Mystery and Magic in ‘The Golden City’

17707612The Golden City by J. Kathleen Cheney
Roc, November 5, 2013 (Fantasy; Mystery)

My rating: Liked the place, but the food was bad (2/5)

The Golden City is fantasy-historical-romance-mystery novel that had so much potential, but ultimately fell flat for me. I loved the concept of selkie’s and sereia’s living hidden amongst the human population of early 20th century Portugal, but I found myself plodding through this read.

Oriana Paredes is a spy for her people, the sereia (think mermaid, but with legs), and in doing her job, she has taken a position as a lady’s companion to Lady Isabel. By rubbing shoulders with the aristocracy, Oriana hopes to learn insider information that may help the ostracized sereia and keep them protected from any incursions by the humans. On top of her spying duties, Oriana still has to play the real ladies’ companion, which is why she finds herself helping Isabel execute an elopement. Unfortunately, this elopement ends in  Isabel’s death in a strange water art installation, which seems to have a much more sinister purpose than grotesque art. 

Investigating the disappearance of a number of servants from notable homes, Duilio Ferreira, police consultant, gentleman, and half-selkie, crosses paths with Oriana. Duilio has noticed Oriana at several society functions and has wondered about her, but only after their investigations come together does he get his suspicions about her race confirmed. Rather than turning the sereia in, as is demanded by the Special Police, Duilio offers her a position as his mother’s companion so that they can work together to bring justice to Isabel’s killer.

The Golden City wasn’t a bad novel. At first I thought I would love it since it started out so much like a historical romance. We had the ladies companion in the fringes of upper society and a potential romantic interest with the gentleman, plus an engaging mystery. What could go wrong? Well, I think there was just too many plot lines emerging that none were truly resolved or fully explored.

Specifically, I’m going to refer to the “romance” – how could I not? As I mentioned, there was a great potential for a romantic plot here, but it never really came together. Oriana and Duilio both feel…something for the other, but neither acted on it. Which can work in series as a way to set the stage for future novels, but here it just made more of this supposed connection more than it was. Duilio continually goes on about his attraction to Oriana, but I got the sense that Oriana was rather ambivalent towards him until closer to the end. Again this is fine, but it makes it hard for me to really believe that they have developed such strong feelings as described by the end of the novel that it’s now difficult for them to part ways.

In addition to this romance sub-plot readers also have to contend with these others:

  • Duilio’s mother’s stolen pelt and his investigation into the culprit
  • Duilio’s complicated family dynamics
  • Oriana’s role as a spy for the sereia and her orders to return home
  • The mystery of who is behind the art installation and the murders hidden within

To me, this was way too much going on. There was a lot of interesting aspects about the above plot points, but they added another layer of complication that I didn’t feel was necessary to the mystery. In fact, the multiple mysteries seemed a little too neatly wrapped up by the end of the novel.

Would I read the next book, The Seat of Magic? It’s hard to say. In one sense, I do feel invested in knowing whether or not Oriana and Duilio get their happily ever after. On the other hand, I don’t think a new mystery will really grab me since I was ambivalent to the one in The Golden City. Do I recommend this book? Again, I’m torn, I think it will certainly appeal to some readers, and if you liked either of the books I’ve listed in the similar reads below, I think you’re likely to enjoy The Golden City.

Similar Reads

The romance between Duilio and Oriana was very low on emotion, and in a lot of respects, it reminded me of Shades of Milk and Honey. Emotion wasn’t really important in Milk and Honey, and I never felt satisfied with the romance; I felt that same with The Golden City. I had mixed feelings about Milk and Honey, which I outlined in April 2014.

Shades of Milk and Honey (Glamourist Histories, #1)

The mystery element and the light romance also reminded me of Jaime Lee Moyer’s Delia’s Shadow. Like Duilio and Oriana, Delia and Gabe team up to solve a crime, and the crime takes the forefront at the expense of romantic development. I reviewed Delia’s Shadow back in April 2013.

Delia's Shadow (Delia Martin, #1)

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