The Golden City by J. Kathleen Cheney
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
In a genre awash with elves, dwarves, and wizards, The Golden City is a splash of interest. There may be those sorts in the wider world, but The Golden City features the little-seen sereia (mermaids) and selkies, seals that can shed their skins to become human.
While still traditional magical creatures, these are wonderful bright spots in an overcrowded genre. I just loved getting to know the inner workings of mermaids and selkies. Sereia have a complicated social structure but are at nature similar to aristocratic humans. Selkies are a whiff of human with a great deal more seal; they’re a little simple, and lusty.
The story doubles its benefits by setting the story not in the traditional vaguely-British countryside, but rather in historical Portugal. This opens up whole new realms: the clothes they wear, the languages used, the traditions they keep, their religion and culture. It’s fantastic.
In The Golden City, Cheney has crafted a light and delicate story, part mystery, part spy tale, and the lightest touch of romance.
Oriana Peredes is a sereia–mermaid–who is a spy among the humans in the Golden City. She works as a companion for the Paris Hilton of the aristocracy–perhaps sweet, but empty-headed, and wanted by several suitors. The pair are on their way to a secret rendezvous with her mistress’s suitor when they are abducted. When her mistress is murdered right in front of her with elements of mysterious magic at work, Oriana puts aside her mission as a spy in order to find vengeance for her friend.
As she works to discover who tried to kill her, Oriana meets Duilio Ferreira, a police consultant and member of the nouveau riche. Oh, and he’s half-selkie.
Together they work to solve the case and protect the innocents of the city, and feel out the first touches of romance as they try to solve the riddle of destiny and whether it is even possible for a sereia and selkie to find love.
(HOWEVER, if you’re interested in paranormal romance, look elsewhere. This is a Victorian romance… in short, there is barely any more than a sideways glance and a flutter of the heart. It’s a nice change of pace, but I admit it was a tad unsatisfying.)
I picked this book up on a whim, and I am so glad I did! I can’t wait to read the next and learn more about these fascinating sea fantasies.