“House of Shadows” by Rachel Neumeier

“House of Shadows” by Rachel NeumeierHouse of Shadows by Rachel Neumeier
Published: 2012 by Orbit
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 342
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
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“House of Shadows” is what you get when you blend Arthur Golden’s “Memoirs of a Geisha” with sorcery and dragons.  A merchant dies, leaving his eight daughters orphaned.  The sisters are in dire financial straits, and so they come to the conclusion that two of them must be indentured.

Karah is startlingly beautiful, and so she receives a lucrative contract at a keiso house.  A keiso is pretty much the same thing as a Japanese geisha–a skilled entertainer and artist whose hope to one day become the Flower Wife of a wealthy patron.

Nemienne isn’t as pretty as her sister, and she’s a bit too old to be  a worthwhile investment for a keiso house.  However, the mysterious Mage Arkkennes takes an interest in her and sees her potential for sorcery.  The two sisters find themselves in the middle of a plot that threatens to shake the fabric of their entire kingdom.

There are two other point-of-view characters, the first of which is Taudde, a bardic sorcerer from a neighboring kingdom.  In his homeland, magic is channeled through music rather than through incantations.  He finds himself manipulated into an agreement to kill the crown prince, but then has second thoughts about the entire situation.  Taudde is one of the most interesting characters in the book because he is so conflicted, and I enjoyed the way that his character developed as the story progressed.

And finally, we’ve got Leilis.  Leilis was a keiso-in-training, but became the victim of a magical attack perpetrated by a jealous rival.  Ever since then, her skin delivers a painful and weird shock to anyone who touches her, which means that she’s now unsuitable to be a keiso.  Leilis makes it her mission to protect Karah from bullying in the keiso house.

This is a standalone novel, although the ending does leave a bit of room for a sequel if the author ever decides to return to the same world for another adventure.  I get excited when I find fantasy novels that aren’t a part of an unfinished trilogy.  This one was also relatively short (around 350 pages), which seems to be pretty standard for the young adult demographic.  I would have liked to see a bit more explanation and exploration of the world and magic systems, but Neumeier kept it short, sweet, and to-the-point.

Lately I’ve come to the realization that I’ve unfairly judged YA novels.  This one had a well-constructed world and an engaging story, and the characters were sophisticated and intelligent rather than angsty.  When I’m reading fantasy, I don’t like it when characters whine and wallow in self-pity.  I was so glad to see characters who seemed to be emotionally mature.

We don’t see a lot of each character’s thoughts, but you still got to see progression and development (Mind you, as far as character development, Karah was relatively flat and unchanging, but Nemienne, Taudde, and Leilis more than made up for it).  Even the minor characters grow throughout the story, and there’s more to each of them than we initially suspect.

Oh, and did I mention that there are no love triangles?  Instead we’ve got political intrigue and dragons.

Point of clarification as of 8/9/12:  Heidi pointed out to me that the book is actually being marketed as an adult novel, despite the fact that Goodreads says otherwise.  I screwed up by not double checking.  However, if you’re a younger reader who is considering reading it, it doesn’t really have any content that would make it inappropriate.

24 thoughts on ““House of Shadows” by Rachel Neumeier

  1. I just read two YA novels in a row, and am learning too that I’ve unfairly judged some YAs. some feature characters who are just along for the ride, very little character development, lots of predictability, and others are quite a treat because the characters are actually intersting, and interesting things happen! Not sure if I’m hung ho for YA, but it’s nice to know there is some YA out there that challenges me.

    1. Mhm. I’m loving the fact that there are a lot of YA novels out there that are just damn good reads. And then there are the ones that are predictable and filled with stupid love triangles (like the one I’m reading now, which I’ll be ranting about sometime in the near future).

      1. rants are fun sometimes! sounds like YA is just like any other genre – there’s good stuff to be found, but plenty of crap to wade through as well. 🙁

  2. Dragons and political intrigue? Oh my! That sounds lovely. I actually have quite fallen in love with the young adult genre over the past year. I find most are well written, have great world building, and often delving into some of the more dark issues of humanity. I enjoy that most of the time they are light on romance (hence always a triangle), but do delve into some real interesting concepts and world building. I’m glad you are starting to enjoy some YA books. 😀

    1. There was a fairy-tale type romance subplot in this one (with Karah), but it was kept relatively light and the dragons/sorcery/politics were much more important. I was glad that I picked this one up.

      I never really read much YA when I was in high school and jumped right into the adult fiction, so I think a lot of my thoughts on YA were biases developed from the handful of YA novels that I read a few years back. I’m slowly learning that I misunderstood the whole genre. Now, there are a lot of books out there that are pretty much what I expect when I hear YA, but books like this one and Bitterblue have made me a lot more willing to jump into YA and try new things.

      1. Like you, I never read much YA when I actually was that age. But when I worked at a bookstore, that shall not be named, many of my co-workers recommended books from that section and I decided to give them a try.

        If you want to try another excellent YA series, and the entire series is excellent, I recommend the Chaos Walking Series by Patrick Ness. They are some heavy reads, but great thought provoking stories and characters. Don’t let the odd font fool you, a really really good series, that I can’t explain too much, or it spoils everything.

    1. It was a fun read, and I was very impressed with the level of maturity that it had. I get excited when I find standalone novels because most SF/F lately seems to come in trilogies.

  3. House of Shadows is technically being marketed as an adult novel, but considering all of Neumeier’s previous work has been YA and the content, I think it has really good crossover appeal. I agree that it is so incredibly refreshing to read any fantasy these days that is stand alone, and I wouldn’t even mind if Neumeier did choose to explore this world a bit more (in fact, like you, I’d like to know a bit more about the magic structure), but I’m so grateful when a story isn’t dependent on those sequels. Glad to see you enjoyed this one!

    1. I actually wasn’t quite sure whether it was being marketed as YA or adult, mostly because every website I’ve seen it posted on has tagged it differently, but it didn’t have any content that would make it inappropriate for younger readers. I may do a quick edit and mention that at the end of my review though.

      This is one of those books where I don’t think I would mind a sequel. She left room for it, but at the same time didn’t leave us hanging on any major plot points. Not that I dislike series, but I’m reading so many of them right now and it’s nice to read a book that is a story in itself.

      1. I feel ya on series! I read a review with Rachel Neumeier where she actually talked about them deciding that it would be better to label this one as adult, even though she doesn’t really intentionally write for either YA or adults, it just kind of happens. =)

        1. Reminds me a bit of Anne McCaffrey because of the broad appeal to both teens and adults. I love it when books can be appreciated by multiple audiences.

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