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The Seat of Magic by J. Kathleen Cheney

The Seat of Magic by J. Kathleen Cheney
Book Name: The Seat of Magic
Author: J. Kathleen Cheney
Publisher(s): Roc
Formatt: Paperback / Ebook
Genre(s): Fantasy
Release Date: July 1, 2014

The Golden City was a wonderful historical fantasy murder mystery set in an alternate Portugal where selkies and sirens (called sereia) secretly roam the streets and magic can be used to alter the flow of history. Its sequel, The Seat of Magic, does just what a good sequel ought to: It raises the bar without tearing apart what was already established.

There are two ways for a sequel to raise the bar. The first is to raise the stakes, making a larger conflict where one was smaller before. This is the most common one, and it can easily lead to series where the whole universe is at stake in a fight. The other way is to widen the world, so to speak, by either showing more than what existed in the first book or by going deeper into what already existed.

The Seat of Magic does both.

It opens with a murder, just as the previous book did, but this time the murder is even more inexplicable. While it was clear in that Isabel Amaral drowned, the girl found in the streets of the city has no apparent cause of death. This, however, provides its own clue, which leads to a far more sinister mystery: Why would a healer, who normally draws on his own energy to save people, do the opposite in this case and kill someone with his magic? Duilio Ferreira is involved in the investigation, but his thoughts aren’t entirely on the case. His ability as a seer has told him that Oriana Paredes, the sereia he fell in love with weeks before, is in danger, though it won’t give him any answers more specific than that.

Oriana, meanwhile, is indeed in danger, having been stranded on a deserted island. This would be an easy thing for a sereia to escape, as she has gills that would help her swim to a more hospitable land, but she has been chained to the island and left to slowly die of dehydration. No one except the people who left her there knows where she is, and Duilio is the only person who might guess that something’s wrong.

After an opening like that, it would seem as though the book would need to be nonstop action or become anticlimactic, but it does neither. Juggling two different plotlines allows Cheney to give the characters a breather from some of their struggles while not letting up on any of the suspense. While Oriana recovers from her ordeal (which I was glad of both because it would have been disappointing to kill off such a powerful character and because Cheney showed that she would have actually needed to recover from nearly dying), the murderer is still out there, stalking the streets of the Golden City.

What I admired most about this novel was the build-up. Clues about what had happened both with the murders and with Oriana had to be teased out, and each one only made the story more intriguing. Every twist was a small revelation, and each one raised the bar for the story, whether by raising the stakes and placing the characters in more danger or by showing more about the world of this alternate Portugal. In The Golden City, I had a little trouble following some of the politics, but this time, whether because I’d already been exposed to this version of the Portuguese monarchy or because their connection to the main plot was introduced earlier in the book than previously, it was much easier for me to grasp the situation.

Oriana and Duilio’s relationship continues in this book, expanding beyond the romantic and sexual tension the two shared in The Golden City, and I’m glad to say that it’s written just as well here as it was before. Cheney has an incredible ability to write relationships that feel genuine and that don’t fall into any standard narratives like love triangles or pointless jealousies. She even uses their relationship to give us more information about this world: In the matriarchal sereia culture, women are the ones who do the courting.

If you read The Golden City and enjoyed it, you should definitely read The Seat of Magic. Even if you haven’t read The Golden City, you should take a look at this book, though it might make a little more sense if you start with the other. The plot itself is easy to follow, but you’ll have a better feel for the world and the characters if you start with the first book of the series. It’s an excellent read for anyone who likes mysteries, or magic, or powerful women who get involved in espionage and politics (and really, who wouldn’t like that?). There’s something in this series for everyone, and if the third book is even close to the level of the first two, this will be a fantastic trilogy in both senses of the word.


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