That moment when you read a random book and LOVE it, but realize it's the first in a trilogy.
But THEN, it turns out that the next book in the series comes out TOMORROW!
(Please excuse the sentence fragments. It pains me to write them, even for rhetorical effect.)
I noticed J. Kathleen Cheney's The Golden City on the shelf at the library, and I thought about reading it, but I didn't pick it up until I got a solid recommendation from a chat friend. I picked it up, I started in. Society girl is packing for an elopement in 1900s Portugal, with the help of her secretly-seria (siren) handmaiden/companion. So right off the bat, you have some fun stuff--servants, elopements, selkies. I'm having fun already.
The elopement goes awry, and when the society lady is murdered, Oriana--seria, spy, unemployed professional companion--is determined to find the killer and avenge her friend's death. Her kind are forbidden in the Golden City under pain of death, and her personal and family situation is complicated.
For all the magic, though, and all the politics and selkies and seria and things, this is a flat out (alternate) historical mystery, and it's a really excellent one. In addition to Oriana's point of view, we get that of Duilio, a gentleman scholar who works with the police on occasion and is half-selkie himself. He's been investigating mysterious disappearances that are tied to Oriana's friend's death.
I think the best thing about this book is that there is so much going on and I understood ALL of it. I knew who the characters were, even when there were a lot of them. There's so much rich background detail, and it's presented in such a smooth, NON-infodumping way that you really have no idea which details are going to come back as important later and which are just rich worldbuilding. I think that kind of smooth storytelling is better here than in pretty much any mystery I've ever read.
There's so much more to love here, too. I can see people wanting more depth in a lot of the cool things that are touched on--like how Oriana comes from a matriarchal society, but living in a patriarchal one--but I also love how they're just neatly embedded in the rest of the story. Like when Duilio thinks something about not minding women working (or something like that, that seems kind of condescending), but then later Oriana has a similar thought about men.
Duilio and Oriana as a pair is probably not too surprising to anyone who's ever, you know, read a book, but this is another thing that's just done so smoothly that I loved it. They do not fall in love, or even lust, at first sight. They find in each other an ally in their hunt for the truth, and they team up. There's also no faux friction, mistrust, will-they-won't-they distrust. They get along well, come to trust each other, and work well together And after a little while, they both start to realize that they like each other. But they're in a busy, intense period, so they don't really do anything about it. These are two mature adults whose potential romantic feels take a comfortable backseat to the very real and important work they're doing, and I was practically standing up and cheering the whole time.
The plot is complicated and involves spies and art and politics and society matrons and magic and all kinds of things, and there's a huge cast of characters, some friends, some enemies, some uncertain. I love that they had allies and trusted friends--this wasn't an "only we can save the world" situation, but a pair of people who were leading an important team.
I loved, loved this book. Excuse me while I go buy the sequel--and hope like heck that Oriana's in it more than the cover blurb implies.