Premise: Drusilla Jaco is a junior sentinel and Green Congress wizard, trained in ritual magic, apprenticed by her mentor Gerald St. Simon, who is a physical magic Red Congress wizard. Together they protect New Orleans by investigating breaches in the barrier between the mundane world and the Beyond, where vampires, fae, elves, and the historical undead reside. Drusilla (who also goes by DJ) is busy sending the pirate Jean Lafitte back to the other side when Hurricane Katrina hits, causing much more damage than mere flooding.
The hurricane damages the barrier between two worlds, causing rifts that allow greater access into our world to the undead. Someone is using the chaos to kill soldiers and relief workers in voodoo rituals, all in the name of Baron Samedi, the voodoo deity. During this time Gerry goes missing and DJ is assigned a new partner, the enforcer Alex Warin, who turns out to have some secret powers of his own.
Not only must DJ learn the ropes of her new role assigned to her by the Elders, she must discover the whereabouts of Gerry, uncover who is behind the ritual killings, and protect herself from the relentless attacks of the undead. All of this must be done while New Orleans recovers and she unearths family secrets in Gerry’s journals that have been kept from her for her entire life.
Themes: Royal Street is a mystery with twists and turns, making new revelations around each corner. DJ must investigate Gerry’s disappearance, the barrier destroyed by the hurricane, and the mysterious killings of aid workers and soldiers.
Loyalties are put to the test in this story. As details about her past are revealed, DJ will be forced to choose between her allegiances to family and the promises inherent in performing her duty as a wizard.
Though it didn’t really feel like a romance novel, Royal Street is sprinkled with it throughout, as DJ encounters two cousins with different personalities and with vastly different histories. Even with these two men entering her life, she also is an empath with the ability to sense others’ feelings, including Jean Lafitte’s, with whom she has an ongoing embattled relationship.
Pros: The characters in Royal Street are all fun, including the antagonists. I kept wanting to hate someone, but even despite double-crosses from pirates and voodoo demigods, I found them all likeable, which made picking the enemy that much more difficult. Drusilla is a strong but flawed female character who can take a punch, but who also struggles with showing her emotions, especially at the most inopportune times. I loved the use of magic in an almost mundane manner, like it is just the daily grind for wizards.
Cons: For such an independent female protagonist, DJ seems to entertain the affections of men a lot. The payoff in the end of the story suffered from too much foreshadowing. When we finally arrive to the conclusion I felt like I already knew what was going to happen. Without spoiling anything, I was screaming at DJ to just get it over with.
Recommendations: Royal Street is a lighthearted magical journey with characters that are fun to sit back and watch interact with each other. With an untapped setting people can relate to with recent events, this is an entertaining debut novel from Suzanne Johnson. I will definitely give the sequel a go, with the hopes that DJ will be strong on her own and not feel the need to be in a relationship, and with a greater payoff when we reach the end. And hopefully Louis Armstrong will be there too. Now I’m going to listen to some jazz.