Monday, November 5, 2012

Review: House of Shadows by Rachel Neumeier


Title: House of Shadows 

Author: Rachel Neumeier

Rating: 4 Stars 

Where has Rachel Neumeier been all my life? Seriously, this woman’s novels are written just the way I like love them to be written and needless to say, after reading just one novel of hers, I’m a self-proclaimed fan. House of Shadows is, beyond anything else, a fantasy. In fact, it’s one of the few good fantasies out there to be released this year. While this past year has seen a resurgence in fantasy novels, any ardent fantasy lover like myself will tell you that only a rare few of them have been remarkable; House of Shadows is one of them. I wouldn’t strictly classify House of Shadows as being Young Adult, but it isn’t necessarily Adult either – nor is it New Adult mind you. Its cast is varied and with three main characters, it is sure to appeal to both teens and adults of all ages.

Yet, perhaps best of all, House of Shadows is a political novel. It all starts out when eight sisters are left orphaned by the sudden death of their father and, forced to survive, two of these sisters must be sold. Karah, known for her gentle nature and striking beauty, is quickly sold away to the Cloisonné  House, a respectable institution where women are trained in many arts and talents, all garnered towards earning them rich husbands. Nemienne, the youngest sister who is a little queer, is taken to be the apprentice of Mage Ankennes.

Meanwhile, a bardic sorcerer, Taudde, is being exploited to assassinate the Prince of Lirionne. Taudde hails from Kalches, a neighboring country who has kept a tense peace of fifteen years with Lirionne after years of battle. Now, with the end of the peace treaty looming ahead, Taudde is thrown into an assassination plot he never intended to be a part of in the first place. Our third protagonist, Leilis, is a woman working the Cloisonné House, not quite servant and not quite keionse like the girls there either. A curse has set her apart from others, but she battles to give Karah a fair chance against other, more envious, keiso in the Cloisonné House.

House of Shadows is told from the perspective of three main characters whose story lines slowly converge and begin to come together as the novel progresses. As a fantasy, one of its greatest strengths lies in its complex world-building which truly blew me away with its imagination, creativity, and depth. Its characters too continued to surprise me as the novel progressed. Each and every one of them had more and more layers to peel back and through the different perspectives of our three protagonists we are able to see what each of them think of the cast of secondary characters who grace this tale and as such, are able to make our own opinions about them from the mixed perspectives we are given. It’s all rather remarkable really, now that I think about how Neumeier must have crafted this story.

Out of the large span of characters in this novel, Karah is, perhaps, the most flat for her personality is too kind to give much way to more complexity. Yet, Neumeier fails to make her a protagonist and we see her life from the perspective of Leilis and Nemienne which goes a long way to make every aspect of this novel intriguing. From the three perspectives that dominated this story, I must admit that Taudde’s was probably my favorite. Not only was he a bardic sorcerer, not in his own homeland, yearning for his nation, yet fascinated by the seas of Lonne, the capitol of Lirionne, but his battling emotions over the assassination he was meant to commit and his observation of the Prince of Lirionne’s peaceful nature were touching to behold.

Nemienne, with her lessons, quick wit, and pure heart was also a delight to read about and I found myself rooting for her, even from page one. Leilis, on the other hand, is a different type of protagonist from one I’ve read before, but she too charmed me at once. Although she carries a curse which prevents her from going far in life, she makes the best of her situation with a strength that is admirable and her sharp tongue is one I love.

House of Shadows is most definitely a political fantasy novel – and its plot is impeccably crafted – but its strength lies in its characters, world, and ability to suck you in. It is far deeper than most may give it credit for and it leaves you feeling almost imperceptibly wiser. It does contain a touch of romance, but it is subtle and of the purest kind, leaving little room for the true track of the novel to veer off course. It took me rather by surprise and although I love the fact that it is a stand-alone, I wouldn’t hesitate to visit this world again. Neumeier is, clearly, an author I simply need more of. Much like Juliet Marillier, a taste of her works only leaves me hungry for more. 

A huge thank you to Heidi from Bunbury in the Stacks for recommending this one to me! It was her review that convinced me to read this, so I'd urge you all to check it out! 

18 comments:

  1. You keep writing brilliant reviews for books I've never heard of Keertana, my poor bank account is screaming at you! Okay, not really. I love that I come here and find books that I absolutely have to buy, and I'm so glad to hear this one is so strongly character-driven. That's my kind of book:)

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  2. You always bring these books I've never heard of and make them sound brilliant. I love the obscurity of books you find.

    The word political and fantasy caught me from the first moment, so I think this one will be moving onto a wishlist at some point. I really do.

    Thanks for sharing. Lovely review, dearest!

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  3. Hmm, I've seen some mixed reviews for this one but I'm curious about giving it a try. I love fantasies (especially ones filled with action) but complex worldbuilding and politics can win me over in that genre even if the book isn't so fast-paced. Thanks for the review, Keertana!

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  4. Heidi's review has made me realize that I need to read this book as well! I LOVE a good fantasy that deals in political intrigue. Probably my favorite kind of fantasy. And now you're espousing the amazingness of this book. And comparing Neumeier to Juliet Marillier! I really do need to get on requesting this book so I can read it soon. Wonderful review, Keertana!

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  5. oh wow i've never heard of this one but it sounds AMAZING! i think it's really interesting it's a political novel, we don't see too much of that! plus, it has an added bonus of being recced by heidi? i should check this out!

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  6. I love the sound of this Keertana, and you make the plot sound divine. Political intrigue in fantasy fiction? Compelling characters and only a touch of pure romance? Mentioning Juliet Marillier? Sold! Marvelous review, hon! Adding it to my TBR pile now. ;)

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  7. How is it that I hadn't heard of this? I LOVE fantasy! And this sounds like one I would really enjoy. I'm off to add it....

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  8. Ooh, a standalone fantasy? Now THAT is something you don't hear about often! I can't believe that I've never heard of this one before- but now I will definitely be picking this one up for sure.

    The characters in this one really do sound fantastic- as does the plot and worldbuilding! I feel like this has all the elements of a fantastic fantasy, so I will go hunting to the library to find this one!

    Fantastic review as always, Keertana. You've definitely convinced me I must pick this book up!

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  9. Wow. It's not often that you praise someone's writing quite this much, and in that, I trust you implicitly.
    It just so happens that I'm desperate for more good fantasy to read, and every single word in your review convinces me that I'll like this one.

    On a side note, I see you've made it to Magic Bleeds, my absolute favorite of the series. When you finish Magic Slays, let me know and I'll send you Magic Gifts, last year's Christmas present from the authors. It's about a hundred pages long and pretty awesome.

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  10. Yay!! I want to hug you for loving this. I completely agree--in a resurgence of fantasy, we've seen a LOT of duds--but this isn't one of them! I love some good old school world building, magic, and political machinations, and that's what Neumeier does. I love that she has such a distinct writing style too. I hope you want to read more from her now! I almost picked up The Floating Islands the other day, but then I got caught up in my #mustread2012releases mode.

    And thanks for the link, you're the best. <3

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  11. This remind me of Grave Mercy a little. I'm not one who picks up fantasy often but your review tempts me, Keertans. Plus, that cover is stunning! Wonderful review. :)

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  12. I agree Keertana there have been so many fantasy releases this year, I don't even know which book to turn to anymore. I have also enjoyed reading books with multiple povs, so I'm really liking the sound of this! Great review hun and thanks for putting this book on my radar! :)

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  13. This is a new book (and author!) for me, and I am definitely interested in checking this out. Any book you praise is always worth checking out. ;) Political fantasies aren't books I always pick up, but I look forward to trying this.

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  14. I don't quite know what to do with this review. I feel like it's so darn good that I wouldn't want to disappoint by not loving this book. At the same time, I WANT TO READ THIS BOOK. Am I making sense? I don't think so.

    Who am I without romance though? I feel like I always need that instead of a subtle bit...

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  15. How have I not heard of this amazing novel?! I admit, I am rather excited that, "it leaves you feeling almost imperceptibly wiser. because Brodie likes things that make her feel smarter than she is :)

    Seriously though, your entire review has excited me. I'm hardly fussed that the romance isn't a huge point, because as much as I love me some love, I need a slight break from it at times. The plot and the fantasy and the politics and ASSASSINATION PLOT?! I like books with assassin-y things. Thanks for making me aware of this with your beautiful review!

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  16. The cover turned me off at first, but after reading your review I'm totally sold. I love political fantasy and I'm always looking for a good one. Thanks for reviewing this one--I wouldn't have heard of it otherwise.

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  17. Basically every single thing this woman has written sounds fabulous to me, but you are definitely making me think THIS is the one I should pick up first! I'll probably be kicking my own butt for days after about not having read her sooner :)

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