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The Golden City (2013)

by J. Kathleen Cheney(Favorite Author)
3.69 of 5 Votes: 3
0451417747 (ISBN13: 9780451417749)
Roc Trade
The Golden City
review 1: 2.5 stars.The Golden City is a blend of fantasy, steampunk and mystery. I thought the book was pretty average (3 stars) through the majority. I thought the ending came together too quickly, it seemed like a lot of the plot was wrapped up in the last 20 pages or so. Although I don't read a lot of mysteries so perhaps that's the way most of them are. I downgraded to 2.5 stars because I didn't like the ending, not just the abruptness, but the actual ending itself.I had never heard of the book before I saw it on my library's new release fantasy shelf. Just going by the cover art I thought it looked interesting, and as an added plus my library had the second book in the series on the shelf as well. I liked the texture of the cover, and found the pages within to have a nic... moree texture as well. The pages seemed very thin (and sometimes stuck together) but the paper seemed high quality. It may seem odd, but I don't like to read the back covers of books to see what they are about, when I'm picking an unknown (to me) author many times I just go by what cover catches my eye that day. If I like what I read I will many times get their other books. In this case I will probably move on to something else, it just wasn't my style of book.
review 2: This book was engaging enough that I didn't mind reading it when my kids were on my kindle or the computer, but not so engaging that I read it to the exclusion of getting other stuff done. So I'm not sure that's the best recommendation...I rated this at only 3 stars because of the glaring discrepancies in characterization and world building. The main character is a sereia (siren, mermaid like) comes from a matriarchal society which is based upon the fact that males are very rare, and thus pampered and sheltered and shielded from any hard work... her own father was an exception -- educated and allowed "to think himself the equal of any female". And yet he does something so grievous (can't recall at the moment, which is problematic since this is supposedly a crucial moment in our protagonist's history) that he is exiled. He's doing well in exile, having landed in a patriarchal culture -- Portugal. Where our main protagonist is now stationed as a spy -- under a male spymaster that she is completely subservient to? Let's back up. The sereia live on islands somewhere out in the ocean. At first it seems like these are the ONLY islands this race lives on, but apparently not because it's mentioned later in the book that another group of islands were invaded and enslaved by the Spanish. Also, it's mentioned that sereia have different markings that (vaguely, apparently) mimic predatory fish -- which predatory fish is determined by where in the world the group of sereia live. So there are different groups of sereia living all over the world, insular enough that the markings of their bodies are distinct to the part of the world they live in. THIS particular group seems focused on Portugal, with a history with Portugal that begins with a boat load of Portugese sailors coming unexpectedly to one of their islands and raping a large group of them. HOW an entire ship of Portugese sailors ended up finding one of their islands, when the sereia are aware that they are largely defenseless against humans and thus actively work to keep the humans from discovering their islands. And, um, why are the sereia mostly defenseless against humans? These "mermaids" are amphibian, have 2 legs instead of a fish tail, and are fully as intelligent as humans. So, in other words, they're just like humans only perfectly at home both above and below the water. The webbing on their hands makes them a bit less dexterous with their hands, but that can be compensated for, and their main line of defense is their "call" a way of singing that takes over the minds and hearts of humans and will drive them to follow the calling sereia even as they drown. This call works most strongly on males, though, and only on humans -- not any of the other humanoid races we're introduced to, because -- as it is clumsily explained -- humans are their biggest threat, and males, apparently, are inherently more threatening to this female-led species. This despite the fact that the other humanoid species we meet -- the selkies -- are bigger, stronger, and has a society almost diametrically opposed to that of the sereia: few males means (for them) large harems of females under the control of a dominant male. The sereia also look down upon the selkies as uncivilized and animalistic. The selkies are also equally at home in water or land as the sereia. So tell me again why humans are the big sereia Enemy #1 and not selkies? As I was saying, this boat load of portugese sail right up to one of the sereia islands. Despite centuries of the sereia using their "Call" to compel the sailors to sail around the islands, somehow this ship slips through and the sailors rape all the females on that island (because none of those females bother to "call" those sailors into not raping them, and on top of that all those females run INTO THE WOODS to escape the sailors instead of jumping INTO THE OCEAN where they would be safe), causing the sereia to then trap those sailors (or most of those sailors? still not sure how any of these men escaped to spread their tale of their "seduction" of these creatures) and their victims and their descendants on that island in a type of quarantine, for 200 years. Meanwhile, complicated international relations between Portugal and this unnamed group of sereia islands continues on, including the King of Portugal sending a navy to help defend these islands against the Spanish (and then having that navy peacefully leave these "defenseless" islands NOT colonized? REALLY!?) and yet our sereia protagonist tells us that while the catholic church knows where the sereia islands are located, the Portugese government does not. WTF? A navy goes there and yet the govt does not know where the islands are located? The country is home to a large number of sereia residents (many of whom are executed when the prince decides that he's worried one of them will kill him and bans all non-humans from the country) and yet the only Portuguese who know where the islands are are the church? And let's talk about these islands. Males are rare and basically owned by 1 female. Ok, so there's a large surplus of females who end up with no mate, "serving their people" instead. There's some nonsense about how [I guess every] male and [seemingly almost no] female sereia are bound to one another in an unbreakable cord of destiny. And somehow it has been determined that there is no male sereia destined for Oriana, our sereia protagonist. So she's gone into "the ministry". None of this makes sense. These islands exhibit a level of bureaucracy that requires a large population to maintain. Not only is there a "ministry" that oversees spying, but Oriana's aunts are "high enough" in this ministry (indicating several levels of bureaucracy) that she has access to a considerable amount of influence if she chooses to exert it. But how is this culture maintaining the population level needed for this amount of complication in government? With males rare, and basically owned by only 1 female, each female mated to a male would need to have many, many children. Oriana seemingly has many aunts, but only 1 other sister -- who is dead. This could be explained by the fact that the mother died young -- she didn't have time to finish having all the babies she'd need to have to do her part in keeping the population up. But so she dies with only 2 children, both girls, and yet her mate is exiled, rather than kept and rehabilitated (and made to father more children). Somehow, though Oriana is the only living child of her mother, she's pressured to enter the ministry rather than allowed to seek a mate, because somehow everyone knows there's no mate destined for her. So she enters spy service, but even though she's stationed somewhere where the presence of her webbed fingers will mean imprisonment or death, her webbing is not surgically removed before she goes on assignment. Rather it has been left to her to have it removed WHILE on assignment. Because the webbing is extremely sensitive, the removal of it will leave her with phantom pain the rest of her life, and every sereia she encounters who has had their webbing removed has large, ugly scars on their hands. But this is apparently a surgical procedure that she can go have done on her afternoon off without alerting anyone to her true nature... She's being pressured into this surgery (that she should have had done when she was first assigned to this location) by her superior. Who is... a male. Yes, one of those precious males, none of whom are "equal" to females. Somehow this one is the spymaster in this city. Not home making the excess population needed to support a culture that can have a multi-leveled "ministry". One could argue that in order to maintain deep-cover positions in a patriarchal culture, one would need males to access power structures. But it makes no sense that such a male would be in charge. And this male's cover is a fisherman. And even if this male had been using a position of power as his cover, that would not explain a female, having grown up in a matriarchy as described in this book, being so deferential and powerless in his presence. I would understand respect from a female to a male in this position. I would understand patronizing (matronizing? heh). I would understand a lot of attitudes on Oriana's part towards this person, EXCEPT the ones she displays. Oriana does not respect this person, she despises him, but she despises him in that powerless female-protagonist-in-a-romance-novel way. Which makes absolutely no sense. Making even less sense? That a male, in a matriarchal society, can slut-shame a female. How does that follow? Slut shaming is a way of demeaning someone in a culture where the worth of the person to be demeaned is dependent on their sexual purity. In a matriarchal society where it has been established that females are the choosers and males are those who are the less valuable sex, slut shaming a female should not work. Should not even be conceivable (the way there's no masculine equivalent to the word "slut") Even more unbelievable is the idea that the showing (and knowing) of a sereia's dorsal markings is an intimate act associated with sex. So let me get this straight... amphibious creatures, who (as it is stated) swim unclothed, and also work unclothed when they're working in/by water (and who live on islands so they are frequently by water) and whose main style of clothing involves a short length of fabric wrapped around the waist, somehow are expected to keep a stripe running down their back and legs private? And shamed if they do not? Our co-protagonist, a half-selkie/half-human man, is (like all the other male creatures in this book) intensely interested in Oriana's dorsal marking, yet he notes, at a fairly intense part of the book, where Oriana is moving in and out of the water, nude, that somehow she managed never to show him her dorsal mark other than the quick glance at the mark's ends on her inner ankles. So there, a not-so-brief listing of some of the more egregious inconsistencies in the characterization/world building. That doesn't even touch upon the problems with the plot. Still, 3 stars because despite all this I DID like it. It reads like the first draft of something. I wish that this were a WIP and the author could take these concerns, and the concerns of the other reviewers who note the multitude of errors wrt the language, naming traditions, and customs of Portugal, and go back and write a second draft. She might have a decent book then. Still, if I come across the second book I'll read it, in the hopes that some of these issues get cleared up. Also because I'm pretty sure Oriana's sister is still alive, and I'd like to see if I'm right. less
Reviews (see all)
Good historical fantasy taking a look at Portugal, with sirens and selkies.
Quite unusual. I really liked it. I WANT the next book
FANTASTIC. engrossing and delightful.
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