Monday, July 30, 2012

House of Shadows by Rachel Neumeier

Title: House of Shadows
Author: Rachel Neumeier

Genre: Fiction (Fantasy / Orphans / Prostitution / Magic / Magicians / Political Turmoil)
Publisher/Publication Date: Orbit (7/10/2012)
Source: TLC Book Tours / NetGalley

Rating: Liked.
Did I finish?: I did -- it read quickly!
One-sentence summary: War, love, magic, loss, and loneliness shape the lives of four strong individuals in this fantasy novel.
Reading Challenges: A-to-Z, E-book, NetGalley, Witches & Witchcraft

Do I like the cover?: I don't have any strong feelings one way or the other -- it's pretty enough but doesn't jump at me.

I'm reminded of...: Tarrant Smith

First line: In a city of grey stone and mist, between the steep rain-swept mountains and the sea, there lived a merchant with his eight daughters.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow if you like battle-y fiction that has an emphasis on characters, if you like unique settings, and strong women.

Why did I get this book?: Every now and then, I like a fantasy novel, and I do love stories of orphans having to survive -- what does that say about me?

Review: Despite the novel's sort of sing-song, fairy tale opening -- In a city of grey stone and mist, between the steep rain-swept mountains and the sea, there lived a merchant with his eight daughters. -- the book settles quickly into a focused fantasy novel, following two of the eight orphaned daughters.

Now poverty stricken, the mathematically-inclined sister discovers that despite the family's holdings, they are utterly destitute. Briefly -- again, in that same sort of dreamy, fairy-tale manner, it comes clear that sisters must be sold for the family to survive. Pretty, docile Karah becomes a 'keiso', a geisha-like courtesan, while Nemienne becomes a mage.  Their income is sent to support their remaining sisters, and their careers choices thrust them into the center of turmoil they would otherwise have missed.

I enjoyed this set up, and the rush to get Karah and Nemienne to their respective new homes. Once they were settled, the story's vibe changes from that fairy-tale style to detailed fantasy, which disappointed me but didn't turn me off from the novel.

The world-building in this novel was lovely enough, vaguely Asiatic despite the kind of faux-Celtic names.  However, it felt a bit uneven, right from the start.  Neumeier invents 'keiso' for her caste of prostitutes, but doesn't invent other jobs (for example, mages are mages, not some new word for magician). Perhaps Neumeier was worried that all the words for courtesans was too loaded but her articulation of keiso culture and keiso life felt familiar, from Cloisonné House in the candlelight district, to the social mores of a keiso's relationship with her lover, and I don't know if it added to the story so much as remind me that the world-building felt patchy.  (Now that I think of it, Karah as a character was rather flat, too -- super pretty, super innocent [of course!], super trusting -- so perhaps that whole arc could use some polishing.)

However, Neumeier includes those details I so adored in fiction as a kid -- rich descriptions of food and meals, wonderfully rendered passages on clothing, or landscape, or a room's set up -- and I greatly enjoyed being immersed in this world.  When a character clicked, he or she literally roared to life. I greatly enjoyed Nemienne and Leilis (serving girl of sorts at the keiso house), to the point I wished the book would stop shifting to feature someone else.  The various threads of this book differ in quality but I found the characters compelling -- especially these two strong, interesting women -- that I didn't want to stop reading.

Neumeier has many other books under her belt but as this is a standalone (I think many of her books are part of a series or two), I think this might be a good introduction to her. Those who like place as character (even if that place is very imaginary) will like this one, as well as those who enjoy battle as a backdrop and the tension of conflicting loyalties.

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GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to offer a copy of House of Shadows to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/Canadian readers; ends 8/17.

21 comments:

  1. I am intrigued :D I think I saw this one one NG but I browse so quickly and miss things

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    1. This strikes me as one you'd like! Go for it if you see it again!

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  2. This sounds like one that I would enjoy, and I am going to add it to my list. It sounds like you liked this one a lot, but didn't love it, which intrigues me, as does the story itself. Great review on this one today. I am not sure if it will totally work for me, but I want to give it a shot!

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    1. It wasn't totally my speed but it was very good and had wonderful ambiance. Give it a try -- I think it's kind of got a good starter feel for someone unsure about fantasy -- not totally alien but not totally familiar. Wonderful heroines, to be sure!

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  3. Strong women? Unique settings? Battle-y fiction?! I knew I was right to want this one. It seems like my kind of fantasy novel - I've been reading a lot of Asian inspires fantasy (Stormdancer, Eon, Eona, upcoming read of Under Heaven) and this seems like a good fit.

    I do have issues with the half-invented vocabulary (why not be original all the way instead of halfway?) but I am still dying to read this. Great review.

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    1. Jessie -- I thought of you the whole time as this just felt like a novel you'd dig! The women in particular struck me as your type -- they're my type!

      Would love to see what you think of this one -- and then you can rec fic for me like this!

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    2. I love reading about strong women in fantasy. They seem to be appearing more and more but can still be hard to find. I will definitely be buying this if I can't get my hands on an ARC.

      If you like steampunk, I think you should try Stormdancer. The beginning is dense and very typical of the fantasy genre (lots of beautiful exposition and worldbuilding) but once it gets going, it's AMAZING.

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  4. I was just browsing the sci-fi section at the bookstore yesterday and was suddenly struck by a bug for some fantasy, which is pretty weird for me! But maybe it was fate because this sounds like a book I'd enjoy!

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    1. Ooh, yes, consider the plunge -- it has the evocative foreign-ness of sci-fi! And fabu heroines!

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  5. This does sound interesting...I love strong female leads, and I get the fantasy bug sometimes, too!

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    1. There's also a kind of wintry ambiance to the story that would make it a very good read for funky weather, if that makes sense!

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  6. This sounds interesting, and I do like novels that have descriptions of food...brings me into the moment more.

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    1. I wanted to eat more than one meal from this book!

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  7. Good review. I have this book on my to-read list! Glad you liked it. :)
    - Sam @ SIK Book Reviews

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  8. Hmmmm...I am hesitantly curious about this one after your review!

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    1. Ooh, consider it -- I found it a very good starter-fantasty, so to speak -- not a lot of freaky world building to wrap your head around, and solid characters and lovely descriptions.

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  9. It sounds interesting! Thanks for the giveaway!

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  10. I know the cover didn't really jump out at you but green is my favorite color and I really love the various shades of green in the cover art.

    Thanks for being on the tour Audra!

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    1. I'd love to see this one in person -- I suspect the cover is more striking in person -- and it's not often you see totally green for a 'female' fantasy novel -- it's nice!

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  11. This definitely sounds like a story I could fall in love with. I love high fantasy. Though you mentioned that Karah seems a bit flat, in books with first class worldbuilding, that doesn't bother me like it would in others. Love my high fantasy books. :) Great review! Thank you for being a part of the tour & for the giveaway!

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    1. Randi -- absolutely in this case, the rest of the book holds its own -- and I loved the other characters, so it wasn't an enormous issue. I hope you dig this one -- thank you for visiting and for your kind words!

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