One of my co-workers has a love affair with the ARC shelf at her local Half-Price Books. (An ARC, for the uninitiated, is an Advanced Reader’s Copy.) It’s how I got to read Drink Deep two months before it was released. And it was how I got to read Royal Street, due out in April.
Royal Street, the debut novel from Suzanne Johnson, follows wizard Drusilla Jaco through the water logged streets of New Orleans. After Hurricane Katrina rips through the Gulf Coast, the borders between the Now (the mundane world) and the Beyond (populated by vampires, fae, elves, and the “historical undead”, which are different from vampires) are weakened to the point where the many of the preternatural beings that populate the Beyond are slipping through.
To make matters worse, DJ’s mentor, Gerald St. Simon, is missing, and she’s been assigned a co-sentinel, a sexy shifter named Alex Warin. It’s quite a colorful cast of characters, ranging from an undead pirate to Alex’s cousin Jake (yet another romantic entanglement waiting to happen) to Louis Armstrong. Yes, the Louis Armstrong.
There’s a lot to like about this story. DJ is a fantastic heroine, strong when she needs to be, impetuous, and with a penchant for junk food. A woman after my own heart! Johnson works in quite a bit of history, particularly about voodoo and Baron Samedi, and better, she makes it interesting and relevant to the story. I loved walking through her New Orleans and was just as pissed as DJ was about her library door and stained glass window (read the book, you’ll understand what I mean.)
The whole love triangle set-up with Alex, DJ, and Jake, though, didn’t play for me. For one, I wasn’t feeling DJ’s attraction to Alex, although she was quite receptive of Jake’s attentions. Still, neither man really had me rooting for them, and when it comes to a triangle, I always want someone to root for. Otherwise I get frustrated and tempted to stop reading (ahem, Richelle Mead!)
When I think wizards, I think Harry Potter. I imagine the rest of the world does too, at this point. That’s the other problem I had. Johnson describes the magic performed, but doesn’t do enough to differentiate wizards from witches, although at one point it becomes quite clear, with a single sentence, there is a difference. I just wish I knew what it was.
What Royal Street reads like, though, is a love letter to New Orleans. Headlines taken from the Times-Picayune pepper the chapter headings, ranging from just before the storm up to October 7th, when parts of the city’s water was deemed drinkable. My heart broke all over again reading the descriptions of the devastation to a city steeped in so much history, all wiped out not by a natural disaster, but from failure by humans to prepare for the worst. There are scenes where DJ and Alex travel the streets in a boat. Mold climbs like creeper vines up interior walls. The once vibrant city is reduced to a ghost town. A visit to the morgue turns up body upon body upon body. Johnson says on Goodreads that Royal Street started as her way of coping with Katrina, and spun out from there.
Would I recommend it? Sure. The story was intriguing enough to make me want to read the second book in the series (River Road, out later this year). It’ll be interesting to see what sort of trouble DJ gets herself into next.
Royal Street is out April 2012 from Tor Books.