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

Book Haul: November 18 Library Stash

Chores kept me busy this Sunday afternoon but I managed to drop by the library when I had to go to the mall for some errands. It’s not obvious in this picture but I like how the library is full during weekends, lots of kids running around, carrying books.

Library November 18

I managed to borrow three books even though I’m still not done reading the ones that I previously borrowed. Here’s hoping that I will manage to read these before the due date rolls around. Like I keep saying, I still find it fun to borrow library books even if I don’t get to read them. Kind of like a bookish security blanket.

Library Stash November 18

Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway
Firebird by Mercedes Lackey
House of Shadows by Rachel Neumeier

One musically themed contemporary YA and two fantasy novels, all of which are on my wishlist. I will probably end up renewing these because I’ve been a pretty slow reader lately (Goodreads keeps reminding me that I’m behind on my reading challenge).

I also bought these sets of postcards – they’re based on pictures taken by a Singapore photographer. Since I liked it so much, I bought a set that I’d keep for myself and another one that I could send to friends:

6 Beauties of Singapore postcard set

Speaking of postcards, I got this from a friend in Manila. Check out the girl reading on the steps of an old building:

Polaroid Postcard from Evert

Pretty good weekend in terms of what I was able to borrow and buy. What about you, any good books or postcards in your stash? Hope you all had a lovely weekend. 🙂

Want Books: House of Shadows

Want Books? is a weekly meme hosted here at Chachic’s Book Nook and features released books that you want but you can’t have for some reason. It can be because it’s not available in your country, in your library or you don’t have the money for it right now. Everyone is free to join, just grab the image above. Leave a comment with a link to your post so I can do a roundup with each post.

I’ve only read one Rachel Neumeier novel, which was The City in the Lake. I didn’t love it like I expected but I keep hearing good things about her other books so I’m still curious about them. House of Shadows has gotten rave reviews from some of the bloggers I follow, which is why I chose it as my Want Books pick for this week. I haven’t seen it in the bookstores here so I will probably just wait for it to become available in the library. There’s a copy of The Floating Islands in the library so I have a feeling they will also get House of Shadows. This seems like the type of epic fantasy novel that I’d enjoy reading.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

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.

Looks intriguing! What about you, what book is in your wishlist?