The Golden City [NOOK Book]


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...
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The Golden City

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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 survives because of her heritage, but 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....
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Skillful massing of surface details camouflages so-so basic materials in Cheney's debut historical fantasy, set in an alternative 20th-century Portugal. Although nonhumans are banned from the Golden City, Oriana Paredes has been living there for two years as a spy for the sereia, the mer-folk. After she's killed as part of a scheme to accumulate magical power, which would give Portugal dominance over her home islands, she becomes an uncomfortable ally to Duilio Ferreira, a half-selkie gentleman with a personal interest in thwarting the conspiracy. The fantastic elements are somewhat jerrybuilt, since the focal point is the clumsy struggle of two young people against their attraction for each other. However, the setting is so densely, convincingly detailed that readers are unlikely to notice weaknesses as they race toward a conclusion that screams for a sequel. (Nov.)
From the Publisher
"[A] masterpiece of historical fantasy...The fascinating mannerisms of the age and the extreme formality of two people growing fonder of each other add a charmingly fresh appeal that will cross over to romance fans as well as to period fantasy readers." —Library Journal

"J.K. Cheney's alternate Portugal, a society of delicate manners, gaslights, and under-the-sea artworks, provides a lush backdrop for an intricate mystery of murder, spies, selkies, and very dark magic. A most enjoyable debut." —Carol Berg, author of the Novels of the Collegia Magica

"[P]ulls readers in right off the bat...Oriana's 'extra' abilities are thoroughly intriguing and readers will love the crackling banter and working relationship between Oriana and Duilio." —Romantic Times

"An ambitious debut from Cheney: part fantasy, part romance, part police procedural and part love letter to Lisbon in the early 1900s...[the author] does a lovely job connecting magical, historical and romantic elements." —Kirkus Reviews

Library Journal
★ 11/15/2013
As one of the sereia, or sea folk, Oriana is banned from the Golden City. For two years, however, she has worked as a spy for her people, disguising her webbed hands with gloves and hiding her gills beneath high-necked clothing, while in the employ of the upper-class Paredes family. When she and Isabel Paredes are kidnapped, Oriana watches helplessly as Isabel drowns, getting away only after the tragedy. Keeping her escape secret, Oriana tries to track down Isabel's killer and encounters Duilio Ferreira, a gentleman acting as police consultant. Although she does not completely trust him, the pair work together to solve a mystery that grows increasingly complex and dangerous. VERDICT Cheney's debut is a masterpiece of historical fantasy, set in early 1900s Portugal, a time and place rarely explored in English-language fiction. The fascinating mannerisms of the age and the extreme formality of two people growing fonder of each other add a charmingly fresh appeal that will cross over to romance fans as well as to period fantasy readers.
Kirkus Reviews
An ambitious debut from Cheney: part fantasy, part romance, part police procedural and part love letter to Lisbon in the early 1900s. Oriana Paredes has webbed fingers, gills on her neck and discoloration on her legs that looks like scales. She is a sereia hailing from unmapped islands off the coast of Portugal; her people are the basis for the legend of mermaids. But in 1902 Lisboa, the golden city of the title, she passes as the human companion to a young gentlewoman, Isabel. The sereia have a fraught history with the Portuguese--they are illegal in the city itself--and Oriana's role in society is a cover for her real vocation: sereia spy. Spying, however, is lonely and boring until Oriana and Isabel are kidnapped and left in the river for dead. Isabel, sans gills, dies, but Oriana escapes and, in doing so, discovers clues to an elaborate, sinister plot under the guise of a large artwork installation. She exits the river heartbroken, with an eye toward revenge. Within days, Oriana's search connects her to Duilio Ferreira. A gentleman of the city and frequent consultant to the police, he is privately investigating the deadly artwork installation. Duilio is also part selkie--seal person--and convinces Oriana to work with him in solving the mystery. Their mutual trust grows in the process, along with a burgeoning affection, and they are aided by a colorful cast of characters, many with magic powers or mythic backgrounds. Cheney could use more practice determining which details are worthy of explication--Oriana's webbed fingers are a constant reference, but where the case is concerned, it can be difficult to track who knows what, which of the plethora of details are important and how. But she does a lovely job connecting magical, historical and romantic elements; her Lisboa is a marvelous place to visit, and the installation artwork at the center of the mystery is a creepy, creative plot device. A diverting read, with plenty of loose ends for a sequel.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781101606896
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/5/2013
  • Sold by: Penguin Group
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 176,256
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

J. Kathleen Cheney is a former teacher and has taught mathematics ranging from seventh grade to calculus, with a brief stint as a gifted and talented specialist. Her short fiction has been published in such venues as Fantasy Magazine and Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and her novella “Iron Shoes” was a Nebula Finalist in 2010.
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Read an Excerpt

A maid came in then carrying a tray with a small pot of coffee and a pair of cups. Miss Paredes tucked her hands back into her mending, her vexed expression fading into polite placidity. Duilio rather liked the vexed Miss Paredes, but he wasn’t foolish enough to say so. “Thank you, Ana,” Duilio told the maid instead. “You may go, but leave the door half-ajar, please.”

The girl curtsied and swept her way out of the room, pulling the door almost all the way closed. He should go and open it wider to protect Miss Paredes’ reputation, but didn’t bother. He appreciated the privacy for now. He poured himself a cup of coffee. “Would you like a cup?”

“Yes, please,” Miss Paredes said after a brief hesitation.

He added cream to hers, having seen her do so that morning, and set the cup on the small table near her elbow.

“You’re not supposed to serve me,” Miss Paredes protested.

Duilio didn’t laugh at her wry tone. He broke societal rules regularly enough that this tiny slip in etiquette didn’t merit any twinge of insulted propriety on his part. “I don’t mind serving, Miss Paredes, particularly as your hands are occupied. Do you enjoy sewing?”

She regarded him warily, as if she feared a trap. “Yes. It’s calming.”

Well, now he’d learned something. Miss Paredes liked to sew; it wasn’t merely a part of her disguise. He smiled down into his coffee. “I believe there’s a sewing machine down in the workroom. Did you know that?”

“Yes, but once you’ve accidentally sewn through your webbing, you tend to stay away from machines. I prefer to work by hand.”

Duilio cringed. “I see. The next time you need a gown, it might be simpler to have one made up. I didn’t mean for you to spend your hours here mending.”

She pushed the rumpled blue mound on her lap into order and then picked up her own cup. “Mending is honest work, sir.”

He crossed his legs and peered at her lowered features. Their relationship wasn’t a normal one, caused by circumstances to vacillate between that of master and servant . . . and something else. But his remarks about the mending had caused her to revert to servant again, which irritated him. He wanted to talk to her, not just exchange pleasantries….

“I have often wondered about your people’s culture,” he said then, hoping to draw out the woman behind the mask of servility. “It’s a shame tourism isn’t allowed on your islands.”

“Given our history with your people, are you surprised?” she asked tartly.

His people’s relationship with hers had not gotten off on the right foot, a story recorded in Camões’ epic poem. The islands had been discovered on one of Vasco da Gama’s voyages. The sailors, spotting the lovely “sea nymphs” bathing there, decided they were a gift from Venus . . . and took advantage. The poet chose to cast the incident in a heroic light. He wrote of the sereia running away into the woods, depicting their flight as an attempt to further entice the men—as if sailors long at sea required enticement at all. Duilio had always suspected that interpretation of those events; if a sereia wished to attract a man, she could call him, could she not? “That incident was some four hundred years ago, Miss Paredes. I would hope my people are a little more civilized by now.”

“And yet your Camões is still heralded as a great poet. Did any of those sailors bring their so-called sereia brides back to Portugal? Did they attempt to right the wrong perpetrated against those women?” Her dark eyes turned toward the dress in her lap. She fiddled with the fabric, giving him an occasional glimpse of the webbing between her long fingers. “We have our own history of that incident—The Rape of Amado, it’s called.”

“I am not surprised,” he admitted. “What happened afterward is shrouded in mystery. What do your people say?”

“Amado became a prison of sorts,” she told him. “It had once been a game reserve, just for hunting, but along with the dozen or so human men who’d stayed behind, all the sereia who were caught up in that incident were sequestered there by their own people. They weren’t allowed to return to their home islands, as if they were contaminated. For long afterward, any humans who ended up on the islands, whether by shipwreck or capture—or those missionaries your Church kept sending—were transported to Amado and not allowed to leave.”

Duilio sat back in his chair. “That seems very harsh. Is it still sequestered?”

She shook her head. “No. After about two hundred years our rulers lifted the ban on travel. Amado is often called the Portuguese island, though. Its people have the most human blood, their culture is the most like that of Portugal, and a percentage of them are even Christian, which never did spread to the other islands. And thus Amadeans are looked down on by the inhabitants of the other islands who claim pure sereia blood, no matter how untrue that is.”

Her tone had grown sharper as she spoke. She must be Amadean herself, given her irritation. “Miss Paredes, I’ll promise never to speak fondly of Camões again, if you’ll accept my apology for what happened to your ancestors.”

She seemed surprised. “Your prince is the one who should apologize.”

“Unfortunately, that will never happen, Miss Paredes. And I thought we were making such progress. I was hoping to see those islands before I die.”

That statement caused her brows to furrow. She picked one of the pins from her pincushion, possibly planning to stab him with it. “Why?”

“I like different places,” he said quite truthfully. “I’m curious. I like to travel, see how different people live.”

She regarded him warily. “Why our people? There are plenty of others.”

He argued with himself over whether to tell her the truth or not, and then shrugged. “When I was a boy, my father brought home a book about your islands. It was in French, I recall, and made many unlikely claims, among them the report that your people wear no clothing, or very little. That prompted my initial curiosity.”


Oriana stared at Mr. Ferreira, wondering what type of impression he intended to make with that bald statement. “That alone piqued your interest?”

He flushed, a hint of red creeping cross his cheeks. “I had no intention of offending you, Miss Paredes. I was twelve, I believe. Boys that age, I’m afraid, find nothing more fascinating than the possibility of glimpsing a woman in her natural state. I hope that doesn’t negate my earlier apology. I am somewhat more mature now than I was at twelve.”

Her tone must have been sharper than she’d intended. “I’ll not take it amiss, then, sir. I should tell you, though, that we do wear clothing, although admittedly less than your own people. Our women especially don’t have to put up with this excessive number of layers.” She gestured at her own skirts, hidden under the blue dress.

He inclined his head, as if in acknowledgment of a gift. “I’ll have to look for that book. You might find it amusing.”

She could only imagine how inaccurate a human-written book about the islands would be. His dark brows drew together, and for a moment he didn’t speak. “Mr. Ferreira?” she prompted, uncertain where his thoughts had strayed.

“May I ask a personal question?”

She folded her hands atop the fabric. What could possibly give him pause after admitting having been an imaginative twelve-year-old male at one point? “Of course, sir.”

He gestured toward her hands. “The webbing between your fingers seems very delicate. I wondered if you often injure it. You said you’ve done so when sewing.”

She felt the urge to smile at his hesitation. “It’s tougher than it looks and heals very quickly. I do prick it on occasion, which jars me to my teeth, but it doesn’t hurt that much.”

“Jars you?”

She licked her lips, working out the words to explain. “Our webbing is what allows us to sense movement in the water—waves or fish or boats. When I injure it, it’s like . . . a loud thunderclap, but not in my ears. In my head.”

“Like a seal’s whiskers,” he said with a slow nod. “How sensitive is it?”

She hadn’t realized the purpose a seal’s whiskers served, but if anyone would know, he would. She held up her hand and spread her fingers wide, which allowed her to sense him. “At this distance I can feel your breathing, your heartbeat. It’s indistinct, but in water it would be far clearer.”

That apparently gave him something to think about, as he sat with his lips pressed together, unmoving.

Oriana suspected she knew what he wanted. Isabel was the only other human who’d ever known her well enough to dare ask. She moved to the front of the couch, hands still in her lap. “Would you like to look at them?”

He regarded her cautiously. “Would you find that offensive?”

She didn’t recall exactly when, but he’d switched to informal address, speaking to her like a friend, tu, rather than just an acquaintance. She did the same. “Will you show me yours in return?”

“It would be a terrible sacrifice,” he said with a sly smile, “but I suppose I could.”

Then he recognized it for a foolish request. She’d seen plenty of human hands in the past two years. But it was a trade she was willing to make. This wasn’t vulgar curiosity or sensationalism on his part. He simply liked to understand.

She leaned forward and held out her left hand—the one without a cut across the palm. The webbing ran up to the last joint on each finger. Their conjoined nature didn’t allow her the dexterousness of a human hand, but she found most tasks doable.

“May I touch your hand?” he asked.

Given his walking into her bath unannounced only a few days before, it was an ironic question. He’d already touched her bare hand, once when he passed her the bathroom keys and then the previous night in the library. This was different, though. She just wasn’t certain how. “Of course,” she managed.

His left hand, ungloved, touched hers. His fingers were warm, sliding under her hand to support it. His thumb rubbed across her palm, distracting her. She spread her fingers wider and let him turn her hand slightly to catch the light on the webbing. The silhouette of his fingers showed through the translucent skin. His heartbeat reverberated through her senses.

He was holding her hand because . . . he wanted to do so.

She swallowed. The sensation of Mr. Ferreira’s skin against hers was surprisingly affecting, making her body warm and her heart beat faster. She wasn’t accustomed to such familiarity; that had to be the source of her reaction.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 6 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 24, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    Set in a convincing alternate-history world, the Golden City of

    Set in a convincing alternate-history world, the Golden City of Kathleen Cheney’s novel offers a wealth of history and politics and a convincing society of humanity and seafolk. Of course, the twain should never meet, each banished from the other’s lands. But there are always spies.

    There’s twisted magic too in this fascinating novel, and there’s a pleasing mix of romance, mystery, suspense and curiosity. The tale flows swift and smooth as the tide, and the reader’s soon caught up in plot and counterplot; a lonely old woman longs for the sea; an eager young woman meets a cruel demise; officious politicians thwart police investigation; and a coolly convincing flavor of history pervades it all.

    The author succeeds in creating romantic tension without twisting the tale to its needs, balancing plot and emotion beautifully, and creating characters who ring convincingly true, whether they’re human, sereia or selkie, rich or poor, devious or kind (or both at once). In fact, the author creates a whole city of characters, and keeps them clear to the reader throughout the whole of the complex tale.

    The novel ends with hints of more to come, and is clearly part of a series. But the plot’s complete and readers who prefer standalone tales won’t be disappointed. A masterful tale, this one is highly recommended.

    Disclosure: I was lucky enough to win a copy and I offer my honest review.

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  • Posted October 7, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    I saw this book in the bookstore and the cover drew my eyes, the

    I saw this book in the bookstore and the cover drew my eyes, then the blurb convinced me to give it a shot. My track record for these types of purchases if pretty good so far. I thought this was a solid read. 
    I saw a review for this where someone said it was "barely fantasy" And I wondered...what exactly was this persons definition of "Fantasy" because if it wasn't fantasy, what was fantasy? Perhaps it needed more elves? And a medieval setting? Who knows? I actually liked that it was a bit different from the usual pattern. 
    This was set in an Alternate fantasy based Portugal at the turn of the century in 1902, where there was magic and magical creatures....that is if you consider selkies, vampires and mermaid magical creatures. If not then..well...enjoy that reality...and it had a mystery, and a nice little romance. The main mystery of the book was the search to figure out the mystery of the City Below the Sea, the disappearance of servants of the city's wealthiest home that coincided with the creation of new home of this underground city..... and why this city was being created at all. And it did a good job keep you interested in that to the end.
    But this book if anything I would say suffered from trying to do too much, rather than having to little of something. It was a fantasy with plenty of magic and creatures to keep you interested, and a romance, and a mystery, detective novel all rolled into one. The world created was very rich, with plenty of elements to explore for many books, and I thought the author tried to pack a bit too much into the first book at once...some of the information could have been teased a bit more. The main story line of the mystery of the City Under The Sea was more than enough to hold me, along with the underlying romantic tension between the characters. Some of the extra side stories were too getting an overflowing plate. Food is great...but maybe save some of leftovers and a doggy bag.
    Other than that, I thought the main story line was nicely teased and resolved. From the first chapter it was plain to see that this was going somewhere, and that there was a plan. The loose ends were all tied in the end. The dynamic between Oriana and Duilio was just the right pace for me. I like when I see characters develop gradually through the story and see their relationship makes the eventual payoff at the end more believable and make you more invested in the outcome. The last chapter and Oriana's decision to leave...after all the buildup...was just the right amount of bittersweet and regretful. 
    I might actually pick up the next in the series since it was interesting enough to make me curious how it goes on....but...I do have like 60 books on my to be read someday....maybe......sigh...

    All in all...pretty good, and I'm happy with my $5 purchase.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 25, 2014

    Wow....always looking for new good authors to read....was thrill

    Wow....always looking for new good authors to read....was thrilled to find this author and will be buying the next installment of her new series. Kept me wanting more.

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    Posted January 14, 2014

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    Posted January 24, 2014

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    Posted January 28, 2014

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