Review: The Golden City by J. Kathleen Cheney

January 7, 2014 4 stars, Book Review 9 ★★★★

The Golden City

For two years, Oriana Paredes has been a spy among the social elite of the Golden City, reporting back to her people, the sereia, sea folk banned from the city’s shores….

When her employer and only confidante decides to elope, Oriana agrees to accompany her to Paris. But before they can depart, the two women are abducted and left to drown. Trapped beneath the waves, Oriana’s heritage allows her to survive while she is forced to watch her only friend die.

Vowing vengeance, Oriana crosses paths with Duilio Ferreira—a police consultant who has been investigating the disappearance of a string of servants from the city’s wealthiest homes. Duilio also has a secret: He is a seer and his gifts have led him to Oriana.

Bound by their secrets, not trusting each other completely yet having no choice but to work together, Oriana and Duilio must expose a twisted plot of magic so dark that it could cause the very fabric of history to come undone….

In The Golden City J. Kathleen Cheney paints a vivid alternate Portugal in the early 1900s.  Seeing as I know nothing of Portugal’s history I found the reading experience quite interesting. I completely attribute this to the fact that I  wasn’t caught up with historical details of places and names that I’ve encountered in so many other historical fiction novels.  This totally allowed me to simply enjoy the feel of world, which a time period that felt familiar but unique. I loved how there was the expected treatment of women as the lesser more delicate sex in human society and yet roles for women seemed to be completely opposite when described for the sereia race, and again was different for selkies.

Oriana is a serei​a, commonly known as a siren. I know when I say siren you want to picture a mermaid – I know that is what I pictured but is definitely not the case. She is living in the city acting as a spy for her people, she has made her way into the aristocratic circles as a higher caste of servant so that whenever she happens to hear information that might effect or benefit her people she can relay this information back to them. Oddly enough while that is her occupation she doesn’t spend much time in the book doing any spying because of the kidnapping and death of her employer that takes place as the start of the book. Instead she spends her time investigating the death of her friend, one of the only people who knew what she really is.

During the course of her investigating she is sought after as a witness by a seer named Duilio Ferriera who also has seafolk heritage,  though he is a half selkie (seals who can shed their skin and become human) not a sereia. He has always suspected that she was not human and confronts her about it.  They end up making quite the investigative team.

I have to admit that while I seriously enjoyed The Golden City, things moved very slowly. Personally, I didn’t mind this because I was enjoying the world, atmosphere and build of the characters personalities. But I could definitely see the pace being an issue for other readers. I think part of what caused the slow build was because it was a mystery but with little to no action. Given that essence of a mystery novel mashed with fantasy and smidge of not quite romance thrown in, it only had the occasional bit of action thrown in to spice things up from time to time. I enjoyed it this way because the experience for me was more about the mystery and getting to know these two unique characters.

If you’re into judging books by their covers, this one was a great one but possibly a bit misleading only in that I think the cover fits the trend of beautiful girls in pretty dresses that I see frequently in fantasy books that are heavier on the romance side. Cover taste is definitely a very personal thing but also genre specific. I think most avid readers can spot a book in their preferred genres by glancing at the cover. I definitely found this cover appealing because it is gorgeous, and it does represent the book well in most aspects, it was only my learned stereotype that made me categorize it before I started reading. In a way that could work both for it and against it when readers go to pick it up. Hopefully, it will just work for it. Crosses fingers because I really want to see this series published to completion. So don’t be fooled, while there was definitely romantic feelings developing on either end of the main characters Oriana and Duilio, romance was not the main aspect of this book. In fact, I was very pleased that it wasn’t. Instead it was simply a side plot that was done very well. Hey, a slow build for me on relationships always works.  I do anticipate we will see the relationship progress much more in the coming books.

Overall, The Golden City was a very solid fantasy debut. If you enjoy water based fantasy species then this is definitely one you will want to pick up. It was such a refreshing take on sirens and selkies that I seriously look forward to learning more about this world and I can’t wait to see more of Oriana and Duilio!

Read the author’s Guest Post: The Things the Writer Isn’t Telling You (Even When We Want To)

The Golden City (The Golden City #1)

Find Book: | Goodreads
Follow Author: Website | Twitter

• This book was provided by the publisher for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own. Please note that this post also contains affiliate links. view our full Blog Policy

Stalk me!

Tabitha (Pabkins)

When I'm in the zone I can flip book pages faster than the eye can see - screaming "More Input!" I'm a book, yarn, & art supply hoarding goblin who loves to draw, make toys and craft all sorts of creepy cute things. My current habit is to listen to audio books while I'm arting it up!
Stalk me!

Latest posts by Tabitha (Pabkins) (see all)

9 Responses to “Review: The Golden City by J. Kathleen Cheney”

    • Tabitha the Pabkins

      Bah it isn’t mermaids!! You know I have no idea what goes into the process or their decision making when it comes to covers. I do like the cover but also at the same time I feel like there are so many covers out there of women in pretty dresses that it makes it hard to stand out – and then that ‘type’ of cover to me usually represents a heavier romantic element. I think this particular cover might stop a guy from picking it up which makes me sad because half of the book is told from a male’s perspective. So while I like the cover I think that the pretty girl in a dress does it a bit of a disservice – but then at the same time I think it will also get picked up by a lot of people just because of the girl in the pretty dress lol.

  1. Kristen H.

    I’m actually a little tired of the pretty girl covers in fantasy. I think you’re right in saying it misleads us into thinking a heavier romance. I do like the concept of sirens integrated into a population and always prefer historical fantasy over contemporary. Most likely being one of those readers who think it’s slow, I probably won’t bump this up on my list, but will add it to goodreads. 🙂 Glad you enjoyed it and savored the book.
    Kristen H. recently posted…Top Ten Goals For 2014My Profile

    • Tabitha the Pabkins

      I’m in agreement with you on that. But I doubt that its a trend that will ever go away. It does have a great romantic element but it isn’t what I would consider romance – but I don’t think I’m much of an authority on it since I don’t pick up many romance novels. I’m not much of a contemporary reader at all I do like ‘urban fantasy’ but I enjoy historical fantasy as well but I don’t read many historicals because I hate feeling like people use the same place and time period every time.

      I did really enjoy this and seriously look forward to more. This is one of those books where I think I’ll enjoy the second one more than the first because I can see her developing and sharpening her skills as a writer.

  2. Pamela D

    But how will I know the book is fantasy with a female POV without the pretty girl on the cover? I will be confused!

    In all seriousness, part of the reason that I love my kindle is that no one has to see the covers for the books I read. For example, I like the look of covers like this one and the Selection series covers, but I feel a bit silly reading a book with a cover like this when I am in my 30s and waiting at the doctor’s office. I get why there are two different sets of covers for the Harry Potter books in the UK, the kids’ version and the adults’ version.
    Pamela D recently posted…Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Goals/Resolutions for 2014My Profile

    • Tabitha the Pabkins

      Really there are? I didn’t realize that! They are lucky they have two sets of covers. All everyone seems to be commenting on was my opinion of the cover! LOL It makes me tempted to take that part out of the review cause it’s not like I don’t like the cover I just think it’s a smidge misleading.

        • Tabitha the Pabkins

          Wow I found one that you aren’t dying to read! I’m amazed LOL. Yeah I hear you – normally the slower books aren’t my style either – but this one for some reason just had the perfect combo for me. I really adored it!

          You need action, thrills, heart pounding…RAWR! hehe I could use some of that too right now. I’m in a lull. I need to start The Golem and the Jinni tonight and I’m not sure I’m in the mood for it. Finally finished The 5th Wave just now. I was not impressed I’m sad to say.

          • Pamela D

            Oh no! I am sad to hear that The Fifth Wave wasn’t fantastic. I keep hearing good things about it, and I picked it up for $2.50 over Thanksgiving weekend.

            I don’t always need excitement, but I have been reading a lot of slower books lately.
            Pamela D recently posted…Bout of Books Update – 1/7My Profile