If I were to pick one word to describe The Quarter Storm it would be atmospheric. This mystery steeped in Vodou magic immerses you in the communities, environment, and day-to-day life of a post-Katrina New Orleans so effectively it’s as if you’ve been transported there, feeling the humidity on your skin as you walk down the streets of the Quater and witnessing the events of the book yourself. In some respects, The Quarter Storm reads like a slice-of-life fantasy. As the mystery unfolds, the reader experiences the mundane: preparing gumbo, walking into a neighborhood bar and grill, or bringing a meal to less fortunate friends. Yet these events are interwoven with the plot elements so as to play an important role in unraveling the mystery. If you enjoy atmospheric, slice-of-life fantasy that is steeped in the culture and traditions of a specific urban center, then you’ll like The Quarter Storm. It is quite the nod to New Orleans and a satisfying read. I received an ARC of this book from 47North. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 01/03/2022
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
A practitioner of Vodou must test the boundaries of her powers to solve a ritual murder in New Orleans and protect everything she holds sacred.
Haitian-American Vodou priestess Mambo Reina Dumond runs a healing practice from her New Orleans home. Gifted with water magic since she was a child, Reina is devoted to the benevolent traditions of her ancestors.
After a ritual slaying in the French Quarter, police arrest a fellow vodouisant. Detective Roman Frost, Reina’s ex-boyfriend—a fierce nonbeliever—is eager to tie the crime, and half a dozen others, to the Vodou practitioners of New Orleans. Reina resolves to find the real killer and defend the Vodou practice and customs, but the motives behind the murder are deeper and darker than she imagines.
As Reina delves into the city’s shadows, she untangles more than just the truth behind a devious crime. It’s a conspiracy. As a killer wields dangerous magic to thwart Reina’s investigation, she must tap into the strength of her own power and faith to solve a mystery that threatens to destroy her entire way of life.
There are several aspects of The Quarter Storm that stood out to me, the first of which was the characterzation. I thought Henry did a phenomenal job here. The characters felt real with all their faults, and oh do they have faults. From the high-spirited, eager-to-fight Tyka, to the righteous and Vodou-wary Roman, to the haughty and self-serving Lucien, Henry’s characters have a depth that you can only achieve through vice and virtue. These characters do not always make the right decisions, and in fact sometimes take morally ambiguous action. But that’s what makes them so compelling. That’s real life.
Reina, the MC, is especially human, and I found myself invested in her life. She is three-dimensional, having powerful magical capabilities through her lwa, while at the same time struggling to pay her bills. She makes her livelihood through practicing her religion, but never at the cost of authenticity – no commercial exploitation of her beliefs just for a quick buck here! Despite multiple warnings, she devotes herself to uncovering the truth of the grisly murder pegged on one of their own, protecting her religion against the dangerous stereotypes and assumptions that would make it an easy scapegoat.
But the depth of character doesn’t stop there. Reina is a terrible cook, trying unsuccessfully to make meals for her friends using all the wrong ingredients. She grieves the loss of her mother, unable to let go years later – had her mother abandonded New Orleans, or had she been swept away by the waters of Katrina? Reina is in love with the wrong man, in and out of a relationship with Roman despite the fact that he rejects and despises her religion. Love is like that sometimes, coming unwanted and pulling you toward someone you have no business being with. These aspects of her character combine to make Reina so human and so relatable.
The use of Haitian Creole thoughout the story as well as the in-depth history and lore of Vodou lent further authenticity to the characters and the world. I found myself googling translations and reading Wikipedia to learn more. To me, that’s a sign that an author has done a great job at urban world-building – her sprinkling of language and lore throughout the story hooked me into wanting to learn even more about these people and their culture.
The most profound and surprising aspect of this book was its treatment of Katrina. Katrina’s presence is felt; it loomed in the background almost as if it was its own character, but it was never the centerpiece of the story, and I thought that was masterfully done. The setting is a post-Katrina New Orleans, and the author’s treatment of that fact cannot be overlooked despite the fact she doesn’t beat the reader over the head with it! The real message here is that life goes on. Yes, Katrina was a defining moment in history that changed things irrevocably in New Orleans, and yet life goes on, however changed. And although Katrina did shape many of the events in the story and the mystery, it was woven into the fabric of the atmosphere and plot so subtly and naturally that it didn’t overshadow the other aspets of the story. Henry’s treatment of Katrina deserves applause. Bravo!
I’ll admit that the elements of the mystery did feel somewhat thin. The various encounters Reina had to find clues left me wanting more insight. It often felt like she instigated investigative conversations and then walked away with no more information than when she entered the encounter. I overlooked that though, because she wasn’t a detective, and that really didn’t feel like the focus of the story to me. The focus was Reina’s life as a Vodouisant in New Orleans and the mystery was a means by which Henry explores that.
Henry’s prose was lovely, and her use of colloquial dialogue struck the right balance, especially considering the strong and varied dialects of that particular region. It wasn’t overdone and never pulled me out of the story.
I would recommend The Quarter Storm to anyone interested in a “witchy” vibe, in an urban fantasy where the setting is almost as imporant as the story itself. It would also be perfect for someone craving a trip to New Orleans, who wants to be transported to that city through the fantastical exploration of Vodou magic and murder mystery.