New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina. Magic and wizards. Betrayals and gods. Historically undead pirates and ultra-modern guns. It’s not a surprise such an unholy mix resulted in a marvelously fresh urban fantasy novel.
The protagonist Drusilla (I hate the name by the way) is a young wizard in New Orleans, a junior member of the Green Congress of wizards. Her hardest assignment up to date has been sending a historically undead pirate back to Beyond, where he belongs. Then Katrina hits, and Drusilla’s life explodes.
Katrina not only destroys most of Drusilla’s beloved city but also contributes to the erosion of the border between our world and Beyond. Many of the inhuman population of Beyond—vampires, fae, and the rest—want to exploit the situation to their advantage and to the detriment of humans. The wizards’ obligation is to close the breaches and minimize traffic to and from Beyond. Besides, Drusilla’s mentor is missing, the undead pirate is stalking her, and the Congress sent her a bodyguard/enforcer hunk to partner, while the city painfully struggles back to its feet.
The story is sometimes funny and sometimes profoundly sad, as the heroine absorbs the enormity of the devastation after the hurricane. She tries to do what she can in the face of the natural disaster while simultaneously juggling her magical problems with her personal issues. She worries over her missing mentor. She spars verbally with her handsome and stubborn bodyguard. She experiments with magic. Compassionate and inventive, resourceful and vulnerable, she is a great UF protagonist who is still discovering the limits of her magic and the complications of inter-wizard politics.
The plot flows fast and furious, as unstoppable as the flood that flattened New Orleans, with so many unexpected twists and turns I occasionally felt dizzy. New dangers arise on every second page, as Drusilla tries to do her duty and stay true to her heart. Sometimes those two goals coincide. Unfortunately sometimes, they clash, and then the heroine has to make hard choices and decide what’s more important to her: obeying the Wizards’ rules or saving the people she loves.
The book is written very well, with rapid dialog, original plotline, and believable characterization. The world building is superb, and the magical system interesting. There is one small snag though. The heroine has a staff: she finds it among her missing mentor’s possessions. The staff was made by elves long ago. It follows her around like a faithful puppy. It has the ability to heal and to amplify her magic.
The fans of Patricia Briggs’s Mercy Thompson novels might find the entire staff thing familiar. Mercy has a similar staff—made by elves, ancient, able to heal and amplify magic, able to make its own choices and select its own mistress. I don’t know if it’s a coincidence, a copy, or maybe they both attended the same workshop some time ago, and the idea of such staff crept up in their common sessions. And both writers obviously liked it and used it.
Aside from this one small glitch, it was an absorbing book and it introduced a riveting heroine. I want to know what happens next in Drusilla’s life. I’ll definitely read the next story about her or anything else this writer writes. It’s such a nice feeling to discover a new writer and feel love stirring in your heart. Suzanne Johnson is a writer to watch.