2 thoughts on “Review: “Royal Street” by Suzanne Johnson

  1. Pingback: usagi’s challenges for 2012! « birth of a new witch.

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