Review: The Golden City by J. Kathleen Cheney

The Golden City
The Golden City


The Golden City
by J. Kathleen Cheney
Series: The Golden City, Book 1
Genre: Historic Fantasy
Published by Roc Trade, 2013
E-book, Purchased
384 pages
Grade: B+
Synopsis: 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….

She paused at the landing, her stomach churning. Was that what she was doing? Hunting a necromancer?

If so, she had wandered into a shiver of sharks.


He was a well-made man, athletic and lean. Oriana found herself staring at his back, weighing whether the lack of a dorsal stripe detracted from its attractiveness. No it doesn’t. There was something fascinating about that span of monochromatic skin.


  • The setting is in a fantasy, historic (1902) Portugal. So nice to have such a different setting.
  • I like how seamlessly the magic is sewn into Portugal.  It is part of life as much as electricity would be.
  • The selkies and sereia (sirens) are depicted so well. They are very different from each other even though they both live in the water some of the time.
  • I like the intrigue and mystery in this book.
  • This is not a light-hearted fantasy. People die, are threatened and must fight for their lives.
  • What we find out about the culture of the sirens is very interesting. Dorsal stripes are important!
  • For that matter, the selkies are really interesting, too.
  • There’s attraction between Oriana and Duilio, but that’s as far as it goes. I like that…especially in the first book of a fantasy series. I’m not averse to a relationship between characters, but I don’t like it overpowering the story.
  • I like Oriana. She’s spying on the Portuguese and has secrets. She discovers spying is sometimes a sordid and corrupt occupation. She has to decide how she feels about that.
  • Duilio is also very interesting. He has had to come home to Portugal after his father and brother die within a few months of each other. He lives with his mother, is a noble Portuguese and has a number of secrets, but he is also honorable and brave.
  • Duilio’s half-brother Erdano and his cousin Joaquim are both very compelling characters as is Duilio’s mother.


  • I tried to think of things I didn’t like or that didn’t work for me, but really I have none!

And a few thoughts

  • I loved this book. The setting, characters and plot all work very well for me.
  • The second book–The Seat of Magic–came out the first of July so I’m hoping to read it soon!
  • Mogsy from The Bibiliosanctum has a guest post from author J. Kathleen Cheney after the second book was published. I love getting some background info.
  • Another guest post from Ms. Cheney at Tabitha’s Not Yet Read blog. About selkies, sirens and more…LOL You don’t want to miss either of these blog posts!

Have you read this book? How did you like it?

Author: Jan

I love to read--especially mysteries, science fiction and fantasy. I also love blogging, photography, gardening, playing Mah Jonng, reading with a cat on my lap, throwing a ball for a dog, creating cards to send to family and friends, reading book blogs, using my computer.

12 thoughts on “Review: The Golden City by J. Kathleen Cheney”

  1. So glad you liked this! I picked up a copy recently – just couldn’t resist the setting. Historical fantasy set in Portugal? YES PLEASE. It’s good to know that the rest of the book lives up to the setting, especially the secondary characters. I think secondary characters can really make or break a series.


  2. I love the unique setting for this one – Portugal is a spot that doesn’t get explored often enough and it has total potential. Sounds like this would work really well for me. Thanks for sharing – great review 🙂


  3. Glad to hear you enjoyed this, I liked it pretty well myself! Hopefully I’ll get some time to dive into the sequel this summer, my curiosity is really piqued as to where this thing with Orianna and Duilio will go. Thanks for the link love btw! 🙂


  4. Great review, Jan! You’ve just moved this from “someday” to “must read”! I appreciate good worldbuilding, which this book clearly has, and relationships that take time to develop. I look forward to reading it! (Now to track down a copy. I wonder if my library has it? I’ve pretty much blown the book budget for the time being.)


    1. Thanks, Lark! I hope you’re able to find a copy at your library. I know what you mean by blowing your book budget. And I hope you like the book.


  5. You know admitted I had to look up dorsal stripe so I knew what it was on the actual aquatic life so I could picture it better on Oriana.

    Thanks for the shout out and glad you enjoyed it as much as I did!


    1. I really like how the author uses real aspects like the dorsal stripe to make her paranormal creatures more real to me.

      You’re welcome, Tabitha. I really enjoyed the post.


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