River Road by Suzanne Johnson is the fun, fast-paced second book in the Sentinels of New Orleans, a series of urban fantasy novels filled with wizards, mermen and pirates. These novels are perfect for readers of paranormal fiction and "fans of Charlaine Harris and Cat Adams" (Booklist) and RT Bookreviews agrees that "for readers missing Sookie Stackhouse, this series may be right up your alley."
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.
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About the Author
SUZANNE JOHNSON is a magazine editor and feature writer with more than fifty national writing and editing awards. A longtime New Orleans resident, she helped rebuild for two years after Hurricane Katrina. Royal Street was her first novel and is the first book in an urban fantasy series about the Sentinels of New Orleans, wizards who guard the storied city against preternatural dangers. As Susannah Sandlin, Suzanne is also the author of The Penton Vampire Legacy, a series of popular paranormal romances.
Suzanne Johnson lives in Auburn, Alabama, and works as associate editor of Auburn Magazine. She is a veteran journalist with more than fifty national awards for writing and editing nonfiction. She is the author of the urban fantasy novels Royal Street and River Road.
Read an Excerpt
By Suzanne Johnson
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2012 Suzanne Johnson
All rights reserved.
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. My heels clicked on the marble, their sharp tap tap tap contrasting with the squeaky shuffling of the tourists in their clean, white tennis shoes. I dodged a herd of them as they stopped to gape at the sparkle of crystal chandeliers and brass fittings. The old wives' tales about Jean Lafitte's hoard of gold and treasure must be true if he could afford a suite at the Monteleone.
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 eye-raking, 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 whatever 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.
My face warmed 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 witch.
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.
"So, Drusilla Jaco, I invited you here to discuss how you might repay me for being so grievously injured while protecting you after the hurricane. I also wish to appeal to you for help on behalf of a friend." Jean's accent wrapped around my old-fashioned name like a silk peignoir, all soft and slinky.
"What kind of appeal, for what friend?" I'd ignore debt repayment as long as I could and, besides, grievous injury was a relative term for the historical undead. They lived through the magic of human memory; the only way to kill Jean was to forget him. And he was quite unforgettable.
"Un moment, Jolie." Jean rose from his chair and walked to the wet bar with a catlike grace honed by years — make that centuries — of walking the decks of sailing ships. He poured two fingers of brandy into crystal snifters and handed one to me. "Do you realize there are merpeople living near the mouth of the Mississippi River?"
The smooth burn of the brandy choked me, and I gave an unladylike hack.
"I thought not," he said, nodding. "The Delachaise clan has lived in this area for many years, back to my own time. The Villere clan recently encroached upon their territory. There is a war brewing, Drusilla, which could affect the humans who ply the river. I thought you would wish to prevent such a thing."
Well, crap. The Port of New Orleans was not exactly a sleepy small-town enterprise, and the Mississippi River no isolated stretch of waterway. A Hatfield-McCoy feud among the merpeople could disrupt shipping and endanger the humans who made their living fishing the coastal waters.
I stared out a river-view window so big a pirate brigantine could sail through it. Cargo ships, barges, and cruise liners vied for docking space along the Mississippi's muddy banks. "And this involves you how?"
Jean took his seat again. "I wish to help my friend Rene Delachaise. He is young but intelligent, and has assumed leadership of his family members who live southeast of the city. Rene believes the Villeres have poisoned their hunting grounds and is determined to act. I have told him of my lovely friend Drusilla, the skilled wizardess, who would be most happy to assist him."
Uh-huh. Because Jean was helpful like that. He had an angle, and I'd get it out of him eventually.
"How does this Rene guy know the area is poisoned?" I tried to imagine what might constitute a hunting ground for a merman and mentally cursed the Elders for not letting me know there were freakin' merpeople in my territory. "And where is this hunting ground?"
Jean sipped his brandy and twirled the stem of the snifter. "I do not know what the area is called in modern times, but it is near the mouth of the river, in the long slivers of land which" — he forked three fingers like a bird's claw — "reach into the Gulf."
"Plaquemines Parish?" Southeast of New Orleans. Not as populated as pre-Katrina but still a lot of people.
"Oui, just so. By trade, Rene and his family are fishermen and hunters. But the water has been fouled, and the Delachaises and Villeres blame each other. I convinced them to allow you to attempt a truce before they began une mêlée grande."
Jean Lafitte was no natural peacekeeper, and didn't have an altruistic bone in his body. I didn't want to even ponder the ironies of merpeople in the fishing industry. "Why didn't they come to me themselves? What's in this for you?"
Jean tsk-tsked me. "Such suspicion, Drusilla."
I crossed my arms. "I'm a sentinel, Jean. It's my job to be suspicious. Besides, I know you, remember?"
Tiny lines crinkled at the edges of his eyes as he grinned. "We do not know each other nearly so well as perhaps we might, Jolie."
Well, his come-on lines hadn't improved since our last meeting. I asked again: "Why didn't the mers just come to me in the first place?"
"They have no love for wizards." Jean shrugged as if that information should have been obvious, although it was news to me. "My considerable skills in persuasion were required to convince them the wizards should be consulted at all."
I took another sip of brandy and pondered my ability to settle a mer feud. I was a Green Congress wizard. I was hell on ritual magic but had no idea how to negotiate a truce with marauding bands of merpeople. My partner would be even worse. Alex's answer to anything he didn't understand was to shoot it with different ammo until something killed it. This could get ugly.
On the other hand, it could also be an opportunity to prove myself, depending on Jean's motives. "You have no love for the wizards either, unless we're useful to you. So unless you tell me why you're in the middle of this, our conversation is over."
"You have grown up, Jolie," he said with a small smile. "I hope you have not grown hard and calloused as so many of your fellow wizards are. I bring this to you because we are friends — perhaps more than friends. And friends help each other, do they not?"
We might be friends, in a loose manner of speaking. Didn't mean I believed him for a second. I continued to stare at him.
He set his brandy snifter on the coffee table with a thump. "Very well, then. I conduct business with Rene Delachaise and his brother on occasion. You do not need the details. If there is a war between the mers that makes passage through the waters treacherous and distracts Rene from our dealings, it will hurt my business."
He looked around at the well-appointed room, then back at me, his voice dropping to a seductive murmur. "If my business suffers, such fine accommodations might no longer be affordable to me, Jolie. In such an event, you might need to furnish me a home in the city, as you promised. Or allow me to share yours."
And there we had it, finally — the motive, followed by the not-so-subtle strong arm. The way housing prices in New Orleans had escalated since Katrina, I'd have to flip burgers at night if he insisted on collecting that debt. Taking on Jean Lafitte as a devious, oversexed roommate? I'd sooner move in with Hannibal Lecter and a pot of fava beans.
"I will talk to your friend Rene and the head of the Villere mers." I forced a decisive tone into my voice. I'd show him I wasn't the naive wizard he'd tangled with after the storm. "Also, I'll need to test the water. This might be a big misunderstanding."
"Perhaps." A small smile. "Or perhaps you do not want to discuss the debts you owe me, or what I might really want from you — or you from me."
My pulse sped up at Jean's appraising look, and I uncrossed my legs again, tugging on the hem of my skirt. "Stop gawking at me and tell me how to get in touch with the mers."
"Rene Delachaise and Denis Villere will not talk to you unless I am present." He smiled, his trump card played. No way I'd be able to cut him out of the negotiations. "They specifically said to tell you this. And they will speak only with you, not another wizard, nor your partner the murderous petit chien."
My little dog: Alexander Warin. And Jean wasn't just referring to the fact that my partner was a shapeshifter and an enforcer. They hated each other.
"Alex needs to be there," I said. However independent I wanted to prove myself, I wasn't stupid enough to meet Jean Lafitte and two angry mermen without backup.
"Very well." Jean crossed his arms and beamed at me. The man loved to negotiate, and had obviously foreseen he'd have to give in on the Alex issue. "Shall I show you where these hunting grounds lay?"
I hesitated. The Elders' intelligence was worse than mine these days. As much as I'd like to leave before Jean could make this personal again, I needed his input in order to plan a strategy. "Fine."
"I have a map here, which Rene provided me." He walked to a round table and a trio of chairs, all placed strategically in front of the large window. The evening view was breathtaking as the city lights outlined the broad, dark ribbon of the Mississippi. The sitting area had been perfectly set up so the well-to-do Monteleone guests could watch river traffic sail past as they noshed on room-service canapés.
I took a seat facing the window, and Jean slid his chair so close our arms touched. The historical undead weren't cold-skinned like vampires, and the heat radiated from his arm to mine. I didn't move away. If this was a battle of wills, I wasn't going on the defensive.
Instead, I focused on the map, a detailed, laminated representation of extreme Southeast Louisiana, centering on Plaquemines Parish. Jean switched on the table lamp after a bit of fumbling. Guess that newfangled electricity would take some practice.
He traced the coastline with long fingers and swiveled the map to give us equal access. I caught myself admiring the strength of his hands as they splayed across the page and gave myself a mental kick in the head. I did not need to indulge an attraction to an undead pirate, however tempting.
He traced one scarred digit down the length of Plaquemines. In boot-shaped Louisiana, Lower Plaquemines is the bottom of the toe, a vulnerable peninsula of wetlands jutting into the Gulf of Mexico around the mouth of the Mississippi. About halfway down the peninsula, just south of Venice, Jean's index finger came to rest near the point at which the last real highway fizzled out.
"This is Orchard, where the Delachaise clan resides." Then, pointing an infinitesimal nudge west, "And this is Mauree. Non." He squinted. "The English name is Tidewater. That is where the Villeres have recently made their home. And this" — he moved his finger southeast along the largely uninhabited wetlands around the mouth of the river and came to rest near the easternmost nub jutting into the Gulf — "is where the mers claim the water has been poisoned."
I frowned and looked at the spot he'd pointed to. The map legend read Pass a Loutre. "There's a town?"
"Non," Jean said. "It is mostly marécage. Marsh."
Great. Isolated and hard to reach. "What has happened to make them think the water is bad?"
"There has been some illness, I believe, among both clans," Jean said, pushing the map closer to me and leaning back in his chair.
"That doesn't make sense." I studied the jagged edges of the coastal marsh. "Why would either clan poison the waters it wants as its territory?"
"Exactement," Jean said, nodding in approval like a teacher whose dunce pupil had finally come up with a rare bit of insight. "It might be that the mers simply want an excuse to fight over the marshland, as they tend to be a people of fierce temperament, or it might be that something else has fouled the water. Either way" — he reached out to brush a stray curl from my cheek — "it is a wizard matter, non?"
If the water was oil-slicked or polluted, it was not a wizard issue, but if there was even a chance it involved pretes ... Damn it. He'd done the right thing by getting me involved.
Excerpted from River Road by Suzanne Johnson. Copyright © 2012 Suzanne Johnson. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I really liked this one. The pacing of the book, I loved, This one kept me pulled in. This one takes place 3 years later after the first book. Nothing happened to DJ and the gang during the years except the laws pertaining the prete’s border. Life was all gravy for DJ until boom, all the sudden the craziness begins. This one has wizard hating mers, poison waters, and dead bodies popping up. So she must appease the mers, find out whats causing the water problem, and figured out who is murdering these people. Are they all related? Maybe. I loved that I was kept guessing on who the murdered was. Had no clue, kept thinking it was someone else until this one clue. DJ is one lucky girl. There is still the hotness of 3 guys that like her. We have Jake, but he’s still learning how to control himself after what happened in the last book. Alex but she won’t go there because they work together. And the undead pirate Jean.
This a very good second book. Ms. Johnson is proving herself to be a very solid writer. She is extremely talented in her plot development and creatve thinking. My reason for 4 instead of 5 stars is a personal preference for character vs plot writers in a series. While her plot development could rival Jeffrey Deavers, I feel disconects in her character developments because they feel like vehicles for her plot as opposed to continuing characters. This bothers me in series writers because the characters keep appearing in later books. They become like best freinds that I need to check up on. I care about them. I found the long gap between the end of book one and start of book two out of character from book to book. In book one Jean was a very impatient man when it came to chasing Dj. Yet it is over two years before he pursues her to collect his favor. This made no sense in tems of his charcter type from book to book but does set the timing for her new plot. His drastic change from rapist to over protective potenial lover isn't really believable. She does attempt to justify it but it just doesn't flow. But looking at his character type for each seperate book he is a very colorful addition and essential to the plot. Also the relatioships between Dj, Alex and Jack would not have been stagnet for the time gap from book to book but they were. The same goes for the relatioship between Dj and Trish. It made no sense from book to book. But if you take the books separetly they make perfect sense from cover to cover. They are excellent stand alone books but not really series books. Thus 4 stars because they are really good stories seperately but I just can't really connect with her individual characters. They don't go anywhere and the relationships are stagnet. She hints at things that just fizzle from book one to book two. That's why I call her characters vehicles. They just move you around but don't really go anywhere. We will soon see if this changes with book three.
After reviewing Royal Street, I don't have too much more to say about River Road. Many of the things I loved about Royal Street applied here as well. Same writing style, had me laughing within the first few pages and kept me going on a regular basis right to the end. I really like Jean Lafitte, who we got more of a glimpse of in this book. He's sneaky and devious and you really can't trust him as far as you can throw him, but he has his own sense of morals (no one else understands) which he stands by. He's a terrible flirt and, while he believes that a deal is a deal and in exchanging a favor for a favor, he also doesn't ask for more than a person can give. Her relationship with Alex is so weird. They don't have any sort of intimate relationship, yet he seems jealous and territorial over her. This is getting hilarious but I can't figure him out. I do in the end, but I spend most of the book trying to puzzle out what he really wants from her. I thought in the first book she said they wouldn't turn up weird on blood tests. I could be wrong. It's hard to search a PDF for what I was looking for to check back but I thought wizards were one of the few that didn't show up in blood work. Then I got my nose all out of joint when they discussed doing cultures for E. coli. You don't incubate E. coli in a fridge! It grows best in an incubator at 37 degrees (which, admittedly, can look a lot like a fridge). It's a mesophyle. It can't grow (i.e. will die) at 4 degrees celsius (that's refrigerator temperature) as it generally only grows at either body temperature (it lives in our guts) or about room temperature (waiting to infect others, but that isn't ideal temperature and slows or stops growth). Also, it takes about a day, depending on desired culture density, to culture E. coli at 37 degrees. And that's my rant for the day... Again, I just loved the ending. Definitive, with just enough of a tease. Had me giggling like mad. And totally wanting the next book.
I did not read Royal Street. I started this series with River Road and I will say that I wasn’t left wondering about anything. Yes, I could tell that it was book 2, but I wasn’t left with a hole of information going, “What just happened here?!” I also wasn’t hit with overwhelming info dumps as the author attempted to bring me up to speed. We jumped right into the story. I was given just enough information to keep me from guessing, and it went swimmingly. (pun intended here…tehehe!) The plot was very intriguing! I won’t say it was the most original, but the mythology that Ms. Johnson brought to the table made the story feel original. I picked up everything pretty well, I think. I mean, I didn’t have any questions as I was going through it. They histories and mythologies were well-thought out, I think! I was just left going, “Woooooooow! Cooool!” LOL!! This was a paranormal mystery, and the clues were sprinkled throughout. I will say that I had a pretty good feeling of who it was…about 3/4 of the way through. That’s about 1/2 longer than it normally takes me. It wasn’t because Ms. Johnson left out information. It was because she masterfully wove the mystery together. It was brilliant!! The love triangle…I just don’t understand guys. I don’t. I mean, Jean. Okay. He’s dead, and I could see his attraction to Drusilla. Oohhhhh, man! I felt it, too! For being dead, that man is HOT!!! But Alex? *shakes head* I didn’t get that one. I felt it. There was some heat coming off those pages, but I just didn’t get it. But what can you say about boys, really? *hopeless shrug* Jake? OMW!!! That one, I could definitely see and feel and hear and taste and smell! OMW! That one, with all the angst that obviously occurred in book 1, and all the tension. *smiling nod* OMW! Yeah! I totally understand that one!! So! GREAT book!! It’s REALLY well written! The elements are all very strong, including the voice. The lovers triangle? My doubts on this one has nothing to do with Ms. Johnson’s writing. It has to do with the character, namely Alex who’s brain I think needs to be re-wired. When the characters come through that well, it’s because there’s exceptional writing! And in this book, there REALLY is! Should you read this book? YES!!!!!!!!!!!!! OMW! YES!
River Road is the second book in the Sentinels of New Orleans series by the very talented Suzanne Johnson. Please, if you have not read the first in her series Royal Street do so now. If you love fantasy and mystery then you shall not be disappointed at all. River Road picks up with Drusilla Draco (DJ), and the rest of her gang years after the Katrina aftermath we saw in Royal Street. She is now the lead Sentinel for her area, but is a bit miffed that the Elders have kept steamy, shifter, enforcer that is so-still-off-limits on as a Sentinel too. DJ feels she is strong enough, smart enough, and a powerful enough wizard to take care of business without his help, plus he makes more money than she does. With two murdered members of the Green Congress, polluted rivers, a crazy-sexy famous undead pirate that she made endless promises to when she thought he would die in the beyond, plus the rivalry stewing between Jake and Alex Warin over her, DJ really has her hands full in this novel. I know, it’s a bit of a mouthful, but I promise you a lot of action, magic, preternaturals of the fin, fur, and underworld kind, and the mysterious elven staff is back at it again! Even watching her cat through the book brings a chuckle or two, so there is plenty of wit to keep you amused as the story progresses. Ok onto my thoughts before I am tempted to give far too much of this wonderful story away. First of all I am in love with this series. When emailed asking if I would like to review the second book, I jumped at the chance. The world building is phenomenal, I mean really I want to live in this world. No, it isn’t perfect, but between the rich history and preternaturals, I just found it as awesome as JK Rowling’s world of Harry Potter, just a US version, with adults, and more grown-up story line. I am a huge HP fan, so this is me saying “‘It’s all that and a bag of chips” (or whatever we said growing up in the 90’s.) The character development was quite intriguing. While this is written in first person, we still get a real sense of each of them, even though we view them through DJ’s eyes. Alex is head strong, masculine, but underneath he really is an awesome, sweet guy. As the story progresses, we get to see it first hand as DJ notices him or notices little changes here and there. The dead pirate Jean we learn can send very uncomfortable signals, and DJ cannot help but be attracted to him, but we also get to see the softer side of the privateer that has her really looking at him in a different light. So while this is a first person POV, you get so much more as DJ not only watches these characters unfold before her eyes, but as she watched their development, readers do too. Storyline was top notch, and I was sucked into this one big time. There was a perfect balance between conflicts, a progressive love story that has been in the works since the first book, and then the magical action. Laced into this all are the mysteries surrounding not only the murders, but the river pollution. I anticipated every new paragraph, every page, and in the end I left satisfied, but with a taste for more. This series is one you don’t want to put down, and you certainly don’t want to miss. Originally Reviewed At: Mother/Gamer/Writer Rating: 5 out of 5 Controllers Reviewer: Heather