I have an interview for you all today with urban fantasy author Suzanne Johnson. She’s going to be telling us a little bit about herself and her books published through Tor. Following that, I’ve posted reviews and excerpts for the first two novels of her Sentinels series. As a hint, I loved them and think you would too. Check out all the great information below and don’t miss out on these awesome books!
*Note- my responses to Suzanne’s answers are in italics.
Tell us something dark about yourself.
There’s a part of me that would be a really good hermit. Maybe it’s because I have virtually no time when I’m alone, but I’d love to get a cabin somewhere and just hole up for a few months. Have food delivered by helicopter drop or stocked ahead of time. Bah! I’d write all kinds of things!
OMG, you and me both!
You are on a deserted island and can only choose one beverage to have besides water. What would it be?
I’d probably be happier on the island if I said Bailey’s or Pimm’s, but I’ll be a good girl and say Coke Zero. Might as well be sober while I watch the sharks circle.
Be a good girl on a deserted island? Say it ain’t so!
If you had to choose between a bullwhip, cat o’ nine tails, or a crop, which would you pick?
Today, I’m thinking bullwhip, and I have a list. *Calls softly: Oh, bosssss….c’mere….I got a surprise for you….* Heh. That’ll teach her to make me spend four hours analyzing a 40-page magazine printing contract!
I’m thinking your boss should learn to take it easy on you…
What mythical creature would you be and why?
I think I’d be a dragon. Wings. Breathing fire. Talons. Um…obviously I’m feeling kind of aggressive today. This is not normal. Really. I’m meek as a lamb.
If you’re a meek lamb, I can’t tell by your books. A dragon would make so much sense
What first inspired you to write your series?
The first book of the Sentinels of New Orleans series, Royal Street, was a result of my own experiences living in New Orleans at the time of Hurricane Katrina. It was about three or four years after the storm passed and I was still struggling with what happened. The book started as a project to get rid of some of my angst…and turned into three novels so far!
I’m so glad you decided to write your ideas down. Keep up the good work because I’m certainly going to keep reading them!
How long does it usually take to research/write them?
It was my first novel, so it involved a lot of teeth-gnashing and rewriting. It took about 14 months start to finish…five months to write it, nine months to fix it. The basic stuff about the Katrina aftermath were my own experiences, but I also re-read all the New Orleans Times-Picayune coverage through the first six weeks after Katrina hit, just to make sure I had the dates and sequences right. I also bring back some historical New Orleans figures as characters in the novels—the pirate Jean Lafitte, jazz great Louis Armstrong, voodoo priestess Marie Laveau—so I did quite a bit of research on each of them, especially the pirate since he’s become a major series character. For River Road, I did a LOT of research into Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, and made a road trip or two.
All that research and personal knowledge really shows in your books. I must admit I love Jean Lafitte. It wouldn’t hurt my feelings at all if DJ at least hooked up with him for a bit. He’s such a fun character.
Give one unique fact about your series that makes it different from the others in its genre.
I think what sets it apart from most urban fantasy is its strong sense of place. Because it starts with Hurricane Katrina tearing down the borders between New Orleans and the paranormal world, letting all kinds of creatures come flooding into the city, it can’t really be set anywhere else. I like to think that by the time people finish one of my books they feel as if they’ve made a trip to a magical Louisiana. Even the paranormal species—the Cajun mermen and the loup-garou—have a New Orleans spin.
I couldn’t agree with you more. Definitely a unique series among UF books!
When do you plan to release the next book in the series?
The second book in the series, River Road, which was released last November in hardcover, will be out in paperback on June 25. On August 18, the third book, Elysian Fields, will be released. And it’s a wild, wild ride!
Thanks for having me here today!
I am anticipating Elysian Fields being awesome, if the first two books are anything to go by! So glad it will be releasing soon :)
Thanks to Suzanne for joining me here today for the interview. It was great having her. I really enjoyed getting to know more about her series. For everyone else, don’t forget to check out the information on her books below as well my reviews. If you enjoy urban fantasy, this is one series you should pick up right away!
Suzanne Johnson writes urban fantasy and paranormal romance from Auburn, Alabama, after a career in educational publishing that has spanned five states and six universities. She grew up halfway between the Bear Bryant Museum and Elvis’ birthplace and lived in New Orleans for fifteen years, so she has a highly refined sense of the absurd and an ingrained love of SEC football and fried gator on a stick.
As the junior wizard sentinel for New Orleans, Drusilla Jaco’s job involves a lot more potion-mixing and pixie-retrieval than sniffing out supernatural bad guys like rogue vampires and lethal were-creatures. DJ’s boss and mentor, Gerald St. Simon, is the wizard tasked with protecting the city from anyone or anything that might slip over from the preternatural beyond.
Then Hurricane Katrina hammers New Orleans’ fragile levees, unleashing more than just dangerous flood waters. While winds howled and Lake Pontchartrain surged, the borders between the modern city and the Otherworld crumbled. Now the undead and the restless are roaming the Big Easy, and a serial killer with ties to voodoo is murdering soldiers sent to help the city recover.
To make it worse, Gerald St. Simon has gone missing, the wizards’ Elders have assigned a grenade-toting assassin as DJ’s new partner, and undead pirate Jean Lafitte wants to make her walk his plank. The search for Gerry and the killer turns personal when DJ learns the hard way that loyalty requires sacrifice, allies come from the unlikeliest places, and duty mixed with love creates one bitter roux.
Sentinels of New Orleans Book One
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Tor Books
Number of pages: 337
Word Count: approx. 94,000
Cover Artist: Cliff Nielsen
Friday, August 26, 2005
“Once [Tropical Storm Katrina] moved over the gulf today, it was expected to wheel north, pick up speed and hit the Florida Panhandle on Sunday.”
―The New York Times
A secluded Louisiana bayou. A sexy pirate. Seduction and deceit. My Friday afternoon had the makings of a great romantic adventure, at least in theory.
In practice, angry mosquitoes were using me for target practice, humidity had ruined any prayer of a good hair day, and the pirate in question―the infamous Jean Lafitte―was two-hundred years old, armed, and carrying a six-pack of Paradise condoms in assorted fruit flavors.
I wasn’t sure what unnerved me more—the fact that the historical undead had discovered erotic accessories, or that Lafitte felt the need to practice safe sex.
Nothing about the pirate looked safe. Tall and broad-shouldered, he had dark blue eyes and a smile twitching at the corners of his mouth as he watched me set two glasses and a bottle of dark rum on a rickety wooden table. A tanned, muscular chest peeked from his open-collared shirt, and shaggy dark hair framed a clean-shaven face. A jagged scar across his jaw reminded me the so-called gentleman pirate also had his ruthless side.
He’d arrived by way of a stolen boat at this isolated cabin near Delacroix, a half-hour outside New Orleans, to pursue two of the world’s most timeless pleasures: sex and money. I’d met him here to play the role of a gullible young wizard falling under the spell of the legendary pirate, at least for a while. Then I’d do my duty as deputy sentinel and send his swashbuckling hide back to the Beyond, where he could rub shoulders with other undead legends and preternatural creatures unfit for polite human company.
My hand shook as I poured the rum, sloshing a few drops of amber liquid over the side of the glass. I’d finally been given a serious assignment, and I needed it to go without a hitch.
Lafitte’s fingers brushed mine as he took the drink, sending an unexpected rush of energy up my arm. “Merci, Mademoiselle Jaco—or may I call you Drusilla?”
Actually, I’d prefer he didn’t call me anything. Despite his obvious hopes for the evening, this wasn’t a date. “Most people call me DJ.”
“Bah,” he said, taking a sip of rum. “Those are alphabet letters, not a name.”
From beneath the red sash that accented his waist, Lafitte pulled a modern semiautomatic handgun and set it on the table next to the rum bottle. I knew how he’d gotten it—he’d rolled the Tulane student that summoned him, lifted the kid’s wallet and iPod, rode the streetcar to Canal Street, and made a trade for the gun. Enterprising guy, Lafitte.
I pondered the odd spike of energy I’d gotten from his hand. Touching increases the emotional crap I absorb from people as an empath, but Lafitte was technically a dead guy. Still, I’d like to say if he touched me again, I’d demand double pay from the wizards’ Congress of Elders. Triple if it involved lips.
But who was I kidding? My bargaining position was nonexistent. My boss Gerry only sent me on this run because he had something else to do and knew Lafitte might respond to my questionable seduction skills.
I’d pulled my unruly blonde hair out of its usual ponytail for the occasion, loaded on some makeup to play up my teal eyes, and poured myself into a little black skirt, short enough to show off my legs while not offending Lafitte’s nineteenth-century sensibilities.
It must have worked, because the pirate was giving me that head-to-toe appraisal guys do on instinct, like they’re assessing a juicy slab of beef and deciding whether they want it rare, medium, or well-done.
“You really are lovely, Drusilla.” The timbre of Lafitte’s voice shivered down my spine, and I fought the urge to check out the biceps underneath that linen shirt.
Holy crap. This was just wrong. I should not be absorbing his lust.
This first book in the Sentinels of New Orleans series begins just before Hurricane Katrina hit and ends shortly after the devastation. The description of the sights, sounds, and smells impressed me. The author put a lot of detail in so that the reader really felt like they were right there with the heroine. At the same time, it never bogged down the story. There was plenty of action to keep me going and a wide cast of captivating characters.
The heroine, DJ, doesn’t have the typical personality I prefer. She can’t fight all that well and she makes a lot of mistakes, but she makes up for it with her quick thinking and ability to improvise. Every time I thought she’d gotten herself into a situation she couldn’t get out of, she’d figure something out. It kept me on my toes throughout the book. One weird thing that popped up was a cane very similar to the one in the Mercy Thompson series. I always thought a cane that follows you around is cool, but seeing it in another UF book felt like deja vu. The good thing is this one turns out to be more useful than the one Mercy had.
There are several main male characters that must be discussed as well. The first one you meet is Jean Lafitte. A sexy pirate who has been dead for a long time, but manages to cross from the beyond and cause all kinds of trouble for DJ. Sometimes he is threatening her and other times he is flirting. They have some of the most amusing moments in the book. I really liked him. In case you’re wondering, he’s not a ghost so much as a fully formed (and touchable) reincarnation of his original self. So long as people keep remembering him, he is pretty much immortal and can keep on living in his afterlife. For DJ, it means she can’t get rid of him very easily.
The next major character is Alex. I don’t want to give away what he is because it would spoil things, but let’s just say he’s more than human. He shows up soon after the hurricane and becomes DJ’s partner as a co-sentinel for New Orleans. They have to work together to look for the previous sentinel who went missing. Plus they have to deal with all the different races from the beyond who take advantage of a weakened barrier thanks to Katrina. There is definite chemistry between them that had me wondering where things might go.
A third guy, Jake, enters the mix as well. He’s Alex’s cousin and once again DJ is feeling some attraction for this one, especially since he’s human and feels safer for her. I liked him, but didn’t feel as strongly about him as the others. DJ seems to want him for all the wrong reasons, but I suspect this may be done on purpose. Then again, future books might make me change my mind. The author certainly has a way of spinning things on their head. I just hope she eventually picks one guy and sticks with him. It doesn’t hurt to check out all the candidates first, though.
All in all, this was a great first book for a series. Royal Street has intricate world-building, fast pacing, and stand-out characters. I couldn’t have asked for more. Five whips for this awesome urban fantasy novel!
Hurricane Katrina is long gone, but the preternatural storm rages on in New Orleans. New species from the Beyond moved into Louisiana after the hurricane destroyed the borders between worlds, and it falls to wizard sentinel Drusilla Jaco and her partner, Alex Warin, to keep the preternaturals peaceful and the humans unaware. But a war is brewing between two clans of Cajun merpeople in Plaquemines Parish, and down in the swamp, DJ learns, there’s more stirring than angry mermen and the threat of a were-gator.
Wizards are dying, and something—or someone—from the Beyond is poisoning the waters of the mighty Mississippi, threatening the humans who live and work along the river. DJ and Alex must figure out what unearthly source is contaminating the water and who—or what—is killing the wizards. Is it a malcontented merman, the naughty nymph, or some other critter altogether? After all, DJ’s undead suitor, the pirate Jean Lafitte, knows his way around a body or two.
It’s anything but smooth sailing on the bayou as the Sentinels of New Orleans series continues.
Sentinels of New Orleans, Book 2
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Tor Books
Number of pages: 336
Word Count: approx. 92,000
Cover Artist: Cliff Nielsen
The minute hand of the ornate grandfather clock crept like a gator stuck in swamp mud. I’d been watching it for half an hour, nursing a fizzy cocktail from my perch inside the Hotel Monteleone. The plaque on the enormous clock claimed it had been hand- carved of mahogany in 1909, about 130 years after the birth of the undead pirate waiting for me upstairs.
They were both quite handsome, but the clock was a lot safer.
The infamous Jean Lafitte had expected me at seven. He’d summoned me to his French Quarter hotel suite by courier like I was one of his early nineteenth-century wenches, and I hated to destroy his pirate-king delusions, but the historical undead don’t summon wizards. We summon them.
I’d have blown him off if my boss on the Congress of Elders hadn’t ordered me to comply and my co-sentinel, Alex, hadn’t claimed a prior engagement.
At seven thirty, I abandoned my drink, took a deep breath, and marched through the lobby toward the bank of elevators.
On the long dead-man-walking stroll down the carpeted hallway, I imagined all the horrible requests Jean might make. He’d saved my life a few years ago, after Hurricane Katrina sent the city into freefall, and I hadn’t seen him since. I’d been desperate at the time. I might have promised him unfettered access to modern New Orleans in exchange for his assistance. I might have promised him a place to live. I might have promised him things I don’t even remember. In other words, I might be totally screwed.
I reached the door of the Eudora Welty Suite and knocked, reflecting that Jean Lafitte probably had no idea who Eudora Welty was, and wouldn’t like her if he did. Ms. Welty had been a modern sort of woman who wouldn’t hop to attention when summoned by a scoundrel.
He didn’t answer immediately. I’d made him wait, after all, and Jean lived in a tit- for- tat world. I paused a few breaths and knocked harder. Finally, he flung open the door, waving me inside to a suite plush with tapestries of peach and royal blue, thick carpet that swallowed the narrow heels of my pumps, and a plasma TV he couldn’t possibly know how to operate. What a waste.
“You have many assets, Drusilla, but apparently a respect for time is not among them.” Deep, disapproving voice, French accent, broad shoulders encased in a red linen shirt, long dark hair pulled back into a tail, eyes such a cobalt blue they bordered on navy. And technically speaking, dead.
He was as sexy as ever.
“Sorry.” I slipped my hand in my skirt pocket, fingering the small pouch of magic-infused herbs I carried at all times. My mojo bag wouldn’t help with my own perverse attraction to the man, but it would keep my empathic abilities in check. If he still had a perverse attraction to me, I didn’t want to feel it.
He eased his six-foot-two frame into a sturdy blue chair and slung one long leg over the arm as he gave me a thorough eyeraking, a ghost of a smile on his face.
I perched on the edge of the adjacent sofa, easing back against a pair of plump throw pillows, and looked at him expectantly. I hoped what ever he wanted wouldn’t jeopardize my life, my job, or my meager bank account.
“You are as lovely as ever, Jolie,” Jean said, trotting out his pet name for me that sounded deceptively intimate and brought back a lot of memories, most of them bad. “I will forgive your tardiness— perhaps you were late because you were selecting clothing that I would like.” His gaze lingered on my legs. “You chose beautifully.”
I’d picked a conservative black skirt and simple white blouse with the aim of looking professional for a business meeting, part of my ongoing attempt to prove to the Elders I was a mature wizard worthy of a pay raise. But this was Jean Lafitte, so I should have worn coveralls. I’d forgotten what a letch he could be.
“I have a date after our meeting,” I lied. He didn’t need to know said date involved a round carton with the words Blue Bell Ice Cream printed on front. “Why did you want to see me?”
There, that hadn’t been so difficult—just a simple request. No drama. No threats. No double- entendre. Straight to business.
“Does a man need a reason to see a beautiful woman? Especially one who is indebted to him, and who has made him many promises?” 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.
I felt my face warming to the shade of a trailer- trash bridesmaid’s dress, one whose color had a name like raging rouge. I’d had a similar reaction when I first met Jean in 2005, two days before a mean hurricane with a sissy name turned her malevolent eye toward the Gulf Coast. I blamed my whole predicament on Katrina, the bitch.
Her winds had driven the waters of Lake Pontchartrain into the canals that crisscrossed the city, collapsing levees and filling the low, concave metro area like a gigantic soup bowl.
But NBC Nightly News and Anderson Cooper had missed the biggest story of all: how, after the storm, a mob of old gods, historical undead, and other preternatural victims of the scientific age flooded New Orleans. As a wizard, I’d had a ringside seat. Now, three years later, the wizards had finally reached accords with the major preternatural ruling bodies, and the borders were down, as of two days ago. Jean hadn’t wasted any time.
The second book in the Sentinels of New Orleans series begins approximately three years after the first. I loved the first book so much I dove right into the second. It turned out to be even better than expected. Some new characters were introduced, but most of the previous ones had a strong place in the novel.
From the start the reader discovers DJ is pretty well settled into her life as co-sentinel with Alex. They have agreed not to be anything more than friends, but the sexual tension is still there and heats up more in this book. In fact, it gets a bit tenser for Jake and Jean as well. DJ has her hands full with the three of them wanting dates all of a sudden on top of a new problem with merpeople.
I must admit the author kept me guessing throughout the story on how all the plot elements tied together. Two mer clans were trying to battle it out. Both hated wizards, which was suspicious because wizards were being attacked. Bodies of water were coming up poisoned and killing people. Plus a whole lot more of side stuff as DJ discovers more about her background. This book is even faster paced than the first and made it hard to put down.
The romance element was a bit frustrating because I had hoped DJ would pick a guy in this novel, but instead it didn’t progress much more than the first. She is mostly trying to keep her distance from all of them, but allowing herself moments that could lead to more. In some ways this is great and in others you just can’t wait to see what happens next with the men in her life. The tension is killing me, but I’m enjoying the journey.
There are a couple of minor plot holes that became more apparent in this book. How the beyond works isn’t entirely clear yet, but I figure the details will get filled in further with each installment in the series. I’m rather confused about why DJ has healing charms she uses on everyone but herself. She gets banged up A LOT but always chooses to heal the slow and natural way. If someone else gets hurt, though, she whips those charms right out and gets them back to perfect health immediately. I kept waiting to see if there was an explanation for this, but it never came. It was such a small thing, though, that it didn’t really bother me that much. Plus with such a fast paced novel you don’t have much time to get stuck on silly details.
I really loved River Road with all its twists and turns. When it ended I groaned in frustration that the next novel, Elysian Fields, wouldn’t be out until August. For anyone who is a fan of urban fantasy, this is one series you really don’t want to miss. I highly recommend it and give it five whips!