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The Shores of Spain by J. Kathleen Cheney

The Shores of Spain by J. Kathleen Cheney
Book Name: The Shores of Spain
Author: J. Kathleen Cheney
Publisher(s): Roc
Formatt: Paperback / Ebook
Genre(s): Fantasy
Release Date: July 7, 2015

J. Kathleen Cheney’s trilogy about an alternate Portugal secretly populated by sereia (better known as sirens), selkies, and otter people comes to a conclusion in The Shores of Spain. The first book, The Golden City, introduced us to this world, bringing us into a tale of political intrigue and murder sprinkled liberally with magic and wonder. The second, The Seat of Magic, changed the world by delving deeper into the sources of some of the magic the people hold and by, in the end, drastically altering the political situation. With a new ruler, this Portugal is willing to accept magical creatures into its streets. By the time The Shores of Spain begins, Portugal has reopened diplomatic relationships with the Ilhas das Sereia and sent Oriana and Duilio there.

Of course, the visit isn’t solely about diplomacy. While some people (like me) might find a novel based largely on the diplomacy of an alternate universe fascinating, I think I am in a niche group. Instead, The Shores of Spain focuses on a subject that came up in the first novel in the trilogy: Oriana’s mother.

As far as Oriana knew, her mother was a traitor to the sereia, tied in with the sirens who are native to the Canary Islands. It’s only recently that any evidence has come up to support an alternate claim, and now that she has a chance to not only clear her mother’s name but also reveal the truth, Oriana has no intention of backing down. There are people intent on keeping her from this truth, however, and by pursuing it, Oriana will put herself and Duilio in danger, though by this point in her life, danger should hardly come as a surprise.

The book isn’t entirely about Oriana and Duilio, though. About half of it is taken up by Marina and Joaquim, who met in the previous book. The two of them have begun courting, though their courtship follows Portuguese traditions rather than the pattern of sereia courtship shown by Oriana and Duilio. When Joaquim learns that Duilio, who he has recently learned is his half-brother, is in danger, he heads to the Ilhas das Sereia to help him, leaving Marina to wait and worry.

This book was a stunning finale to a trilogy that has kept me rapt and excited from page one, and while I’m always sad to see a series end, I have to admit, this one ended well. The ending left me content, and I was willing to close the book and step away from that universe. This isn’t always the case with the ends of series. Sometimes an author doesn’t leave me with quite enough to keep me content; other times they leave me with too much and make me wish everything hadn’t wrapped up quite so neatly. Cheney’s ending fell into that happy spot directly in the middle. I’m willing to say that it ended neatly, though it certainly wasn’t wrapped up with the tidy little bow readers so often complain about books having.

But enough about the ending. Let’s skip straight to the good stuff: why I loved this book.

As with The Seat of Magic, The Shores of Spain does exactly what a sequel ought to. The Seat of Magic expanded our knowledge of the magical creatures that populate this world, and while The Shores of Spain does the same (albeit to a lesser extent), its focus is more on the political world. For the first time, Spain is more than a shadowy threat to Portugal, spoken about but never glimpsed. Spanish agents are no longer disconnected from their homeland as they threaten Portugal and our protagonists; they are powerful enemies, and Spain is not only a credible threat but a setting for a good part of the book.

Even though Spain and the Spaniards are threats, they are never presented as only enemies. One minor antagonist in particular (though there might be spoilers in pointing out names and relationships) is a remarkably well-written woman, who could have easily been nothing more than a two-dimensional setback. Instead, she has motivations and a backstory, and while she may not become entirely likeable, there’s nothing at all wrong with that. Likeability and being well-written are two quite different things, and Cheney shows that she understands that perfectly.

Another thing she understands is how to write female protagonists. The story switches between viewpoints, from Oriana’s to Duilio’s to Joaquim’s to Marina’s, and the difference between Oriana and Marina is breathtaking. Oriana is the strong, self-assured woman we grew accustomed to in the previous books, and being married has caused her to lose none of her strength. Marina is little like her sister, as her courtship with Joaquim shows. She has less connection to her sereia heritage and is more willing to be what the Portuguese would consider a proper woman to be. This does not mean she has no strength of her own. In fact, the contrary is true. Marina is just as strong as her sister, even if it is in a different way.

This book amazed me just as much as the previous two in the series, and while I’m willing to step away from it for now, I will definitely return to its world again.


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