House of Shadows by Rachel Neumeier

House of Shadows

I have a fondness for novels that are based on old fairy tales, stories that re-imagine the old tales in new ways.  But something that I also like is the kind of language used in the famous stories.  Lyrical and flowing, that kind of prose is easy to fall into and become immersed in for hours at a time.  House of Shadows skillfully uses this type of language to evoke a mood and tell a story of magic and power.

(Description nicked from B&

“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.”

It is interesting to note that while the description of the book seems to focus on the two sisters, in reality Karah is something of a peripheral character.  It’s not that she isn’t present for large chunks of the book, because she is, but those scenes are often viewed through the eyes of another character.  In fact, the portions of the book that take place in Flower House are concerned with Leilis, a former keisotrainee.  (Keiso are kind of like geisha.)  Karah is a sweet girl, but very passive and not as intelligent as her sister Nemienne.

What I love most about this novel was the atmosphere.  The Flower House has all the mystery and traditional charm of a Japanese geisha house and put me immediately in mind of Memoirs of a Geisha, with the formal dinners and elaborate clothing.Nemienne’s mentor lives in a house just as mysterious, with doors that appear from nowhere and rooms that aren’t always in exactly the same place twice.  And the magician’s house also has a resident cat that delights in leading Nemienne on adventures that she may or may not be ready to face.

I also liked that the bard, Taude, practices a form of magic that isn’t quite like anything I’ve seen before.  It’s a magic based on music, relying on the skill of the practitioner and the quality of the instrument being used.  Over the course of the book, there are several examples of Taude’s brand of magic, and I especially liked that the instrument was just as important as the mage.

Simply put, this novel is beautiful.  The characters inhabit a world rich in grace, mystery and lush magic, and Neumeier’s lovely descriptions and sensual language enhance the experience.  Those looking for a book that’s evocative and lyrical should pick this one up without delay.

This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on September 26, 2012.

Series: n/a
ISBN: 9780316072779
Publisher: Orbit
Page Count: 352
Publication Date: July 10, 2012
Acquired: Provided by the publisher as an e-ARC through NetGalley
Author Website