Review by Shellie for The Golden City by J. Kathleen Cheney
Shellie’s quick take: A complex and fantastical historical mystery and romance set in a make-believe gas-lit Portugal. It contains dark magic, mermaids and Selkies.
Shellie’s description: Oriana Paredes is a spy. She is also a maid for a local female Aristocrat in The Golden City, which is located in Portugal during the very early 1900’s. She is a “Sereia”, a siren or mermaid of sorts, which she hides from almost everyone since her species has been banned from the city by the current King.
When Oriana finds herself sinking, upside down, in the city’s river inside a room-sized-box with her human employer, she is understandably the only one who manages to survive. She realizes that there is fowl play and perhaps something a bit more sinister and magical, so she becomes determined to find the killer of her employer and friend.
She also begins to realize that the murderer may have killed others too, since the room-sized-box is not the only one anchored in the city’s river waters; there is in fact an installation of them. They are a miniature replica of the Aristocratic houses of The Golden City, placed there as an underwater art show in a representation called The City Under the Sea.
Shellie’s thoughts: I enjoyed this novel – quite a lot actually. It’s a great first effort for the author since it has a complex plot, an intriguing mystery, and good romantic tension, so it keeps the reader interested and moving along. The author has an intelligent and detailed writing style which makes the novel thought provoking. All these are elements always welcome in a good story.
I liked that the story is also set in a familiar world, so it’s easier to read than some fantasies where the location and character names can be vastly different than what we are accustomed to. It’s also easier to sink into this almost realistic world because of its well-known paranormal creatures – water-related beings such as Sereia, Selkies and water Nymphs. All the above are nice aspects for a first novel.
However, I had issues with some of the editing. The story left me with a number of dangling questions about some of the author’s mythology around the fantastical creatures - especially the Selkies. I also had an issue around the uses of the names “The Golden City” and “The City Under the Sea”; both are so similar and became confusing. Lastly, I found myself rereading a number of sentences that did not make complete sense. I generally take responsibility for confusions such as this, however, it happened often enough that I was forced to take note. Regardless, I ended up ignoring and skipping over these parts so that the flow and enjoyment of the story would continue.
I’d recommend this to anyone interested in historical fantasy, and those who enjoy steampunk (it’s set during the gaslamp era), readers who like mermaids or Selkies, dark magic, or paranormal romance. I will definitely read the next book in the series since I would like to know what happens to the characters and still have questions about the Selkie and Sereia mythology. All in all I rate this debut novel a 3.5 star. A good first effort and start to a series.
384 pages | 05 Nov 2013 | Roc | 18 - AND UP