Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Book Review: 'House of Shadows' by Rachel Neumeier

House of Shadows
by Rachel Neumeier

Published: July 10th, 2012
Publisher: Orbit
Format: E-Book
Pages: 352

Cover Art

Hmm. I think this cover has good and bad points. I love the font of the title, I love the green and I love the general layout. However, the girl I could do without. I'm not a huge fan of photographs on covers, particularly of girls in dresses. However, I accepted this book for review partly based on how much this cover attracted me, so overall I think it does a good job and presents the Eastern influences of the novel well.

Plot Synopsis

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?  

My Rating:

First Line:
''In a city of gray stone and mist, between the steep rain-swept mountains and the sea, there lived a merchant with his eight daughters." 
Pocket-Size Review
I adored this book and I couldn't put it down. It starts off on a fairy-tale esque tone and becomes a magical yet grounded fantasy adventure with great female characters and brilliant settings.

Highs: The settings: 'Cloisonne House': a kind of geisha house, the exquisitely paced action, the bond between the sisters.
Lows: The climax and the ending became a little too convoluted for my liking, and repetitive, but at least the ending wasn't wide open which is something that drives me mad!


Life is so unfair. Why do I live in a place where there are no houses that slant into another realm? Why do I have to live in something called a 'country' rather than expansive 'lands'? Why can't I be a magician's apprentice and be able to call light into darkness and read languages without learning them? UNFAIR.

As you can probably tell, the setting and world building in this novel rather appealed to me. I loved everything about the world Rachel Neumeier created, from the Geisha-esque 'Keiso Houses', to the ominous darkness of the Kerre Marraddras mountains, to the strange crooked house belonging to the magician/mage that gives birth to doors in a rather sporadic fashion and which only lets you find the room you are looking for if it wants you too. I love the thought of houses and buildings so huge or so magical that they hide rooms no one has discovered and secret passageways to get lost in. And this one has an added bonus: a gorgeous, ethereal cat whose white back foot can always lead you back through the darkness. Cats play an important role in this novel, as well they should because we all know they are the most superior animal of them all.

The main characters in the novel are ultimately what makes you want to keep picking up the book and keep reading just one more page before going to bed and then, inevitably, keep reading for many more. The story begins with eight sisters who, after the death of their father, must find a way to acquire money but find themselves at a loss. It is eventually decided the two of the girls must be sold to a respectable Keiso House in order to give them enough money to live on. A Keiso House is a place where young girls are bought for their beauty and qualities, which will then be refined and perfected so that wealthy men will give them gifts and, hopefully, take them as a 'Flower Wife'. A Flower Wife is like a mistress, except the man must acknowledge his Flower, buy her property to live in, and acknowledge any children she bears by him. The women can choose to accept or decline these offers and some even never accept a man. One of the sisters is accepted into the most respected of all the Keiso Houses. The other, recognised as having magic behind her eyes, become a mage's apprentice which is a kind of magician or sorcerer. The rest of the story looks at what happens to the sisters, and another resident of the Keiso House, and how their stories become interconnected. 

I loved the sisters. I really like books where there are strong, loving bonds between women, and genuinely caring characters who aren't completely selfish. All of the eight sisters are very different and unique, which is what reminded me very strongly of a fairy tale in the opening section. You are given an info dump of the different girls names, ages and their special skills/qualities and expected to remember them which I find is something that a lot of fairy tales do! I am hardcore so I wrote all their names down and made a little chart about what was special about each of them...but, you know, I'm just a geek and it is not required! I hardly referred to it later in the novel because you quickly pick up on who is important and who isn't. The other resident of the Keiso House who becomes a main character, is a very mysterious and fascinating woman who has secrets connected to the house itself. I can't give too much away about her but she really captivated me and I wanted to find out more about her.

The other part of the story focuses on a young nobleman named Taudde who has come to the city illegally and has found himself in grave danger because of the fraught relations between his country and this one. He finds himself in the middle of a huge conspiracy that he must entangle to know where his allegiances lie. I loved this story, particularly because of the particular skills Taude has and how they are described: so moving and beautiful. His story keeps you guessing and you want to know as much as he does who you're rooting for.

The downside of this novel is the climax and the ending, in my opinion. I liked the reveals and the action that the ending brings, but after things have kinda been concluded there are lots of drawn-out speeches and repetitive exchanges between characters that really didn't need to be there. I found myself scanning the pages because it became quite dull. However, it didn't tarnish the book as a whole for me and, even though the ending is a bit too slow, the rest of the action is perfectly paced and exciting.

This book was the first book I have read in ages that has MADE me want to keep going back for more and really investing in the characters' well being. I definitely want to read more of Rachel's books if they are as well paced and glorious as this one! Oh, and it has a dragon in it. A cool one.

Other Thoughts

This Book has Inspired me to Read: 'The Floating Islands' by Rachel Neumeier (I ADORE the cover!) LOOK AT IT:

Three Words to Describe this Book: Magical, Exciting, Pretty.


  1. Hi Anna....just wanted to introduce myself as a new follower through GFC as lucyatmax, no pix. I have also nominated you for the versatile blogger award. If you note my post tomorrow at, the instructions will be there.
    Thank you

  2. Don't you hate it when an otherwise brilliant book is ruined by the ending? It makes me so mad! All that potential for something understated and sublime, and then... flop. Nothing. Nada. The same thing we've been reading for years.

    Ah well. Every book can't be a five star humdinger, can it?


  3. Thanks for being on the tour! I'm featuring your review on TLC's Facebook page today.

  4. Friend, I've been asking myself why life is so unfair for YEARS. I'm SO excited to read this one after reading your lovely review. I also love stories with strong family bonds, and the Eastern influences here along with the fairy tale esque feel make it sound absolutely up my alley. Hoping I'll feel better about the ending, but it's certainly not enough to deter me!

    And also yes, the cover for The Floating Islands is amazing!

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