House of Shadows by Rachel Neumeier

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:

House of ShadowsOrphaned, 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.

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.

Other reviews:
Bunbury in the Stacks
Random Musings of a Bibliophile
Charlotte’s Library
The Book Smugglers
By Singing Light
Specfic Romantic

13 thoughts on “House of Shadows by Rachel Neumeier

    • Indescribable is a nice way of putting it! I really don’t know why I had such a hard time with this review. I just decided to go ahead and publish it, otherwise it might stay in my drafts for months.

    • Kristen, me too. I enjoyed this one because of the characters, I was curious about them and that kept me reading. I like how they’re all connected and how the story brought them all together towards the end. Fantasy novels like these are just lovely.

    • Charlotte, good to know that you enjoyed Floating Islands as well! I look forward to read that. As always, I have no idea when I will get to it because my TBR pile just keeps on growing. There are way too many good books waiting to be read.

  1. I’ve also heard good things about this book and have been meaning to read it for a while now. Epic fantasy is my favorite genre, and everything I’ve heard thus far about this book makes me convinced that I’ll enjoy it. It’s just finding that time (and a copy of the book)! I’m glad you had such a positive experience with this one. I’ve also seen positive reviews of Neumeier’s other works, so I hope you end up enjoying those ones too!

    • I love epic fantasy as well. If you ever feel like reading a good fantasy novel, then this would be right up your alley. 🙂 I understand about finding the time to read it – I’ve had my copy since March! And there are other books in my TBR pile that have been there longer (like YEARS). Maybe you can borrow it from the library if you have access to one?

  2. I read this one a while back too and it really didn’t do much for me for some reason. I liked the setup, but I felt like I had read bits of it before (a bit of Diana Wynne Jones here, some Jacqueline Carey there..). Mostly the characters never really drew me in. I wish more of the narrative had focused on Leilis because I found the other novices much less intriguing than her character. Or at least just have it from someone else’s perspective and not Leilis’ at all so that her mystery took longer to unravel. Something. It just didn’t click for me and I really thought it would. Oh well. I haven’t read anything else by this author yet, but I still want to.

    • Sorry to hear this one didn’t work for you, Michelle! I forgot to mention in my review that the house of shadows reminded me a bit of DWJ’s Howl’s Moving Castle but that was the only thing that vaguely resembled DWJ for me. I agree, it would have been nice if we found out more about Leilis but I still enjoyed how everything played out. That’s good that you’re interested in Rachel’s other books, I hope you enjoy reading them much more than House of Shadows.

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