The Golden City by J. Kathleen Cheney

First of all, I have to tell you…when you get to the end of this book, insider knowledge tells me that there will be a second book. And you need to know that, because when you do get to the end of this book, it will go hard for you if you don’t know that.


But I am ahead of myself. One of the advantages of being a cuspy writer such as myself is that you get to know other writers. Eventually, those writers get published, and those excellent writers are willing to send you copies of their excellent debut novels. J. Kathleen Cheney has been nominated for a Nebula for her novella Iron Shoes. In that piece, Cheney shows her deft hand at mixing fantasy, history, and romance, and you can see the expertise that will ultimately bring The Golden City to fruition.

Here is where I seemingly deviate, but bear with me. Not as trendy or flashy as, say, zombie fiction, the latest urban fantasy monster mash, or even another high-flying, anachronistic pair in a dirigible, the sub-genre of historical fantasy has been slowly, steadily, and stealthily been growing while you weren’t looking. One can gather quite a group of authors in it now: not only Clarke, but Kowal and Moyer, to name just a few. Instead of talking about this sub-genre (I know, you double-dog-dare me), I’d like to focus on Cheney’s new contribution to it.

Cheney adds her sophisticated voice to historical fantasy. This book is impeccably researched. The history, fantasy, and romance of this story are well-balanced, no one thing overshadowing another. I applaud the lack of anachronism, and the use of native fantasy elements appropriate to the setting and time, because, you know, I’m a smart reader who knows a lot about folklore and history.

The book focuses on Oriana Paredas, sereia spy, in an alternative history Portugal. She meets Dulio Ferreira, both of them intersecting on the same investigation involving political plots, death, and intrigue. But…and this pregnant pause should emphasize my point…the plot is slippery, like an eel, not predictable. Worse (better!) than the plot is the romantic tension. But…and here again, the pregnant pause…Cheney understands that the tension is the thing that keeps the reader reading. You know you want the characters to kiss, but the longer I wait to see them kiss, the better that kiss is going to be. A few obstacles to a happy culmination of the relationship never hurt a reader either.

So…the plot is unpredictable, the characters interesting and real to the time, and the relationship tension is as activated as the plot. I approve of this book on many fronts, as a reader of adventure literature (think Dumas, think Orczy), spy novels, historical romance, and historical fantasy. If you find any of those genres to suit, or, like me, many of those genres to suit, you should pick up this book.

That’s The Golden City by J. Kathleen Cheney. Which comes out THIS TUESDAY, November 5th. Be the first on your block.

Author: Catherine Schaff-Stump

Catherine Schaff-Stump writes fiction for children and young adults. Her most recent book, The Vessel of Ra, is the first book in the Klaereon Scroll series. She is currently working on its sequel, as well as penning the middle grade adventures of Abigail Rath, monster hunter.

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