Series: Sentinels of New Orleans, Book 1
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 336 Pages
Formats: Paperback, Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Tor Books publisher Tor/Forge via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.
Gotta Love the Historical Undead
Drusilla Jaco sees dead people. Well, technically, undead people. And if you want to be real nitpicky about it, it's not that special a gift. Everyone can see them if they've crossed into our world from the Beyond. So yes, that gent wailing out the jazz on a corner of Bourbon Street, the one who looks so much like Louis Armstrong he could be his twin, well...
It's not his twin.
As wizard sentinel of New Orleans, it's DJ's job to deal with those like Louis, or like the two hundred years dead but still sexy pirate Jean Lafitte, and send them back to the Beyond where they belong. It hasn't been her job for long, though. Big jobs like that usually fell to her mentor and boss Gerald St.Simon while DJ was left with tasks as scintillating as retrieving troublesome pixies or researching arcane spells.
But that was before a hurricane named Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast. Before DJ had evacuated on her boss' orders and he had remained to guard the city, his home practically in the shadows of one of Lake Pontchartrain's levees. Before the levees broke and changed...everything about life in New Orleans, including the undead.
In the wake of unthinkable disaster, Gerry disappears. Storm-made breaches in the temporal fabric between our world and the Beyond are letting all sorts of nasty through. DJ returns to New Orleans and the Elders name her sentinel, though they force on her a partner she neither wants nor thinks she needs.
DJ's life doesn't resemble anything even remotely familiar anymore. Now she's living in a city mostly underwater, devastation everywhere, and someone or something is murdering members of the National Guard who have come to help the survivors. There is little evidence left behind to help the investigation, almost nothing beyond voodoo symbols and defiled corpses. Gerry is still missing, DJ is still searching, and life is not as simple as banishing sexy pirates anymore. Especially when D.J. finds the symbol that's been painted on her house. A voodoo symbol that targets her as a serial killer's intended victim.
I had a lot of fun with this imaginative and unique series debut by Johnson. I loved the world that's been built here. The magical references and the Otherworldly influences are all set to simmer with the rich Cajun flavor only found in New Orleans, even one rocked by natural disaster. The world-building and mythos were creative and fresh, and I couldn't think of a better city to place a story that includes such terms as "historical undead." It was perfect.
When I first realized that the book is set just days prior to the impact of Katrina, and the storyline takes readers through that horror (quickly) to the days and weeks immediately following it, I thought it was an odd choice for an urban fantasy debut. When I started reading, though, and saw the snippets of real news from those days serving as chapter introductions, I was surprised by the emotional impact it had on me. The blend of real-world disaster and fictional story elements was both eerie and powerful. It added a tension and sense of desperation in the characters and story that felt genuine and organic. It really was beautifully executed.
This isn't a book that trots out all the pertinent information about the world and the characters in the beginning...or anywhere else, really. There aren't many instances where backstory, setting, and character definition is provided in clumps of detail. Readers very much have to glean as they go. I'm usually patient enough to wait for the information to come to me as I'm reading, but I know that style doesn't work for everyone. I enjoyed having it handed out in drips and drabs as it related to the characters and story at the time. Makes it easier for me to remember in the long term.
The book wouldn't have been nearly as much fun, though, if I hadn't absolutely loved DJ as much as I did. Talk about a wizard with authority issues and a penchant for sarcasm. She's not exactly a gun-toting, ass-kicking mega wizard, either. She's impulsive, prone to bend rules to suit her, headstrong, and stubborn. She's not the most powerful thing out there - by far - or the smartest, and she's sure not bent on making the Bad Guys cower. Mostly she just wants to find Gerry. Sure, she also wants everyone who can survive to survive (including herself) and the undead to stop making a bad situation worse, but her focus is on Gerry.
Alex Warin, her Elder-appointed enforcer, has the gun-toting and ass-kicking part down. He's sent to watch her back and assist her in her duties as sentinel, to help send back whomever or whatever has slipped through the breaches from the Beyond and eliminate anyone or anything who poses a threat. He's pretty much what you'd expect from someone in his role as major secondary character and potential love interest. Tall, dark, deadly, mysterious...but he's got a personality that warms nicely as the book progressed and he becomes very likable. He didn't offer much in the way of surprises as a character, but he was fun as eye candy and the banter between him and DJ was amusing. I liked him a lot.
For all that the story is full of plot potential, I did have an issue with the pace of the story. It was very slow through a lot of the book. Most of the activity, action, and danger takes place at the beginning and end of the book, while a good hunk of the middle sort of languishes under the onslaught of unanswered questions and unsolved mystery. I was able to distract myself with the setting and smooth writing, as well as the appeal of the characters, but those who favor fast plot-driven stories may be disappointed.
The characters and world around those characters drew me in and kept me very entertained. I do wish there had been more of the undead pirate, Lafitte. Now that was one devilishly bad, bad boy. He was sadly underutilized in the story. Who could resist such a charming but truly dangerous reprobate? One who shows up for a meeting with a female wizard with a six pack of flavored condoms in hand, but has enough of a dark side to be truly scary, too. Loved him.
This was an exciting read for me. One that left me thirsty for more. I would've been happier with less treading water in the middle, but I had such a good time with the book otherwise that I'll be anxiously awaiting the next installment. Great way to solidly kick off a series.
A lesser woman would have noticed the thick muscles moving under his tanned skin when he raised his arms, or the T-shirt that fit just snugly enough to send a girl's thoughts to the Promised Land. Good thing I don't notice stuff like that.
"I'm an empath, not a psychic or telepath. I can tell what an arrogant letch you are but I can't read your flipping mind."
"The fight wasn't over," I said through gritted teeth. "I'd have won it." Probably.
"Right," he said. "And something just flew past your window. It was oinking."
We didn't know if we were looking for a demon from hell or a rampaging politician, assuming there was a discernible difference.