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House of Shadows by Rachel Neumeier
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House of Shadows

by Rachel Neumeier

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Did not finish.

Why?

I wanted to love this book. I'd heard a lot of good things about Rachel Neumeier's books, and the plot - one sister becomes what is this fantasy world's equivalent of a geisha, while the other apprentices with a mage - seemed like a great idea. It's a stand-alone book with no love triangle and very little romance. They're all things I should love! I think this was a case of the summary of the book not really representing the whole of the story, though, because the two sisters aren't the focus of the story at all. Other side characters are brought in for their own POV chapters and I just found myself getting bored. I'm willing to wade through boredom in cases where there are still characters/storylines I care about (George R.R. Martin, I'm looking at you) but in this case, I wasn't interested enough in any of them to keep going. Neumeier's a beautiful writer, and I'd be willing to try some of her other books. House of Shadows just wasn't for me.
  goorgoahead | Dec 4, 2013 |
Originally posted here.

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. ( )
  A_Reader_of_Fictions | Apr 1, 2013 |
The writing was skilled, but that didn't translate into an engrossing plot and characters that I wanted to cheer on. The part that I read (approximately a third of it) wasn't bad, but there are just so many other books out there with the potential to actually make me invest in the characters' outcomes that I couldn't make myself finish this.
  stephxsu | Feb 28, 2013 |
I've been saying this a lot lately about the things I've been reading, but I absolutely loved this book. I'm having a good run of books and I'm very happy about that.

Lots of people have recorded fairy tales and turned them into literature - not just within the past decade or so, but from the beginning. Lots of people have taken fairy tales as their inspiration and have taken the essential bones of the tale twisting them into new shapes while maintaining the overall sense of the original tale. Others have written entirely new things with a fairy tale lurking behind the scenes. This has become more and more popular over the last 15 years and this makes me very happy. Some of these stories are great, some - not so much. What's rarest of all, it seems, is someone not just creating a new fairy tale (yes, this is in a sense what all fantasy writers do), but writing this fairy tale like a fairy tale - writing in the language and cadence of storytellers. House of Shadows is just such a book and this pleases me even more.

I grew up reading fairy tales and folk tales and mythology of all kinds. My mother was (among many other things) a storyteller and she turned me to many different tales - from The Jack Tales by Richard Chase to the stories of the tricksters from different cultures - Anansi and Raven most prominent. I explored a lot more on my own and learned to tell stories with her and with the children's librarians she worked with at Memphis Public Library. I am thrilled to have had this reading experience because it continues to inform my reading to this day - I can see where the fairy tale is lurking behind the scenes, peeking out from behind the birch trees. Through fairy tales the world of fantasy and science fiction opened up to me, but also the world of literature and modern folklore - this foundation makes me an adventurous reader.

House of Shadows tells the tale of what happens with a family loses its father and must sell out two of its daughters to contracts to keep life and the stone business going. One daughter is contracted as a keiso at Cloisonné House - a world that is derived from the geisha world. The other daughter is apprenticed to a mage and shows a talent for magecraft, but maybe more. I say "maybe more" because Ms. Neumeier has also acknowledged differences between different kinds of magic that are written into folklore, but also into much of the lore of role-playing games such as D&D or Rifts of Telara (a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-playing Game). I love the fact that there are mages in this book, but their power is different than that of a bardic sorcerer - derived from different places both physically and philosophically.

Neumeier has written a story of two young girls, placed in the midst of change and conflict, who are able (each in their own way) to play an important part in resolving that conflict. And yes, there is a prince. And a dragon. Beautifully told - highly recommended.

More on books at: chaotic compendiums. ( )
  kraaivrouw | Aug 23, 2012 |
House of Shadows began beautifully for me. Rachel Neumeier, I've heard, is a master of beautiful description and world-building, and she did not disappoint with this story of eight sisters. Within just a few paragraphs I was enchanted by the story and excited to see it unfold. I even made the comment, 25% in, about how enchanted I was and broadcasted it to the world.

I should have waited a bit longer.

You see, while I loved certain aspects of this story, the politics of it all got too heavy for me. Instead of reading about what the story seemed to promise from the start, the education of both Karah and Nemienne, that foreign bard in the description of the story seems to step in and take over the bulk of the story. And with him, he brings politics and strangeness.

Unlike another fantasy I recently put down, unable to finish, however - I did manage to finish this one. My eyes glazed over once or twice as things got very, very complicated (and not explained well enough to salve that complication), but I was interested enough in both Karah and Nemienne to want to learn where their story would end up.

Another thing I did appreciate about House of Shadows was the lack of cliffhanger. As far as I can tell, this is a stand-alone fantasy. It's a beautifully written one - but with the level of detail Rachel Neumeier was trying to go into, it might have been better as a 2 book set.( ( )
  TheLostEntwife | Aug 4, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 031607277X, Paperback)

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

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:50 -0400)

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