Monday, April 3, 2017

Series Review: Sentinels of New Orleans




This urban fantasy series caught my eye a couple of weeks after my delightful visit to New Orleans with some of the lovely Wenches. I decided to give it a try and I’m more than happy I did.

Sentinels of New Orleans is a delicious brew of mystery, magic, action, and captivating characters, preternatural and mundane — and behind it all stands the city of New Orleans, with its unique ambiance, colors, music, and food. NOLA is really a character in its own right, which reminds me of Chicago’s role in the wonderful Chicagoland Vampires series.

Currently, there are five books and a novella in this series, and I don’t know how many more are planned.

Come with me for a special visit to this enchanting city and its paranormal tales. I’ll try not to be too spoilery, I promise...





The narrator of the story is our heroine, Drusilla Jaco, a junior Green Congress wizard (clarification later on) with empathic skills that she doesn’t hesitate to use as she deems necessary. She lives on her own in NOLA Uptown, near Magazine street. DJ (as most of her friends call her) is a young woman, trying to be good at her job and looking for a more serious job. She is compassionate, strong, resourceful, and witty, yet not without flaws. Did I tell you that she is a hardcore Harry Potter fan?


... Still wearing my favorite Gryffindor pajamas. I closed my eyes and tried to feel anything in my own body or energy field that had changed.
New characters join DJ in every book. In the first book she is assigned a new partner, Alex Warin, an enforcer for the Elders. DJ and Alex have a lot of clashes, being the opposite in character; on the other hand, he is so HOT!!! There is an attraction brewing between them.
He only ran with me because he thought I wouldn’t do it otherwise. He knew if a beignet called my name, I’d leave the jogging trail in a dusting of powdered sugar and never look back.
My first beignet!

Through Alex, DJ meets his charming, sexy cousin Jake. Yes, there is that appeal and attraction again. These two, together with her BFF Eugenie and the sexy undead (clarification later) Jean Laffite, accompany DJ through these books.

The story is set in New Orleans and Southeast Louisiana, beginning around the time Hurricane Katrina struck the area. That disaster jumpstarts the events in the Sentinels of New Orleans series and its supernatural world. Hurricane Katrina causes breaches of the levees and floodwalls protecting NOLA. In Suzanne Johnson’s world, Katrina also breaches the barriers between the city and the Otherworld, known as the Beyond. There is the modern NOLA we all know, and there is Old Orleans, a magical place where all kinds of creatures dwell, the sun never shines, and the moon is always full. Different species live in other vast Beyond realms outside of Old Orleans — the biggest are Vampyre, Elfheim, and Faerie — and there are lesser-known realms set deeper in the Beyond.

Let us meet the major species


The Wizards, probably the largest group, have always lived in the human world. Wizards must have a license to practice magic outside their homes. They have a ruling Congress of Elders, which sets their rules. Most major population centers around the world have a Sentinel, whose main job is to keep the borders between the human world and the Beyond closed. Wizards are divided into groups according to their dominant magic.

Red Congress Wizards use physical magic as their strongest magic. As DJ says about her uncle Gerry: "...he could blast the fangs off a vampire at fifty yards."

Green Congress Wizards are the geeks of the magical world; their major power is in ritual magic and potions.

Blue Congress Wizards specialize in illusion and creation.

Yellow Congress Wizards use their mental magic/psychic abilities as their major power.

Wizard magic is strong in the human world, but very weak in the Beyond.

The Elves are fewer in number than the Wizards but much more powerful. They live in Elfheim, in the Beyond. The Elves’ magic is mostly mental, they are mind readers, and they have empathic and scrying abilities. There are four clans of Elves, divided by their elemental skills: Fire, Water, Earth, and Air Elves.

The Fae have two elemental powers — science and illusion — and a rigid class system. Queen Sabine rules Faerie, and her nephews, Florian, the Prince of summer, and Christof, the Prince of winter, are her successors to the throne. Currently it’s illegal for non-royal Fae to cross into the human world, with the exception of the Fae Hunters, who are based in New Orleans.

Seres and Shapeshifters are two types of human/animal hybrids.

Were-creatures are humans who were infected by lycanthropy, as we know from many fantasy books. Werewolves are most common, but this is Louisiana, so we have Weregators among the Were community. One unique type here is loup-garou, ex-humans who carry a magically cursed type of lycanthropy. A loup-garou is a very large rogue werewolf, a lone and vicious kind.

Shapeshifters are born that way. They usually live in the human world and can shift at will. It is kind of fun to meet Mermen and Nymphs among them. Most mermen and weregators mainstreamed as fishermen.

Vampires can live in the Beyond and in the human world. Those who live among humans are ruled by Regents. The Regent of New Orleans is Etienne Boulard, who owns a club in the French Quarter. The Vampires are not allowed to reveal their true nature and can feed only from willing humans.

At last we come to my favorite among the magical creatures (and Johnson writes them brilliantly IMHO!)...

The Historical Undead (!) are famous past figures, already dead of course, who still live in people’s memories. As long as we remember them in any way, tell stories or teach about them, name streets or places after them, they exist in corporeal form in the Beyond and can cross easily and stay longer in the human world. The more we talk about them, the stronger they are. They are immortal as long as they are remembered.

My favorite character in the series is the historical undead pirate Jean Laffite. He is the strongest among them, due to the fact that people still talk about him and there are many towns, schools, streets, and more named after him. Besides his colorful, sexy persona in the story, I love the fact that he has a suite in the Hotel Monteleone in the French Quarter, where I stayed with my fellow Wenches during our NOLA visit. Well, we didn’t stay in the famous Eudora Welty Suite where “monsieur” Lafitte stays, but we stayed at this fabulous hotel and it was fun to read about details in the books that I saw there. For example, Jean Laffite dines with DJ and Truman Capote (another historical undead) at the famous Carousel Bar inside the hotel.

Hotel Monteleone and the Carousel Bar

There are other famous undead who appear in the series. I’ll mention them shortly.

Here’s a bit of background on the books


In the first few pages of Royal Street, book 1, we meet junior wizard Drusilla Jaco and the ruthless, yet intelligent and alarmingly attractive, historical undead Jean Laffite.
The old rule about taking candy from strangers should apply doubly to taking alcoholic beverages from undead pirates.
Then Hurricane Katrina strikes, the borders between modern New Orleans and Old Orleans crumble, and DJ’s uncle goes missing. DJ searches for her uncle, and through the search, Johnson takes us on a New Orleans “tour” during the hurricane and its aftermath. And she knows how to do it — I felt the horrors, divisions, and helplessness of that sad time. DJ meets Wizards, Shapeshifters, new friends, and historical undead figures, like Louis Armstrong, the voodoo queen Marie Laveau, and one historical undead half-god killer. One other character who makes an appearance here is a special ancient staff, made by the Elves, which attaches itself to Drusilla and follows her throughout the series as an important ally.

There is a love triangle quadrangle entanglement here, which I don’t really care about. I know who I want her to be with, but I feel it will stay as a wish only.

The events of book 2, River Road, take place a few years after the hurricane disaster. All the favorite characters from the first book are here, along with new characters, some more delightful than others. Cajun merpeople, living in the swamps of Plaquemines Parish, are added to the preternatural community, along with nymphs and satyrs. DJ has to settle a feud between two mermen clans, but this conflict quickly becomes a mystery involving magic and poison. DJ has to gather her wits, skills, and magic to solve that stressful situation. In the end, she gains a great and loyal new friend.
My face warmed to the shade of a trailer-trash bridesmaid’s dress, one whose color had a name like Raging Rouge.

Elysian Fields, book 3, introduces us to another New Orleans historical undead, the infamous Axeman. DJ and friends try to solve the case of this serial killer, who started his murdering spree about 100 years ago. Johnson adds necromancers, Elves, and Vampires to the supernatural mix. An important new, albeit sneaky, character who will annoy DJ from this book on is her enigmatic neighbor, Quince Randolph aka Rand. The title of the book refers to “a plane of existence reserved for the souls of the most virtuous individuals” in Greek Mythology (source).
What does a half-dressed wizard, accompanied by an injured elf, say to an undead pirate on a fast-darkening beach in coastal Louisiana, circa 1814?


In Pirate’s Alley, book 4, DJ finds herself in the middle of the political struggle between the major supernatural groups — the Wizards, Elves, Vampires, Shapeshifters, and the new preternatural addition, the Fae court. War between the species is “blooming” on the horizon. DJ has to make some crucial decisions concerning lies, loyalties, and trust. She realizes that not everything is black and white; she has to change some of her beliefs and decide who her real allies are. On top of that, BFF Eugenie drops a startling “bomb” in her lap. Through it all, a monstrous snow storm blows around New Orleans, and DJ is surprised to find her hypersensitivity regarding the snow.... The book’s end brings new problems and opens new possibilities.
One should never giggle in handcuffs unless one were naked. I was sure I’d read that rule somewhere.

Pirateship Down, book 4.5, is a collection of 10 short stories and one novella portraying some of the beloved characters of this series. In the last one, Jean Lafitte finds out that one of his ships has been discovered off the coast and is determined to retrieve it. DJ and her merman friend Rene Delachaise embark on a journey into Cajun country, Terrebonne Parish, in an effort to keep the pirate out of trouble and hidden from the U.S. Coast Guard. This is a tale full of humor and suspense.
Non, Rene. A man does not forget his own death, even if it is not his first.

Belle Chasse is the name of the first town in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, a suburb of New Orleans; it’s also the name of book 5. The alliances in the preternatural world stand on the verge of breaking down; everyone wants to be the biggest bully in the pond. DJ and some of her friends must go into hiding. DJ tries to stay loyal to her Elders, though she is tested harshly time and again. She is considered dangerous, a threat to some power-hungry Elders, because she refuses to follow orders blindly. This book is all about character growth, and planning and plotting, to set the ground for the big finale in the next book.
“I haven’t chosen sides.” I wasn’t sure anyone had. Wizards and elves, faeries and vampires, water species and historical undead, weres and shifters. Every species was protecting its own interests, moving in stealth around New Orleans’ human population...

Let me share few reasons why I love these books


I love DJ; I think she has a huge heart and tries to help anyone she can. She is both naive and stubborn. Yes, DJ is one tough, brave, kickass woman when it comes to helping her friends, but whenever it is about protecting herself, she is a train wreck. The only thing I am going to say about her love life and romantic affair is that I don’t like them. Not because they aren’t interesting or she might have too many suitors. I just don’t like her romantic direction. This is just me talking here, just MHO.

My ultimate love in the series is the undead pirate, or privateer as he prefers it, Jean Laffite. He is clever, manipulative, and devious. He is a true friend, protector, and benefactor to his people and ruthless and vindictive to his enemies. He is also sexy and funny; at times he tries to figure out modern terminology and celebrities, delivering some amusing lines.
Who is this Burger King — does he rule New Orleans? Or is America now a monarchy? (-snipe-) I answered the ones I could, although I could tell he wasn’t convinced that Burger King had no royal powers.
“You can say that again,” I muttered. He looked at me, puzzlement narrowing his eyes. “Very well, in normal times, I would not begrudge—" I held up my hand. “It’s okay. I heard you.” Sometimes, conversation with Jean could be a lot of like a Who’s-on-first riddle.
Lafitte’s one weakness is Drusilla Jaco, whom he nicknames Jolie. DJ is not completely immune to his charms, but she does remember he is a dead guy. BTW, he is also the notorious pirate who saved New Orleans in 1814.
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.
Suzanne Johnson writes beautifully about New Orleans and its landmarks, which she blends superbly with her imaginary world of the Beyond, Old Orleans, magic, and supernatural beings.
It might be mid-September, but New Orleans clung to summer as if it feared losing its reputation as an outpost of hell, at least in terms of weather.
Ms. Johnson loves to insert little tidbits from books or movies that we all know. Here are a few examples:
He stopped, biting his lip, and I flopped back on the pillow when Jean walked up to the other side of the bed and also looked down, confused. “What does it mean, Jolie? Who is this man named Harry? Why would you wear his name on your pantalets?”
I understood what that cost him. But we all had to draw the line somehow. We all had to stand on our bridge at Khazad-Düm and raise our staff and say “You shall not pass” to the monsters of indifference and pride and ambition.
[Alex] liked to snarl and growl and posture with his weapons, but beneath the Man in Black guise was one of the few genuinely nice guys I’d ever met.
“Well, bless your heart, you must be Drusilla.” I swear to God Norma Warin sounded just like Shirley McClaine’s character in Steel Magnolias.
“You know, it is all Johnny Depp’s fault,” I told Laffite, glancing around to see if he was still listening. “People summon you thinking they’re going to get this loveable movie pirate, and you show up.”

I feel that this series has everything an urban fantasy fan expects: preternatural creatures, magic, paranormal material, action and danger, conspiracy, and romance. This is an enjoyable read, full of suspense with a good deal of wit and humor.

This Wench rates The Sentinels of New Orleans:


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