Deconstructing Alex, guest post by Suzanne Johnson
Ernest Hemingway likened character development to an iceberg. The tip of the iceberg is what the reader sees—the character as he appears in the story. The bulk of information about that character, like the iceberg, is what remains out of view, beneath the surface.
I thought it might be fun to deconstruct one of the characters in the Sentinels series that seems to frustrate people. Alex Warin—we love him and we want to shake him until his teeth fall out. He’s sexy and has the alpha traits we love—he’s protective and self-assured without being too arrogant. But he’s such a rule-follower and sees the world in such black and white terms that we (and heroine DJ, who refers to him as her “significant-something-or-other”) often want to slap him upside the head and knock some sense into him, as we say here in the South.
That’s the Alex above the waterline, the Alex we can see.
But what went into making Alex who he is? Why does he react the way he does? Here are a few of the below-the-surface details about the smokin’-hot iceberg that is Alexander Warin. [Those of you who have kept up with the Sentinels short stories the last few years will know at least part of this story.]
Alexander Basile Warin grew up the youngest of four boys in a conventional small-town family in Picayune, Mississippi. His dad and his uncle are co-owners of a hardware store, and Alex and his first cousin Jake Warin, two years his senior, grew up in each others’ back pockets. They were smalltown boys, played on the football team, real Americana. Until…
When he was sixteen, in the middle of a growth spurt and with teenage hormones all over the place, Alex shifted for the first time. True shape-shifters in the Sentinels world are born, not made, and it’s sometimes a recessive gene that skips generations. Alex had no idea what was happening to him but knew it was weird and dangerous, so he ran away from home. He met up with a mysterious man who knew all about shifting. The man, who’d been sent by the wizards—for whom many of the shifters end up working if they have the right temperament—convinced Alex to go back home and keep his secret to himself.
The man became Alex’s mentor. He worked odd jobs for Warin Hardware and secretly taught Alex how to control his shifts by learning to control his emotions and develop strong mental discipline.
A couple of years later, Alex went off to college at Ole Miss, studying criminal justice. Still under the tutelage of his mentor, he went into FBI training immediately after college, eventually becoming a field agent assigned to the FBI’s office in Jackson, Mississippi. On the side, he continued his training with the wizards, showing an aptitude for weapons and eventually being recruited as an enforcer, an elite soldier of the wizards. He was good at his job, and fully bought into the “preternaturals belong in the Beyond” mindset.
When Hurricane Katrina caused the breakdown of the borders between the human and preternatural worlds and the senior sentinel of New Orleans (a wizard border guard, in effect) went missing, Alex was sent to the struggling city to serve as co-sentinel with the missing sentinels understudy. DJ was talented but unproven, and Alex’s job was as much to determine her capabilities as to help keep the peace—and to investigate whether the sentinel’s disappearance was really a result of the hurricane.
This is the point at which readers meet Alex. By this time, he has spent more than a decade training to follow orders and to see the world in a particular way. He’s very loyal to the wizards, because he sees them as being his salvation from the chaos he’d fallen into when he began shifting. All he’s ever known of the magical world is what they’ve taught him, and he’s had no reason to ever question it.
DJ grew up with sentinel Gerry St. Simon, who was anything but a black-and-white thinker. Until recently, she’s always thought she was very unlike Gerry but as the series has progressed, it’s becoming obvious to everyone (even DJ) that she is very much like her mentor. She’s an independent thinker and is very comfortable with the shades of gray and the ambiguities of life.
The more Alex is confronted with the grays and ambiguities, and the more he’s being asked to question everything he’s been taught to believe, the more uncomfortable he grows. His reaction so far has been to dig in his heels and argue, hoping desperately that if he fights hard enough, things won’t keep changing. He doesn’t know how to live in a world where the rules he’s built his life around no longer work.
So have a touch of pity for our stubborn, argumentative Alex. He’s a good man who’s having to learn some very uncomfortable lessons. He takes a hard hit to the heart at the end of PIRATE’S ALLEY. The question going forward, as we begin the wait for book five, BELLE CHASSE, is: What will it take for Alex to finally shed his black-and-white cloak and open his eyes to what the world around him is becoming? What will it take for him to listen to his lion’s heart and not his fear? Stay tuned.
In this slick urban fantasy, a half-elf, half-wizard battles paranormal politics in the city of New Orleans. I love the concept — when Hurricane Katrina doused New Orleans, the change in ions thinned the veil between the human and paranormal worlds so much that the Big Easy got a whole lot more haunted.
An immortal Jean Lafitte? Swoon. And this is another great concept — in the world of Pirate’s Alley, famous people remain immortal in a sort of undead state as long as they’re remembered. Kudos to the author for the world she’s created.
I hadn’t read the prior books, and I was able to catch up fairly quickly. However, I think I might have enjoyed some of the characters more had I read Book 3 and gotten a better sense of their character arcs. I found it perplexing that the heroine was dating an alphahole, a popular romantic archetype that frankly baffles me. In fairness, according to folklore, paranormals aren’t usually nice guys, so masculine paranormal ass-hattery fits within the context. Also, although the book has romantic elements, it’s first and foremost an urban fantasy. So the jerkface men added nicely to the tension.
If you’re a fan of kick-ass urban fantasy heroines, this could be your book.
Sentinels of New Orleans
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Tor Books
Date of Publication: April 21, 2015
Number of pages: 352
Word Count: 96,000
From award-winning author Suzanne Johnson comes the fourth book in the smart and sexy Sentinels of New Orleans series.
Wizard sentinel DJ Jaco thought she had gotten used to the chaos of her life in post-Katrina New Orleans, but a new threat is looming, one that will test every relationship she holds dear.
Caught in the middle of a rising struggle between the major powers in the supernatural world—the Wizards, Elves, Vampires and the Fae—DJ finds her loyalties torn and her mettle tested in matters both professional and personal. Her relationship with enforcer Alex Warin is shaky, her non-husband Quince Randolph is growing more powerful, and her best friend Eugenie has a bombshell that could blow everything to Elfheim and back.
And that’s before the French pirate Jean Lafitte, newly revived from his latest “death,” returns to New Orleans with vengeance on his mind. DJ’s assignment? Keep the sexy leader of the historical undead out of trouble. Good luck with that.
Duty clashes with love, loyalty with deception, and friendship with responsibility as DJ navigates passion and politics in the murky waters of a New Orleans caught in the grips of a brutal winter that might have nothing to do with Mother Nature.
War could be brewing, and DJ will be forced to take a stand. But choosing sides won’t be that easy.
DJ, are you awake?
Freaking elf. “Go home, Rand.”
I am home. Where are you?
I frowned and burrowed my face into the soft down pillow. Which wasn’t my pillow.
Holy crap. What had happened?
I sat up and took in several observations at once, none of which made sense and all of which sent my heart rate jack-rabbiting hard enough to send my blood pressure into the ozone.
First, I was lying beneath a heavy bedspread woven in a rich blue-and-cream print. The bed was an elaborate confection made to look like an antique half-tester, and a brass chandelier hung overhead.
I recognized the Hotel Monteleone. I recognized Jean Lafitte’s bedroom in the posh Eudora Welty Suite in the Monteleone. I didn’t have a clue as to how I got here.
Second, I wore only underwear. My clothes were thrown across a chair in the corner. I had no recollection of removing them.
Third, the pillow next to mine still held the clear indentation of a head, and there was water running behind the closed bathroom door.
What in God’s name had I done?
Rand! Where are you? So help me, if that elf was behind this, I’d splay him open like a catfish and watch his guts fall on the floor. Then I’d batter and deep-fry him.
God, Dru. Stop shrieking like an elven shrew. I think you got too cold and went into a survival state.
Survival state? Then I remembered, and shame joined panic. I had gone into hibernation like a bear, right out on Royal Street in front of God and everyone. Quince Randolph, you sonofabitch! Why didn’t you warn me that would happen?
Stop yelling. How did I know you’d be stupid enough to go traipsing through the snow to the point of unconsciousness? I can tell you’re in the Quarter, but where are you?
Catch you later.
I slammed shut every mental door I could imagine and then troweled imaginary caulk in any imaginary cracks around said doors. I was vaguely aware that, off in the distance of my mental stronghold, Rand was yelling at me.
Had Jean hauled me back to the hotel like a sack of pommes de terres? How had he explained a hibernating blonde to the hotel management? At least my dark blue underwear matched. Had he taken advantage of me? No, it wasn’t his style. Which meant I’d consented.
Alex was going to kill me if I didn’t kill myself first. I wasn’t sure hibernation-brain was an adequate defense.
The bathroom doorknob rattled and I dove under the covers, even though I realized it was like closing the barn door after the half-naked cows had escaped.
From my hiding spot, I heard the door open and footsteps cross from tile to carpet before stopping with a rustle of fabric. “Hey, babe. You finally back from the dead? Whatcha doin’ under there?”
“Rene?” I poked my head out and frowned at my buddy the merman, fully dressed in jeans and a Saints sweatshirt. His feet were bare, and he walked around the bed and climbed in as if either one of us belonged here, much less at the same time.
“What are you doing here? What am I doing here? Who undressed me? Where’s Jean?” And, as an afterthought, “Why are we in bed?”
Now that I realize I hadn’t acted like my licentious great-aunt Dru and slept with the pirate, I transferred my anger to the proper place and it wasn’t to myself. I’d kill that sneaky Frenchman if he weren’t immortal.
Rene was not immortal, however, and he was within reach. “You better start talking, fish boy.”
“Aiyeeee.” Rene cackled like the Cajun he was, and fluffed the pillow behind his head. “I told Jean you’d be spittin’ mad. Nothing happened, babe. Your clothes were wet and I was just trying to keep you warm. I’m a shifter, you know. We run hot.”
“Oh, do you now.”
That made him laugh harder.
I threw off the covers and stomped over to my clothes. He’d seen whatever I had and I knew he didn’t want it, so there was no point in hiding. I picked up three soggy layers of T-shirts and sweaters, and cords so wet they weighed about ten pounds.
My breath hitched. The staff; I’d lost the staff. I whirled to Rene, who sat propped against the lush draped fabric that covered the headboard, watching me with a grin. “Where’s my bag?”
“In the living room. Everything’s there, babe, even your magic stick. Jean, he took care of you.”
Yeah, I just bet he did. It was hard to argue effectively in underwear I’d intended only Alex Warin to see, so I went into the living room, dug my room key out of my messenger bag, and stuck my head out the door, looking up and down the hallway.
“I’ll be back. Don’t go anywhere,” I yelled at Rene, and made a run for it, jamming the keycard into my door lock and slipping inside before I was spotted. If hotel cameras caught my mad dash on security footage, well, I’m sure they’d seen stranger things. This was New Orleans, after all.
About the Author:
Suzanne Johnson writes urban fantasy and paranormal fiction from Auburn, Alabama, on top of a career in educational publishing that has thus far spanned five states and six universities—including both Alabama and Auburn, which makes her bilingual. She grew up in Winfield, Alabama, but was also a longtime resident of New Orleans, so she has a highly refined sense of the absurd and an ingrained love of SEC football, cheap Mardi Gras trinkets, and fried gator on a stick.
Writing as Susannah Sandlin, she also is the author of the best-selling Penton Legacy paranormal romance series and The Collectors romantic thriller series. Elysian Fields, book three in the Sentinels of New Orleans series, won the 2014 Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence while her Sandlin-penned novel, Allegiance, is nominated for a 2015 Reviewer’s Choice Award from RT Book Reviews magazine.