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The Golden City by J. Kathleen Cheney
Cover Artist: Juliana Kolesva
Review by Mel Jacob
Roc Trade Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780451417749
Date: 05 November 2013 List Price $15.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

The Golden City, is set in Northern Portugal and features humans, selkies, sorcerers, and sereia (sea people whose women rule and can call sailors from a distance with their siren song). Someone is assassinating servants employed by the noble families, and unknown to most, imprisoning them in submerged houses beneath the water. Their deaths are part of a magical conspiracy of some kind. Who is doing this is unknown.

Oriana Paredes is a spy sent to the Golden City to collect information. The sea folk are not welcome in the Golden City. If Oriana's true nature is discovered, she faces execution.

When she and her mistress Isabel Amaral, are kidnapped, they are imprisoned in a model house resembling the Amaral home. The two are seated in chairs and tied to a table. Isabel cannot breathe underwater, but Oriana can. When Isabel dies, her half of the table glows with an inscription. After a major struggle, Oriana frees herself, but can do nothing for Isabel. She escapes the house and swims to the surface.

The sea smells of death. A boat floats nearby with two men. They help Oriana into the boat and take her to the shore. She returns to the Amaral House, but Lady Amaral doesn't believe her story. She has no desire to acknowledge the death of her daughter. The family is deeply in debt and hopes a good marriage by Isabel would solve their money problems. She turns Oriana out and accuses her of stealing Isabel's jewelry. With nowhere to turn, she finds a cheap room and sets out to find out who murdered Isabel and why.

Meanwhile, Duilio Fuerreia, a half-selkie, has been working to solve the mystery of the houses and the missing servants. When he learns about Oriana and the missing Isabel, he suspects it relates to the mystery. He arranges for Oriana to become his mother's companion.

Cheney has crafted a fascinating world and interesting characters. Science contributes as much as magic to understanding what the houses represent and what the killings are intended to create. This is a first rate fantasy by an accomplished writer. Readers are certain to join me in looking for the sequel.

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