Review: House of Shadows

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: House of ShadowsHouse of Shadows by Rachel Neumeier
Published by Orbit on July 10, 2012
Genres: Fantasy, Romance
Pages: 342
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher
Goodreads
four-stars

Orphaned, two sisters are left to find their own fortunes.

Sweet and proper, Karah's future seems secure at a glamorous Flower House. She could be pampered for the rest of her life... if she agrees to play their game.

Nemienne, neither sweet nor proper, has fewer choices. Left with no alternative, she accepts a mysterious mage's offer of an apprenticeship. Agreeing means a home and survival, but can Nemienne trust the mage?

With the arrival of a foreign bard into the quiet city, dangerous secrets are unearthed, and both sisters find themselves at the center of a plot that threatens not only to upset their newly found lives, but also to destroy their kingdom.

First Sentence: “In a city of grey stone and mist, between the steep rain-swept mountains and the sea, there lived a merchant with his eight daughters.”

Review:
House of Shadows was not at all what I was expecting. From the description and the opening sections, I was expecting a fairy tale told from the perspectives of Karah and Nemienne. According to Goodreads, I was expecting YA, too, but I really don’t know that I would classify it that way, despite the teenage heroines, not that these classifications mean too much at this point. While there are some fairy tale elements to this, House of Shadows felt much more like a traditional high fantasy to me than a fairy tale.

I was wrong, too, about how the story would be told. Karah and Nemienne are both important characters, but there are others only hinted at or not even mentioned by the description. Karah, in fact, receives the least page time, despite being given top billing. Nemienne actually is a very important character. The other two main characters are Leilis and Taudde. Leilis works in the Flower House where Karah finds employ, bound by a curse that causes great pain when she touches anyone. Taudde, the sole male MC, seems to be, perhaps, the most important character. Without him, this story could not happen, whereas the others probably could be removed, with some re-allotment of plot points.

What brought this book down to a 4 for me was the characters, and the way the narrative was apportioned to them. Though I at least liked all four, I simply was not as interested in Karah and Taudde’s narration. I didn’t feel particularly bonded to them, and found my attention wandering a bit during those parts. I think that I might have liked this book a bit more were it told either following just one or two of our actors, or if first person multiple POV was used, rather than third person.

Fortunately, there was a lot of crazy cool stuff to keep me entertained. Neumeier’s world building is just great. Obviously, there are tons of books out there with magic in them, but I still felt like she managed to do something rather original with hers. Taudde’s music-based magic totally blew my mind. (Maybe if I were going to hook up characters from two different books I would link him up with Seraphina and they could make sweet music together.)

I would be remiss if I failed to mention the cats. There are several cats in this story. Though they do not DO much, they have a serious presence. Enkea was one of my favorite characters without a doubt. You know I love me some clever animals. I would actually really like to know more about Enkea. That cat obviously has a back story and I want to know what it is.

The city itself with the Flower Houses and everything reminded me heavily of Japan. The names certainly don’t indicate this at all, but the inspiration was no doubt drawn from Japanese geishas. Since I love Japanese culture, I enjoyed getting a small view into the life of the keiso (so totally geishas). I will say, though, that the opening chapter where the daughters resolve that there is no solution but to sell two of the eight made me laugh heartily. Who decides that in like twenty minutes?

House of Shadows is a gorgeously-written high fantasy with music, strong heroines and oodles of magic! If you’re on the fence about this one, go read more reviews or just give House of Shadows a chance, since I know most readers enjoyed this even more than I did.

Favorite Quote:

“‘Almost anything can be managed if one simply goes about it properly.'”

17 responses to “Review: House of Shadows”

  1. Lilian says:

    Thanks for the review, Christina!
    I saw this book on TLC, and was debating if I would like to join the blog tour for it since it was classified as YA. I ended up letting it go since..well, the cover seemed a bit too dark for my liking.

    I see magic…and music…and a cat with a backstory (now I’m thinking of the Puss in Boots movie)? I am intrigued!
    I might pick it up if it shows up at the library.

    • Christina says:

      Yeah, I didn’t feel like it was YA, but those designations are sort of falling apart at this point, so who knows.

      The book is dark, but I don’t think it’s soul-searingly dark by any means. I think you’d be okay.

      We don’t actually learn much about the cat, but I spent a lot of time speculating, because obviously there’s something going on with this cat!

      Definitely worth reading!

    • Lilian says:

      I’ve heard one agent describer YA as a genre where the character comes out of the novel as a more mature character (coming of age?) while middle grade characters still retain their childish ways of thinking.
      I typically use age of the protagonist as an indicator. But if age was really the determining factor, Emma Donoghue’s ROOM would be a children’s book since it’s written from the POV of a five year old (albeit a very, very literate five year old.)

      Does the cat talk? O_O

    • Christina says:

      Yeah, I’ve tried those, but I just don’t know. I’m just going with community votes at this point, I think.

      Kids can mature in middle grade novels! And what about novels that span a lifetime? Besides, an adult can come of age! Oh well.

      I’ve used that exact example before. I also find the idea of classifying A Clockwork Orange as YA a bit troubling, but the MC is a teen. So…yeah.

      No. But it leads people places, and not necessarily where they wanted to go. The cat’s a free agent.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    • K I’m an idiot. Apparently the title is a song name not the author. Oy, it’s early here! Anyhow, now that I’ve made myself look like an idiot I’ll be going. Away. Fast. Great review!

    • Christina says:

      Haha, it’s okay! I know my format can be a little confusing. The title of reviews are always a song name/musical artist. The book title and author are down below in the post itself. This has its drawbacks, and I’m not sure if I would do it quite this way if I were to start from scratch, but whatever, it’s my thing.

  3. Ooooooo House Of Shadows sounds good. I mean, sometimes multiple narratives can get grating especially when you aren’t connected to a character, I felt that way about Dearly Departed. But I guess, for me, if there is a character I connect with strongly, I can overlook the blah POVs.

    Also yay for worldbuilding and cats!

    • Christina says:

      Hahah, you should definitely give it a go, since you love high fantasy, cats and all of this stuff. There definitely were good POVs, and the good outweighed the less good. So. Yes.

  4. Holly Bryan says:

    OOOOHHHHHHH, I’ve been wanting to read this for a while!!! Actually I lvoe high fantasy so that won’t be a problem for me 🙂 I also want to read Neumeier’s other book – Floating Islands?? – and didn’t that only just come out last year? She’s fast! Anyway, great to read your review, now I’ll have some idea going in to it that the blurb may not be quite what the actual book is about, ha! But thanks, you’ve made me more resolved to read it 🙂

    • Christina says:

      I really enjoyed this one, but it definitely wasn’t quite what I was expecting. I added one of Neumeier’s other books (Griffin Mage?) to my GR after reading this one, so I definitely approve enough to read more! 😉

  5. Jaime Lester says:

    I had never heard of Through the Dark before I saw the title in your review list. It sounds very intriguing. I don’t read a lot of high fantasy but I think this is one that I might read. I love the cover, first off. It screams, please read me. So I think I will do just that. Your review hit the high points and low points well, so I know going into it what to expect. Thanks for a great review. And for bringing my attention to what will hopefully be a great read!

    • Christina says:

      Hold on a moment, Through the Dark is a song that reminded me of the book, which is called House of Shadows. I know my review style can take some getting used to! Every review title is a song that reminds me of the book, like a playlist.

      Anyway, House of Shadows is worth a read. For a high fantasy, I think it’s an easy read. There’s not quite as much of an infodump at the beginning as sometimes!

    • Jaime Lester says:

      I knew that. Sorry. I don’t think before I type sometimes, so it leads to mistakes. Such as getting the song name and book name mixed up. I have issues. Sorry about that. One of the reasons that pulls me back to your site is because the titles. Just screwed up. Sorry about that

    • Christina says:

      Oh, that’s fine! I just want to make sure people know, so they’ll be able to find the book when they go to the library or the store! No worries!

  6. Oh la la! What a pretty cover!!! 😀 I am rather partial to different shades of green, so that must be what attracts me the most. Very nice review–well written!

    I don’t know if I’ve told you before, but I love how you add your favorite quote at the end of the review. Gives it a very special and unique touch.

    And that quote is great–reminds me of something my older sister would say to me 😉

    • Christina says:

      Isn’t it loverly? I do love to look at this cover, and it looks so much better in person, I promise.

      Awww, thanks. That’s actually a fairly new feature. I redid my review structure earlier this year, adding the first sentence, the favorite quote and the rating. 🙂

      I like to remind myself to think in the right mindset. That quote is so simple, succinct and perfect.

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