July 31, 2013

Spotlight on: Sentinels of New Orleans Series by Suzanne Johnson

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 

Purchase Links: 
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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.

Royal Street is the first book in the Sentinels of New Orleans series by Suzanne Johnson. Knowing it was the first book in the series, I went into it expecting a lot of world building and the introduction of a lot of characters. I think that Johnson did a really good job handling these two chores. There was never a time where I felt overwhelmed by too much detail, or confused by the large addition of characters. Plus, Johnson added in real life details about Hurricane Katrina (the book is set in New Orleans at the time that Katrina hit), which added to the authenticity and depth of the world she was building. I really liked that part of the book. I felt like there were probably some subtle details and descriptions that I didn't pick up on because I am not all that familiar with New Orleans, but I definitely appreciated all of the layers that were incorporated into the story.

The two main characters of Drusilla (DJ) and Alex were pretty solid. DJ is a junior sentinel wizard that helps her mentor Gerry police the New Orleans district when there is a breach between the Beyond and this world. Basically, when preternatural species find a way to cross the barrier from their world to the human world, DJ and Gerry go out and send them back to where they came from. When Katrina hits, the barrier is weakened exponentially and all kinds of fun characters make an appearance. DJ has fled the city to wait out the hurricane while Gerry stayed behind to keep an eye on things. However, Gerry goes missing, and weird voodoo graffiti tags start popping up around New Orleans along with several dead bodies that are killed in the manner of a voodoo sacrifice. Now that Gerry is MIA, DJ has to step up and take the place as Sentinel of New Orleans, and find out what is going on. The Congress of Elders send her an enforcer named Alex to be her partner and help her find out what happened to Gerry, and to help her reinforce breaches in the barrier. However, things get serious real quick when DJ discovers that Gerry is alive in the Beyond and is somehow involved with the voodoo god Baron Samedi in his plot to breach the barrier once and for all so that all preternaturals can cross back and forth into the human world at their own free will. (view spoiler) The question is, was Gerry forced to help Samedi, or is he up to his ears in the evil plan of his own volition? Along the way there are other twists and turns that are revealed that keep the plot line going in several different directions.

I really enjoyed this story and all of the different layers of scheming and mayhem that were going on. I also liked the idea of the Historical Undead - historical figures that don't really die until everyone in the human world forgets about them. For instance, the pirate Jean Lafitte, who has a big "following" in the New Orleans area is able to cross the boundary between the Beyond and walk in the human world at will (as long as there is a weak spot to cross). Louis Armstrong and Marie Laveau also make appearances in the story. And you also have the usual assortments of wizards, vampires, werewolves and shapeshifters that are hanging around.

DJ was a strong female character. Strong in that she was very headstrong and stubborn, and pretty much did whatever she wanted to, whenever she wanted to. I wish that she had a little bit more magic to back up her attitude. She is a Green Congress wizard that draws most of her power from potions and herbs instead of from purely physical magic like Red Congress wizards. In short, she is pretty much the weenie of the wizard world. More of a defensive player instead of an offensive player. However, I really hope that the discover of the Elven staff and bloodline will lead to more developments in this area in future books.

Overall, my only complaint about the book was that I wanted more of a romance to develop between Alex and DJ. The quasi love triangle that was set up between Alex and Jake and DJ didn't really work for me, because there wasn't enough development between anybody to warrant jealousy or real emotions. I think towards the end of this book some progress was made in the romantic department, and I really hope that continues in book two. What can I say, I'm a sucker for a romance story (and a hot shapeshifter!)

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

Barnes & Noble

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.
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.
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.


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