A strange thing happened when I was reading The Seat of Magic. Despite feeling pretty mediocre about the first book, The Golden City, I totally fell in love with its follow up. The Seat of Magic was lush, romantic and mysterious and I couldn’t have been more engaged reading. I am so glad that I picked this one up. It would have been so easy to forget about this one since I wasn’t totally enthralled by book one, but the gorgeous cover grabbed my attention and I thought it was time to give this world another shot. I can’t remember what didn’t work for me the first time round, because I absolutely loved it in the second book.
The Seat of Magic picks up soon after the events of the first novel. Oriana has returned to her homeland, but has promised to return to the city. Duilio soon finds himself helping the police investigate another series of deaths; it seems that someone is killing non-humans, but to what end is anyone’s guess. While Duilio investigates these murders he can’t shake the feeling that Oriana is in danger, and after a daring rescue, Duilio and Oriana have to determine how the murders and her imprisonment is connected.
In a lot of ways, The Seat of Magic isn’t any different from The Golden City. Mystery remains a large part of the second book; however, the romance element does move forward a lot more than it did in The Golden City. It is the romance that I felt was very interesting in The Seat of Magic. Because Oriana is a sereia, a non-human, many of her expectations of romance and relationships are informed by that culture. As this is set in early 20th century Portugal, society is governed by a strict set of acceptable behaviour, at least for those of the upper classes. As a sereia Oriana is not bound by those conventions; however, taking up with Duilio will mean restricting her own identity in favour of disguising herself as human for the rest of her life. I really liked how Oriana felt conflicted about entering into a relationship with Duilio; from her perspective she was giving up a lot and I appreciated the fact that they negotiated this obstacle and that it wasn’t brushed aside in favour of an assumed happily ever after.
What was also interesting and entertaining about Duilio and Oriana’s romance was the fact that in Oriana’s mind it is the woman’s job to do the courting. Oriana makes the decision to court Duilio and convince him to be her mate, which doesn’t necessarily mean marriage. The reversal of expected gender roles in the romance department was a strong element in The Seat of Magic and it was well executed. Never did Oriana’s efforts at courting read as a gimmick for the plot to move forward in an unusual manner. The fact Oriana would be the one to do the courting was explained and grounded in the culture that she grew up in.
The mystery facet of The Seat of Magic is rather dependent on reading the previous book, so I wouldn’t recommend reading this one out of order. The investigation into to the killer hunting non-humans in the city was a very important element and it developed why non-humans were reviled and made clear how easy it was for non-humans to live beneath notice in a city that has outlawed their existence. The Seat of Magic makes some dramatic changes to the status of non-humans, and I can’t wait to see how these changes unfold with the third book, The Shores of Spain.
The Seat of Magic is a strong and compelling follow-up to The Golden City. Not only are the characters developed but also the world is further explored. The setting of Portugal in the 1900s is both magical and evocative. Anyone who appreciates their historical fantasy with a strong sense of place will love this one.
If you, like me, loved the lush setting of The Seat of Magic, I recommend following it up with Rosamund Hodge’s fairy tale retelling, Cruel Beauty. While Cruel Beauty is a young adult novel, I think it’s a story that many can appreciate. See my full review.
If you liked the dynamic between Duilio and Oriana, Lynn Kurland’s Star of Morning is a good follow-up. Like The Seat of Magic, it’s got a romantic element, but it doesn’t overpower the larger plot that’s just as important to the story.
For another read that is more focused on the romance, Maria V. Snyder’s Touch of Power is another good read (and the beginning of a trilogy). The romance is much more antagonist, but I think the fantasy elements will appeal to readers of The Seat of Magic.