The Golden City trilogy has been an uneven reading experience for me. I found the first book to be a little ho-hum, and then I was wowed by book two, The Seat of Magic. Unfortunately, The Shores of Spain did not continue the momentum of book two despite its change in locale to the islands of the sereia. Readers of the previous books will recall that the sereia are a matriarchal society and as a result traditional gender roles are reversed. I was quite excited to explore this new world and to see how Oriana and Duilio’s relationship would fare in this new setting. The Shores of Spain was not the book that I thought it was going to be.
When I cracked open The Shores of Spain I anticipated that the story would stay with Oriana and Duilio considering that they have been the main characters in the previous two books. However, this was not to be. Oriana and Duilio have traveled to Oriana’s home islands to solve the murder of her mother and to serve as ambassador of Portugal. I was assuming that there would be a little more emphasis on their newlywed state and the necessary adjustment that would be needed in a whole new culture. However, shortly after the start, Oriana’s sister and Duilio’s half brother become involved, shifting the focus to Marina and Joaquim and their relationship and quest.
After Oriana’s mother’s journal is stolen, Marina and Joaquim arrive and depart from the islands in quick succession to embark on a mission of their own. They are to track down where the journal has been removed to and consequently discover the fate of the sereia that have been sentenced to death but were taken before their execution could take place.
It’s not that I minded Marina and Joaquim being the focus. They are both quieter characters than Oriana and Duilio and more traditional. Joaquim is much more reserved than Duilio and when he sees Marina interact with her own people it’s only then that he questions how he has treated her:
“Do you resent that I’ve…always treated you like you’re human” (p. 113).
For Marina, despite growing up in the sereia community, she is much more content to play at human, confining herself to the ascribed gender roles expected of human women. This does not mean that Marina is a weak or subservient character, it’s more that she feels less restricted as being thought of as human:
“I like being human. No one expects anything of me there” (p. 113).
The contrast between Marina and Oriana is an interesting one. Where Marina feels free living in a society that restricts its women, Oriana has never wanted to let go of her origins and cast herself as human. I appreciate the fact that Marina chooses a more traditional role, wanting to be a wife and eventually a mother, and that this does not make her “less”. Marina might not be the leader that Oriana is but that does not make her unequal to her sister or that her decision is less valid.
While I liked what Marina and Joaquim brought to the story, I can’t help but feel that that by focusing on these two characters, the trilogy ended on a rather uneven note. For me, The Shores of Spain felt like a completely different book and out of sync with the previous two books in the trilogy. Even Oriana and Duilio seemed like different characters. Although this might have been due to the fact that they did not play as large a role in the story as they had in the previous books. For me, the shift to Marina and Joaquim as main characters changed the entire tone of the trilogy and I’m not entirely sure the shift was a necessary one.
The Shores of Spain was just an okay read for me. I still like the world with its fantastical beings and it’s contrasting matriarchal society. The writing continues to be soft and lovely, adding to the atmospheric world the author creates. Despite the rather uneven ending to the trilogy, I still think this is worth a read by a talented author. While The Golden City trilogy might be at an end, it does look like the author is starting a new series with Dreaming Death – I am intrigued.