I’ve heard so many good things about House of Shadows by Rachel Neumeier from other bloggers. I borrowed it from the Singapore public library last year but didn’t get a chance to read it before the due date. Which is why I decided that it would be better to just get my own copy – that way, I could read it when I felt like picking it up. A few weeks (months?) ago, I noticed that I haven’t read fantasy in a while so I thought it would be good try this one. Can I just say that I think it’s great that House of Shadows is a standalone? Most fantasy novels are part of a series so it’s always refreshing to come across a fantasy book that stands well on its own.
Here’s the summary from Goodreads:
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.
You know when you feel like you read a book just when you were in the right mood for it? House of Shadows was exactly what I needed, it’s the kind of epic fantasy that I enjoy reading. Magic, intrigue, a world I can get lost in and characters I had fun getting to know. The premise suggests that the main characters are sisters Nemienne and Karah, but we also get the points of view of Leilis and Taudde. It was easy enough to like all four of them, plus the secondary ones within the story, but I feel like it was Leilis and Taudde who stood out from everyone else. It may sound a bit confusing to read about so many individuals but I didn’t have a problem with it, probably because I usually focus more on characters than anything else in the books that I read. The switching points of view gave me a better understanding of the different types of people who inhabit this world. I also really liked the idea of the keiso, modeled after the Japanese geisha. The keiso choose to devote their lives to their art (e.g. dancing, singing) and they are well-respected for that. Living as a keiso is considered an honorable way of life, which I think gives them a higher status than geisha. Instead of becoming mistresses, the keiso can choose to marry men (who are usually powerful or wealthy) and become flower brides if they wanted to. Children of flower brides are recognized by their affluent fathers.
Aside from the characters, I enjoyed reading about the world in The House of Shadows – where there are different kinds of magic and there’s a brewing war between two nations. I liked how the political intrigue added to the character development, how the different layers and motivations behind everything that they do were shown. To be honest, I’m having a hard time pinpointing what worked for me in The House of Shadows. I just feel like all the details came together to produce an enjoyable fantasy read. I was absorbed by the story and I read the whole thing fairly quickly. There are times when I really like a novel but I find it difficult to explain why – I kind of just want to say that I enjoyed this, maybe you should give it a try as well. It’s been months since I finished reading it and I still I haven’t found the right words to articulate my appreciation of this book. And yet I want to post a review so I can recommend it to other readers. If you’re a fan of epic fantasy, then you will probably enjoy reading this just as much as I did. Although I probably wouldn’t recommend this to non-epic fantasy readers, I don’t think this will be a good introduction to the genre if you’re not familiar with it. I really like how pretty and eye-catching the cover is, I think it suits the story even if the dress the girl is wearing wasn’t described in the book. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked The House of Shadows and I’m delighted that I have a copy of The Floating Islands waiting on my TBR shelf. I hope it’s just as good as this one.