Science fiction and fantasy                                            

Royal Street

by Suzanne Johnson


Hurricane Katrina was horrifying enough without the addition of supernatural terrors. So setting a paranormal adventure during this disaster seems to be cobwebbing the zombie rather a bit. Drusilla Jaco is a witch specialising in herbs, rituals and empathy. Her abilities don't seem to be all that impressive, at least not in the sense of giving her magical firepower. So when one of the historical undead shows up from the Beyond she struggles to deal with him. Not least because the pirate, Jean Lafitte, is as lustful as he is violent.

When the hurricane hits it opens up lots of magical breaches between the worlds, allowing all sorts of supernatural creatures to come through. DJ is sent out of town when it hits so there will be at least one sentinel left if the worst comes to the worst. But when she returns she finds her mentor, Gerry, has disappeared in suspicious circumstances. The Elders are a bunch of grumpy and uncommunicative wizards in charge of the sentinels, and they want Gerry found. But they suspect him of defying them and siding with their enemies, and in the wizarding world treason carries a death penalty.

DJ isn't alone in her search. She's assigned a partner, Alex. He's a gun-toting enforcer who she hates on sight even though he happens to be very hot. Fortunately Alex has a cousin, Jake, who has no magical abilities and is in the dark about their world, but who is equally easy on the eyes. So amidst the chaos of banishing goblins, clearing flood debris and investigating murders there's a steamy love triangle brewing.

Someone is killing guardsmen in voodoo-style sacrificial murders. Meanwhile the houses of magic users in New Orleans are being marked with arcane symbols, including DJ's. It seems as if someone is painting targets on these doors. DJ is desperate to exonerate Gerry, but the deeper she digs the more evidence she finds of his apparent guilt.

Royal Street feels very similar to a lot of paranormal romance novels that have come before, with the exception that this sassy, strong-willed heroine isn't all that kick-ass. Her main magical power seems to be the ability to live on a diet of pure junk food without getting fat. Drusilla is likeable, but it wasn't until the second part of the book that I started to get a feel for her as a unique character. Until that point she, and indeed the whole setting, seemed formulaic. However things start to ramp up later on in the story as the pace quickens, the stakes get higher, and the characters show their true colours.

This is a high magic urban fantasy with a host of magical characters and species. There are elves, vampires, weres, goblins, wizards and more, and in some stories this can be a hindrance. In this book magic use tends to leave traces, and it draws supernatural attention like a beacon, but we aren't told that there's a high cost to using it. There's some talk about people who have chosen to give up their magic forever, but no clue as to why. This kind of "cheap" magic system can have the effect of lowering the suspense, because it leads us to expect the main character to discover a handy new power in the nick of time. Luckily magic doesn't work in the same way in all realms of Suzanne Johnson's world, so there's still considerable tension. I also liked the concept of the historical undead, powered by memory magic. They aren't vampires, and they operate according to a different set of rules to ghosts, so they're not the usual creatures we've seen before, behaving in the same old predictable patterns. The same is true for Royal Street as a whole: it starts off looking like yet another paranormal romance, but it gains depth and freshness as it progresses and ends up being rather intriguing.

8th October 2012

Book Details

Year: 2012

Categories: Books

    Female Protagonist  

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