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Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Author:  Suzanne Johnson   (aka Susannah Sandlin) 
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF)
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality2; Humor2
Publisher and Titles:  Tor
    1      Royal Street (4/2012) 
    1.5   "Christmas in Dogtown" (e-novella, 10/2012)
    2      River Road (11/2012)
    3      Elysian Fields (8/2013) 
    4      Pirate's Alley (4/2015)
    4.5   Pirateship Down (anthology of stories set in this world, 4/2015)
    5      Belle Chasse (11/2016) 

This post was revised and updated on 12/5/2016 to include a review of Belle Chasse, the fifth novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the series world-building and reviews of the previous books and stories. 

                         NOVEL 5: Belle Chase                         

    With the wizard-elven treaty on the verge of collapse, the preternatural world stands on the brink of war. Unless former wizard sentinel DJ Jaco manages to keep the elven leader, Quince Randolph, focused on peace and not personal matters.

    With no one on the throne, Faerie is in chaos, with rival princes battling for power. The still-undead pirate, Jean Lafitte, is building his own army of misfits, and DJ―stripped of her job and hiding in the Beyond to avoid the death sentence handed down by the wizard Council of Elders―can’t get anywhere near her beloved New Orleans or her significant something-or-other, Alex.

     It's time to choose sides. Friends will become enemies, enemies will become allies, and not everyone will survive. DJ and her friends will learn a hard lesson: sometimes, even the ultimate sacrifice isn’t enough  

               FAIR WARNING:                
     My review of Belle Chasse contains spoilers for Pirate's Alley.     
     As the story opens, DJ Jaco and her best friend, Eugenie, have just escaped to Jean Lafitte's realm of Old Barataria. DJ has a bullet wound, and she's worried that Eugenie, who is pregnant with Quince Randolph's child, may have been injured during the escape and subsequent transport to Lafitte's realm. Accompanying them are several allies:

> Jake Warin, Alex's loup garou cousin, who has pledged his loyalty to Lafitte;

Rene Delachaise, the merman with whom DJ once shared a mental bonding (and who is also nursing a bullet wound); and

Adrian Hoffman, an arrogant Wizard who became a Vampire in the previous novel and who hasin the pastbeen one of DJ's enemies. (He tried to get DJ killed in Elysian Fields.)

     DJ sums up her situation: "There was a bounty on my head, it was four days before Christmas, and I was having turtle gumbo with a merman, an undead pirate king, two loups-garou, and my best frienda human pregnant with the half-elven child who had unknowing helped set this whole debacle in motion. Plus a newbie vampire upstairs who didn't like the smell of food anymore. We'd make a great reality show except...that nobody would believe reality could be quite this warped."

     DJ is running from the Congress of Elders, specifically from Willem Zrakovi, who now heads the Elders. Because DJ outsmarted and embarrassed Zrakovi during the events of the previous novel, he trumped up some charges against both her and Jake and sentenced her to imprisonment in Iceland even though he knows that her Elven genes make her intolerant of cold, meaning that the imprisonment is essentially a death sentence. The big surprise in DJ's successful escape is that her straight-arrow boyfriend, Alex Warin, helped her get away to safety. DJ has never been certain whether Alex would choose the law or his love for her if it came down to a forced choice between the two. This time he made the right choice, but she is uncertain if she can count on him in the future.

     Throughout the book, DJ has quite a few angst-filled interior monologues involving her inability to trust Alex. Here is an example: "The list of people I trusted completely was a short one and [Rene] was at the very top. I was ashamed to admit it, even to myself, but Rene was ahead of Alex. Worse, Jean Lafitte was slightly ahead of Alex..., too, but that was another of my own little secrets. Alex's blind faith in the Elders had hurt his position on my trust-o-meter, although his star was rising now that he'd helped me escape the Elders twice." Later, when someone asks DJ how far Alex will blindly follow Zrakovi, she doesn't like the answer she has to give: "I don't know. I really don't." DJ would like to believe that "Alex had his own true north, his own moral absolutes, and that there was some line that, when crossed, it would turn him away if Zrakovi's path strayed too far from his own beliefs I didn't have a clue what that tipping point might be, however....Alex had urged me to run to Barataria, had even helped me escape. But he had been adamant about staying behind. I'd had no answers then. I had none now."

     In addition to finding a solution to DJ's problem with the Council of Elders, Johnson weaves several other subplots into the storyline:

> The two Fae princes, Christof and Florian, are destroying the Fae realm as they wage war against one another, both intent on becoming the new Fae king. Their uncontrolled weather tantrums are also taking a toll on the human world.

> The Vampires are now acting as mercenaries for anyone who pays them the most or promises them the best deal, and so far that has been Zrakovi. Two of their attacks directly affect DJ and her allies.

> Quince Randolph (Rand) is determined to take control of Eugenie and their unborn son, while Eugenie, with DJ's support, fights to prevent him from dragging her off to his Elfheim realm. At the same time, Rand is also trying to establish his mating rights with DJ, which is never going to happen while DJ has breath in her body. (You'll have to read Elysian Fields to learn the background on their very weird relationship.) Rand, who is now the leader of the Elven Synod, wants to take over the Council of Elders, and his sly, behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing figures into several of the events in Belle Chasse.

     Meanwhile, Alex remains in New Orleans, where he sidles up to two Council Elders in an effort to spy on them and get information back to DJ. To do this, Alex pretends to be dating the daughter of Lennox St. Simon, one of the more reasonable of the Elders. In Pirate's Alley, DJ learned that Lennox is the brother of her biological father, Gerry, which makes his daughter, Audrey, DJ's cousin. Audrey, an untrained Red Congress Wizard, plays an extremely important role in Belle Chasse. Plus, she's a brash, courageous, young woman who brings a breath of fresh air to the action. 

     As you can see, the plot is complex and full of suspense, with multiple groups allying with one another and double-crossing one another. By the end of the book, the preternatural world is in chaos, and no one really knows who will take sides and what will result from the coming war.

     Click HERE to go to the novel's page where you can read an excerpt by clicking on the cover art.

     The Sentinels are wizards who maintain order among the preternaturals (aka pretes) of the world. They are divided into four groups called Congresses, based on their powers. Red Congress wizards use physical magic; Green Congress wizards are more witchlike, using spells and potions; Yellow Congress wizards are telepaths; Green and Blue Congress wizards use creative and intellectual powers. Each wizard is mainstreamed into the human community as a means of keeping his or her magical identity hidden.

     In this world, most pretes live in the Beyond, a realm separate from mortal earth, where each group lives together in its own area—kind of like little supernatural villages. In New Orleans, some of the pretes live in Old Orleans, a realm between the mortal world and the Beyond. In order for a preternatural from the Beyond to enter the mortal world, he or she must be summoned by a wizard or cross through a transport (i.e., a portal). Some pretes are allowed to live in the mortal world, mostly werewolves and shape shifters (which are two very different creatures in this series). The series has one group of undead that is new and inventive—the historical dead. These are famous people who, although dead, are still hanging around hoping to get back to earth for one reason or another—people like Jean Lafitte and Marie Laveau, who want money and power, and Louis Armstrong, who just wants to keep making music in his favorite city. Also living in the Beyond are the gods of various cultures. The strength of their undead existence depends on how many people still remember and believe in them.

     The Sentinels are ruled by the Congress of Elders, a stereotypically crotchety and über-traditional group of men who are headquartered in Edinburgh. They want to maintain the status quo and keep as many pretes as possible away from mortal earth. Here, DJ, the series heroine, explains the organizational structure: "Willem Zrakovi was the head wizard for North Americaeach continent had one grand poobah that served on the Council of Elders and above them all was a single First Elder. Below them were the heads of the four congresses, then the sentinels, then the licensed wizards. The enforcers were a group unto themselves, part FBI prete team and part assassins." (River Road, p. 134)

     The heroine of the series is Drusilla Jane Jaco (aka "DJ"), a Green Congress wizard who is forced to become the Sentinel of New Orleans when her mentor, Gerald "Gerry" St. Simon (Red Congress), disappears during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Her love interest (one of them, anyway) is Alexander (Alex) Warin, a shape-shifting Enforcer (a chow-pony mix) who works for the Elders, mostly as a terminator of out-of-control pretes. As is almost always the case in paranormal fiction, DJ has a second possible love interestAlex's non-magical cousin, Jacob (Jake), who owns a nightclub in the French Quarter. The titles of the novels are all the names of streets in New Orleans.

                      NOVEL 1: Royal Street                      
     The titular locationRoyal Streetis in the heart of New Orleans' French Quarter, where many of the events in the story take place. As the action begins, DJ is meeting with Jean Lafitte in an attempt to trick him into going back to the Beyond. (Lafitte can't be killed by any ordinary means; the only way to get rid of him permanently would be for everyone to forget him, and since he is such an unforgettable man, that will never happen.) When she is successful, he gives her one of those "I'll be baacck!" shout-outs as he fades away. You can be sure that he makes good on that threat. Soon thereafter, the Elders order DJ to evacuate because Katrina is bearing down on New Orleans. Leaving Gerry behind to protect the city, DJ heads to her grandmother's home in Alabama where she waits out the hurricane and worries about Gerry, who disappears about a week after the storm. The elders order DJ back to New Orleans when they discover that Gerry has gone missing and that Katrina has damaged the boundaries between the mortal world and the Beyond, allowing marauding pretes to stream into New Orleans. When DJ reaches her house (luckily in an unflooded neighborhood), Lafitte is waiting in ambush. Just in the nick of time (but much to DJ's annoyance), a tall, sexy, well-armed man bursts in and shoots Lafitte, forcing him back to the Beyond. The rescuer introduces himself as Alex, her new partner, and informs DJ that together they will be co-Sentinels of the city. The Elders (and Alex) suspect that Gerry has gone rogue, while DJ is sure that he has fallen victim either to the storm or to a villainous prete.

     The plot follows DJ and Alex as they search for Gerry and investigate a series of voodoo-related murders of National Guardsmen. At each murder scene, the perpetrator has drawn a voodoo véve, and soon those drawings show up on the doorsteps of all of the wizards in New Orleans, including DJ's. As DJ reads through Gerry's journals, she begins to realize that Alex and the Elders might be right—that Gerry may have gotten himself involved in a dangerous bargain with Baron Samedi, a voodoo god who is trying to build up enough power to take down the Elders. She also makes a stunning discovery about her own genetic heritage. As the conflict is resolved, both DJ and Alex are put into situations where they must choose between the safety of family and the greater good of the Elders' laws.

     The love triangle develops as the story moves along, with a love-hate relationship growing between DJ and Alex, a flirtation developing between DJ and Jake, and ripples of jealousy pulsating between the two men. During the climactic resolution, Jake has a life-changing experience, so we'll have to see how that affects his love life.

     This is an inventive new series with a fresh take on the supernatural mythos. The idea that the preternaturals are mostly confined to the Beyond is interesting, although the details of the world-building are not completely spelled out in book 1. For example, why do the Elders allow some pretes to live in the mortal world, but not others? The concept of the historical undead is fascinating, and it opens up lots of possibilities for future story lines. Maybe Elvis can stop in for a visit (kind of like Bubba in the SOOKIE STACKHOUSE series). Johnson certainly captures the look, feel, and even the smell of post-Katrina New Orleans. Her descriptions of the devastation in the flooded neighborhoods are horrifying in their detail. The three main characters are solid—if not as inventive as the mythology. Actually, the most fascinating character is Lafitte, and you can bet that he'll be turning up in future books.

     To read an excerpt from Royal Street, click HERE to go to the book's page and click on the cover art.

                    NOVELLA 1.5:  "Christmas in Dogtown"                    

     My recommendation is to skip this little novella with its weak story line, shallow characters, and improbable events. In a nutshell: Resa Madere has lost her job, and she is broke. Resa's rich boyfriend "moved on when she lost her job"the first illogical event. Why would a rich boyfriend dump his girlfriend because she loses her job due to hurricane-related cutbacks? Resa takes a temporary trip back home to Dogtown, her backwoods hometown, to help her uncle run the family sausage business. Dogtown is a tiny little town—just a crossroad, really—populated by two extended families: the Madere family and the Caillou family.

     As soon as Resa arrives home, she learns that her childhood friend, Chandler (Chan) Caillou, is back in town. Their families have been trying to get them together for years, but the two have not seen each other since high school and have never been a couple. Resa's mother tells her that Chandler has come back to take over as the "gator man" for the parish after his Cousin Mike died. Resa asks how Mike died, and her mother says, "Think he drowned. Did Mike Caillou drown?" she asks the room full of relatives. As one of the few inhabitants of this tiny village, how in the world could Mrs. Madere not know the cause of Mike's death? Just one more improbability! Needless to say, romantic feelings flare up between Resa and Chan, with the romance moving from "Hello" to HEA in just a day or two. 

     I won't go into the supernatural aspect of the novella, except to say that the mythology is extremely murky and there seems to be absolutely no purpose for the existence of the supernatural creature in questionit's just there. When she learns about "it," Resa says that she's always known about "it" in her heart, BUT...the story is told from her point of view, and she has never indicated by any thought, word, or action that she believes that Dogtown's legends are true. Although the story is set in the same New Orleans world as SENTINELS OF NEW ORLEANS, none of the regular characters from the series appear. Perhaps the author plans to use the characters from this novella somewhere in future SENTINELS books, but at this point, you're safe in saving your money. 

                      NOVEL 2:  River Road                      
     It's now three years after Katrina's devastating rampage through New Orleans, and DJ has been working with Alex as her partner all that timekeeping their relationship strictly on a platonic level. She has stayed away from Alex's cousin, Jake, who had the misfortune of being turned into a loup-garou at the end of the first book. In this world, a loup-garou is a werewolf on steroids; most of them lack the control to live in the human world. Back then, Jake was furious with DJ, blaming her for the catastrophe, and she accepted that blame. Although they once had a romantic attraction, the two have avoided each other ever since.

     Things recently changed in a big way for the supernatural world when the Congress of Elders reached an agreement with the major preternatural groups and opened the borders between the mortal world and the Beyond, allowing unrestricted movement between two realms for the first time ever. Now there are many more pretes mingling with the humans, and their motives are not always honest or peaceful.

     The primary plot in this book focuses on a water pollution problem that was discovered by a merman colony in the bayous outside of New Orleans. Two merman clans accuse each other of the poisoning of the Mississippi that has brought illness to clan members. As part of their jobs as Sentinels of New Orleans, DJ and Alex meet with the clan leaders, who take them to the location of the bad water. Before they get there, however, they discover the badly mutilated body of a wizard on the bank of the Mississippi, and this becomes their priority case. The rest of the story follows DJ, Alex, and Jake (who has accepted a job as an Enforcer) as they follow the clues and solve both mysteries, with lots of physical and magical action and some incredible heartache along the way.

     DJ's romantic situation is even more complicated than it was in book 1. She is lustfully attracted to three men: Alex, her shape-shifting macho partner; Jake, the newbie loup-garou who is having control problems; and—believe it or not—Jean Lafitte, the long-dead, lecherous pirate who is now living in New Orleans and is determined to seduce DJ. As DJ sums it up: "Life had been much simpler when I had no social life, plus my dates weren't exactly dinner-and-a-movie guys. One had serious control issues, one seemed to be changing the rules of our relationship and was almost scaring the crap out of me more than her werewolf cousin, and the third wasn't even alive in any normal sense of the word." (p. 235)

    In book 1, DJ discovered that she has elven DNA in her family tree, and she found and began to use an elven staff that enhances her wizardly magic. In this book, she discovers that every time she uses the staff, the Elven Synod (which is the elven equivalent of the Congress of Elders) is aware of it, and they are not happy that a wizard is using elven power. A mysterious new character (Quince Randolph) shows up in DJ's neighborhood about half-way through the book, and I'm betting that he has elven connections. We'll surely see this situation play out in the next book.

     This is a solid series with likable, quirky characters who exist in an inventive mythos. The plot of this book has a few bumps and some illogical moments, but it also has great suspense and well-developed characters—both primary and secondary.

     To read an excerpt from River Road, click HERE to go to the book's page and click on the cover art.

                   NOVEL 3:  Elysian Fields                    
     This book begins shortly after the events in River Road, and DJ Jaco's injuries have mostly healed, although her broken ribs are still causing her some pain. In the opening scene, DJ and Jake Warin are at a crime scene involving an axe murderone of several that has occurred in New Orleans in recent days. When DJ catches a faint scent of one of the historical dead, she becomes convinced that the crimes are being committed by the original Axeman, a long-dead serial killer who terrorized New Orleans back in 1918.

TO REVIEW: In this world, the historical dead (aka undead) are famous people who have died and left mortal earth to dwell in the Beyond. As long as their memory lives on among humans, they maintain enough strength to move back and forth between the Beyond and mortal Earth. Prime examples are Jean Lafitte, the notorious pirate, and Louis Armstrong, the famous musician. Apparently, the Axeman is legendary enough that he can transport back and forth from the Beyond to carry out the murders.

     When DJ and Jake go back to his bar to discuss the case, their conversation turns personal and emotional, and Jake starts to go all wolfy and nips DJ's arm. This small scratch immediately plunges DJ into deep fear that Jake has turned her into a loup-garou—a rogue werewolf. For Jake, the incident is a wake-up call that he is not in control of his animal side, and he takes off for the Beyond. A blood test confirms the terrifying fact that, indeed, the virus is in DJ's blood. Now she must live with this threat hanging over her head, knowing that when the Congress of Elders finds out, they will imprison her for the rest of her life. The resolution to this piece of conflict is breathtakingly unpredictable and adds a fascinating new layer to the series story arc.

     The action plot centers on DJ as she investigates the Axeman case, an investigation that explodes with danger when the Axeman trashes her home and she realizes that she is his prime target. By this time, though, DJ has determined that the Axeman isn't working on his own; he is being controlled by a necromatic wizard. Now, all DJ has to do is find the wizard, a task that involves prying information out of preternaturals (aka pretes) who can't be trusted.

     In the closely related secondary plot, which also revolves around DJ, the Elves want to meet with her, and the Wizard Elders are forcing her to comply. The Elders also send a pretentious Blue Congress Wizard to New Orleans to help DJ learn to use her Elven powers, particularly her Elven staff. Slinking around in the middle of all this is DJ's mysterious neighbor, Quince ("Rand") Randolph. DJ is certain that Rand is a preteperhaps an Elf or a Fairybut he refuses to identify himself. When Rand finally opens up to DJ, he talks her into reluctantly taking a disquieting action that changes both their lives forever and which has an extremely negative effect on her relationship with her boyfriend, Alex Warin.

     Alex plays a key role in the story as does DJ's frenemy (and wannabe seducer), the always entertaining Jean Lafitte. DJ and Alex finally consummate their relationship, but in the end, Alex still isn't sure that he can cope with the chaos that is DJ's life, leaving their future in question.

     This is a great addition to a strong series. The intricate plotting combines compelling action, heart-breaking angst, and enough electrifying suspense to keep you turning the pages at a rapid rate. Although the primary conflicts in this book are resolved, plenty of loose ends are left to form the plots for future books.

     To read an excerpt from Elysian Fields, click HERE to go to the book's page and click on the cover art.

                    NOVEL 4:  Pirate's Alley                    

     Let me begin by saying that this is definitely not a stand-alone book because it is driven by the complicated political wheeling and dealing among a diverse group of pretes (preternaturals) all of whom have engaged in continuing efforts to gain ultimate power in both the supernatural and mortal worlds. Not only do you need to know the long list of characters, but you also need to know what sins they have been guilty of in the recent past because much of the action that takes place in this book relates directly back to the transgressions of the multiple villains in Elysian Fields

     New Orleans is suffering through an extremely rare weather phenomenon: snow, and lots of it. The temperatures are below freezing; the streets are icy; and the snow keeps coming down. Unfortunately for halfbreed (80% wizard—20% elf) Drusilla Jaco (aka "DJ"), no one ever explained the devastating effects that cold temperatures have on elves. Pay attention to the frigid, snowy weather because it has multiple implications in this story. As the previous novel ended, DJ's house burned down along with all of her possessions, and her car exploded due to an errant blast from her elven staff, so she is now homeless and is dressing in clothing she finds at the local thrift shop—clothing that isn't keeping out the cold.

     In Pirate's Alley, DJ finds herself in the middle of a war that is developing between various prete factions: wizards, vampires, elves, Fae, and the undead (no, not zombies—the historical dead; see the World-Building section for more info). 

     As the book begins, the villains who conspired against DJ and her allies in Elysian Fields are being tried before the Interspecies Council. DJ is sure that this will go smoothly and that justice will be served, but you and I both know that's never going to happen in an urban fantasy novel. Because this novel deals with the aftermath of the conspiracy that was the central plot line of Elysian Fields, here is a list of the prete players in that conflict, which continues in this book:


> Willem Zrakovi: member of the Congress of Elders (ruling body of the wizards); member of the Interspecies Council

> Adrian Hoffman: conspired against a fellow wizard and tried to get DJ killed in Elysian Fields; willingly became a vampire because his girlfriend, Terri, is one

Geoffrey Hoffman: Adrian's father, First Elder of the Council of Elders and representative for the UK and European Union wizard communities on the Interspecies Council; conspired with the vampires against the elves in Elysian Fields

Jonas Adamson: unregistered necromancer and Green Congress Wizard; allied with the water elves in Elysian Fields and tried to have DJ killed 

Lennox St. Simon: brother of Gerry, DJ's late biological father; a European wizard; has a daughter named Audrey; DJ learns of Lennox's existence for the first time in this book 


Rene Delachaise: water elf; DJ's ally and friend; also allied with Lafitte; son of Toussaint Delachaise, who has a seat on the Interspecies Council

Quince Randolph: member of the Elven Synod and clan leader of the Tân (fire elves); has a seat on the Interspecies Council; forced DJ to bond with him in Elysian Fields in exchange for saving her from turning into a loup-garou

Mace Banyan: clan leader of the air elves; member of the Interspecies Council; an enemy of DJhe kidnapped and mind-tortured her in Elysian Fields

Garrett Melnick: head of the Regents; pretended to be allied with the elves while working against them in Elysian Fields; hates DJ

Etienne Boulard: Vice-Regent of the vampires who was once a good friend to Lafitte but then betrayed him; heavily involved in the conspiracy that was at the heart of Elysian Fields; turned Adrian Hoffman into a vampire


Sabine: the Faery Queen

Christof: Faery Prince of Winter; allied with Lafitte; can cause blizzards and ice storms with his magic

Florian: Faery Prince of Summer; a power-mad psychotic who can cause thunderstorms and hurricanes with his magic


Jean Lafitte: Pirate captain who flirts with DJ and has always protected her; is involved in various types of illegal activities and has secret alliances with other pretes; has a home in the magical realm of Barataria on Grand Terre, a magical version of an actual island south of New Orleans

Axman of New Orleans: Serial killer who became the conspirators' weapon in Elysian Fields

Alex Warin: DJ's boyfriend, now head of the Division of Domestic Terror (DDT), the Elders' preternatural security team

Jacob (Jake) Warin: Alex's cousin, a loup-garou who now works for Lafitte although he also works for the DDT

     Along with the threat of an interspecies war, DJ is dealing a problem involving her best friend, Eugenie Dupre. During a brief romantic interlude with Rand (in Elysian Fields), Eugenie became pregnant, and the coming birth adds to political machinations that are already complicated. Rand wants to take the baby away from Eugenie immediately after birth and raise the child in Elfheim with DJ. Both DJ and Eugenie vigorously oppose that proposal. Then, there are those in other Prete groups who want the baby dead. This story line results in secrets, betrayals, and—ultimately—to drastic actions that force DJ to ally with an entirely unexpected group of pretes.

     DJ's relationship with the men in her life is getting more and more complicated. Her elven non-husband, Rand, keeps insinuating that she will eventually have to move to Elfheim (the elven realm) and bear his children—a situation that DJ vows will never happen. Her friendship with Jean Lafitte is on shaky ground because she has been ordered to chaperon him so that he won't kill Etienne, the prominent vampire who betrayed him (in Elysian Fields). And then there is her boyfriend, Alex Warin, who harbors jealous thoughts about DJ's relationships with both Rand and Lafitte. Alex is a straight-arrow warrior who never sees beyond his law and order blinders. To him, right is right and wrong is wrong, and there is no in-between. For DJ, on the other hand, right and wrong are never that clearly separated. DJ knows that Alex has always done "the right thing as he saw it; he might feel badly about it, especially if it hurt me, but he'd believe he had no choice. I admired that about Alex, his sense of moral absolutes. I also hated that about Alex, his inability to acknowledge the gray areas and shadowy corners of life." (p. 191) Here, DJ zeroes in on the biggest problem in her relationship with Alex: "I loved Alex, but I didn't trust  him to put me first. Because he might love me in return, but I didn't think he was capable of putting love before duty. He wasn't wired that way….If Alex had to decide between supporting me and doing his duty for the Elders, I would either lose or he'd rip himself apart trying to choose, in which case he'd end up hating me for it." (p. 204) 

     As DJ tries to walk the thin line between listening to her gut and listening to Alex and the Elders, she gets into many dangerous situations that, as usual, result in physical injuries and emotional trauma. This is a fast-paced adventure that kept me turning the pages deep into the night. The suspense level is high; the action is continuous; the emotional undercurrents are relentless; and the cliff-hanger ending left me eagerly looking forward to the next book. This is a fine addition to a terrific series, although it is more of a transitional book than a complete novel.

     To read an excerpt from Pirates Alley, click HERE to go to the book's page and click on the cover art.

                    STORY COLLECTION 4.5:  Pirateship Down                    

     French pirate Jean Lafitte is tall, cobalt-eyed, broad-shouldered, and immortal. What’s not to love? But New Orleans’ most esteemed member of the historical undead is headed for trouble. He’s determined to reclaim Le Diligent, his gold-laden schooner lost at sea in 1814 and recently found at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico near Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana. The U.S. Coast Guard and the Terrebonne Parish Sheriff’s Office might beg to differ. New Orleans wizard sentinel DJ Jaco and her merman friend Rene Delachaise can either lock up their friend Lafitte or join him on a road trip to Cajun country in order to save him from himself. 

     Terrebonne Parish—not to mention its jail—might never be the same after the events of the all-new novella "Pirateship Down," presented here along with a collection of urban fantasy stories and essays. Wizards and Cajun merfolk, sexy shapeshifters and undead French pirates. Welcome to the world of the Sentinels of New Orleans in this collection, along with a little Louisiana lagniappe.


     As the title indicates, the primary focus of this book is on one of the most colorful characters in the series: the pirate, Jean Lafitte. Although Jean does not appear in all of the stories, his presence is strongly felt from beginning to end. 

     The selections include short stories, brief scenes, and a brand new novella. Also included are three nonfiction lagniappe (aka a little something extra): an introduction to the SENTINELS multiverse, a brief biography of the real Jean Lafitte; and a bibliography of nonfiction books that provides the “story behind the story” of the SENTINELS world. The collection offers a nice variety that enriches the series by providing backstories of key characters and more information about the series mythology. 

Here is a list of the main characters in these stories: 
Jean Lafitte is the sly and charming pirate who lived and died centuries ago but can now come and go between our world and the Beyond in his corporeal shape. He is a flirt and a con man who is always in trouble.
Drusilla “DJ” Jaco is the series heroine, a wizard/elf hybrid who serves as the Sentinel of New Orleans. She is completely loyal to her friends and will help them out even if her actions take her into gray areas that involve breaking human and/or preternatural laws.
Alexander Warin is DJ’s straight-arrow boyfriend, a shapeshifting enforcer for the Congress of Elders. Alex is driven by his inner need for law and order, and he will uphold the law, no matter who gets hurt in the process. DJ’s tendency to put friendship before the law may be the thing that breaks up their relationship.
Jake Warin is Alex’s black-sheep cousin with whom he has had a blistering rivalry since Jake hit Alex in the head with a Tonka truck when they were toddlers.
Rene Delachaise is a friend to both DJ and Jean. In his human form, he runs a shrimp boat, but he’s always happy to join Jean in one of his madcap adventures, and he has been DJ’s sidekick on more than one occasion.
     Instead of listing the selections in the order they are presented in the book, I am grouping them by main character—in chronological order within each grouping:

The Three Lagniappe Selections
“The SENTINELS Multiverse”
This essay provides a concise, but thorough, explanation of the SENTINELS world by describing the relationships between the modern city, Old Orleans, the Beyond, and the ancestral realms of the various types of preternaturals. Johnson provides a detailed discussion of each type: wizards, elves, fae, shapeshifters, weres, vampires, minor preternaturals, and the historical undead. This lagniappe is a goldmine for new readers.

“Jean Lafitte—The Man, the Myth, the Undead Pirate”

So…who was the real Jean Lafitte? Johnson gives us the history of his life, from birth to death, and discusses the reliability of some of the information in the many books that have been written about him.

“A Sentinels Bibliography”

This annotated bibliography lists resource books that Johnson has read to enhance her depiction of past and present New Orleans.

Fiction Selections Featuring Jean Lafitte
“Talk Like a Pirate” (takes place one or two years before Royal Street
A college student who dabbles in witchcraft somehow manages to summon Jean Lafitte from the Beyond so that he can attend her Talk-Like-a-Pirate Party. Lafitte is happy to be back in the human realm, but he has no intention of attending a silly party; he’s after some treasure he buried two centuries ago when he was still alive. This is Lafitte’s first visit to the modern world, so he is fascinated with all of the changes. Here’s his reaction to a fast food restaurant: “Who is this Burger King—does he rule New Orleans or is America now a monarchy?” The wizard who catches up with Lafitte and sends him back to Old Barataria is none other than Gerald "Gerry" St. Simon, D.J.’s mentor, who dies in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina just before the events of Royal Street.

“Pirateship Down” (takes place between Elysian Fields and Pirate’s Alley)

This novella (108 pages) is the highlight of the book—a brand-new story featuring Lafitte, D.J., and Rene. When Lafitte learns that one of his ships has been found offshore in the Gulf of Mexico by LSU researchers, he is determined to reclaim what is/was his. Predictably, chaos ensues, and D.J. and Rene have to save him—more than once. This is a great story that has just the right amount of humor, suspense, and action to make it an entertaining and compelling read from start to finish. In fact, this novella alone makes the collection worth the purchase.

“Cat Mon Dieu” (takes place between River Road and Elysian Fields)

When DJ stops at a grocery store for cat food, she orders Lafitte to stay in the car. Of course, no one “orders” Jean Lafitte to do anything, so he follows her into the store to buy some cat meat, just as he imagines DJ is doing. This is a short, short story—a fluffy, funny piece that highlights Jean’s perpetual arrogance and his total ignorance of modern food production.

Selections Featuring Alex and Jake’s Backstory 
“Rivalry” (takes place approximately twelve years before Royal Street, when Alex is 15 and Jake is 17)
Before Alex turned 15, he was an average, normal boy, but now he has had his first accidental shift into his big-dog form, and he’s baffled and scared because he doesn’t know what’s happening to him. Alex muses about his father’s “birds and bees” talk, but wonders bitterly why his father “didn’t tell me a damn thing about healing fast or being strong, or why I was always hot, or—and here was the real kicker—how I could turn into a dog.” After a fight with his cousin, Jake, Alex runs away from home and spends some time in a cave coming to terms with his inner dog, with some help from a surprising source. In Johnson’s introduction to the story, she says, “this is the story where I came to understand Alex and where his need for order and rules and control originated. Only when one has lost control does one begin to truly value it. Maybe Alex values it to excess…but that’s for you (and DJ) to decide.” 

“Intervention” (takes place a year or two before Royal Street,)

Alex and Jake have always been bitter rivals. At this point in time, Alex is a respected enforcer for the Council of Elders and Jake is an alcoholic bar owner in New Orleans. When Jake is arrested for another DUI, his family asks Alex to bail him out and straighten him out. Although reluctant to be forced to play this role with Jake, Alex heads for New Orleans, only to find that Jake has gotten involved with a dangerous preternatural who is exploiting his weaknesses and who plans to drive him to an early grave. This is a great story with a very satisfying ending. Again, Johnson mentions Alex’s devotion to regulation and control: “Alex knew about the preternatural world and how easily things could fall apart without rules and order. Jake didn’t know about pretes, and despite his military training, rules and order weren’t his favorite words.” 

Short Selections Featuring D.J., Alex, and/or Rene
“Alex, the Pig” (takes place between River Road and Elysian Fields)
When Alex cons DJ into babysitting for a repulsive pig that is really a spelled leprechaun, she enlists the aid of her friend, Rene, to turn the tables on her boyfriend. This one is almost too short. Although DJ’s immediate situation is resolved, I missed not being able to see Alex’s response to DJ’s actions and not learning what happened to the leprechaun/pig.

“Danger: Curves Ahead” (takes place between River Road and Elysian Fields)

This is a throw-away scene in which DJ wins a bet with Alex and tries to punish him by forcing him to participate in a zumba class with a bunch of elderly ladies. But Alex surprises DJ by following that old adage: “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” This piece has some silly humor, but it’s cotton-candy fluff in comparison to the rest of the entries.

“Swamp Rats” (takes place shortly after the events of River Road)

This is a brief scene in which Denis Villere, an arrogant merman, and Zeke Marchand, a weregator chieftain have a tumultuous confrontation over property rights with DJ acting as the negotiator and Alex as her back-up. I love Johnson’s physical description of Zeke: “built roughly like a giant water oak with leathery skin instead of bark.” Basically, this is a slice-of-life scene that gives the reader a taste of the SENTINELS world—presenting one of many similar situations that DJ deals with on a daily basis. For future reference, Denis is a bitter enemy of DJ’s merman friend, Rene Delachaise. In DJ’s opinion, Denis is as “mean as a rabid swamp rat.” 

     To read an excerpt from Pirateship Down, click HERE to go to the book's page and click on the cover art.

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