by Terrance Mc Arthur
Details on how to win a copy of this book at the end of the review.
Political thriller, serial-killer mystery, gaslight alternate history, paranormal romance—J. Kathleen Cheney’s The Seat of Magic is all of these.
Set in a magical version of 1902 Portugal, this page-turner has selkies (seal-people who can attract people with little effort—it’s a musk thing), healers (with powers to cure and kill), seers (truth-finders, seekers, and trouble-detectors), sereia (multi-toned sirens with webbed hands and big feet), otter-folk, family secrets (who is related to whom, who has what non-human ancestors, why people really left the homeland), mad monarchs, and a book that shouldn’t exist. Oriana (once a sereia spy) and Duilio (a part-time investigator with selkie and witchly heritage) have been separated by law (non-humans are banned, but some hide in the Golden City), but the young man races to the rescue of Oriana, an unknowing pawn in political schemes. Together with a close cousin, he investigates the mutilation-murders of young women.
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In and out of palaces, morgues, and accountant’s offices they go to ferret out the facts, source the sorcery, and plug the powerful. All the while, Duilio seeks to woo and win Oriana, only to find that her culture does things a little differently than his.
This is not your everyday paranormal mystery-thriller. It has a sinuous charm that wraps itself around the reader, soft but impressive. The level of the puzzle is engaging. The world-building is never jarring, yet there is a strong current of the not-like-our-reality. Portugal is seldom used as a world-base, so there are soft touches that build into a believable—yet fanciful—environment. The romance elements have a courtliness that is lacking in modern cultures, and the language only slides into semi-mild oaths, rather than the look-how-many-naughty-words-i-can-say style that is frequently used to make characters seem tough. Cheney isn’t interested in tough. These characters glisten with humanity, even if they aren’t really human
This is the second book in the series, following The Golden City, which goes into “How Diulio Met Oriana” territory. I didn’t have trouble understanding the world without previous exposure to it. However, you might seek out the first book, but this is a volume that will stand on its own merits.
To enter to win a copy of The Seat of Magic, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Seat,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen August 23, 2014. U.S. residents only.
Terrance V. Mc Arthur is a Community Librarian for the WoW! (WithOut Walls) Division of the Fresno County Public Library, roaming the Valley to meet the public's information needs.