Here are some possible first sentences for this review of House of Shadows, by Rachel Neumeier (Orbit, ostensibly July 10, but available online now, YA/Adult):
The Crisply Professional:
Ms. Neumeir's latest Young Adult* offering is a beautifully realized tale of three young lives intersecting in a magical city where the shadows of the past threaten the tenuous peace of the present.
*edited to add: actually, it's being marketed as Adult. But it reads younger to me...
The Utterly Egocentric:
1. If Rachel Neumeier had set out to write a book for just me, she could hardly have done better.
2. I'm so glad I started blogging, because it was through my involvement with the Cybils that I read, and loved, Neumeier's first book, City in the Lake, went on to love The Floating Islands, and now have had the great pleasure of receiving a review copy of House of Shadows. Which I also loved.
3. Books like this almost make me regret that I have a blog--back in the day before my tbr pile/list became so extreme, I would have had the leisure to start House of Shadows right from the beginning again.
4. House of Shadows made me grow as a person, in as much as I had to practice loving patience very very hard when my youngest wanted to describe to me, in intricate (excruciating) detail, his latest drawing project right when I was at the most exciting part.
It's the story of the old magic at the heart of a city poised at the edge of war, as a fifteen year old treaty with the country to the north comes to the end. In that city, three lives intersect--Taudde, a young man from that northern country, whose magic stems from his music, Leilis, a young woman on whom fate and magic have played a cruel trick, slamming shut the doors of her future, and (my favorite) Nemienne, a girl who finds herself a mage's apprentice, opening doors that lead to darkness.... When these three become entangled in a plot that will shake the kingdom to its core, the choices they make might bring on the war, or make a place for peace.
Why I liked it so very much:
1. Character-driven fantasy for the win! It is all about people thinking, and feeling, and making choices. Sure, there's a plot, and danger, and threatenings, but mostly it’s about the people. Nemienne, Taudde, and Leilis all became very real too me, each with their own distinct flavor.
2. Sisters! Nemienne is one of eight sisters, and an older sister, Karah, has an important part to play. Though the family as a whole doesn't get much page time, the love between the sisters is an important foundation stone of Nemienne's character, and has shaped Karah, too.
3. Cool magic. I like it very much when music and magic intersect, without bardic clichés coming into play. I love it when people, like Nemienne, learn to magic by showing up on the doorstep of a house that is much more than it seems...I love it when magic has an ancient heart, hidden in darkness...I love it when magic isn't spells or potions, but craft poured into artifacts, or learning to see things from impossible angles.
4. Beautiful descriptions that make pictures in my mind. The mage's house in particular is one of those twisty places between spaces, with windows looking out onto places that shouldn't logically be there, and rooms that shift, and doors that appear where there were none before.
"Among the windows were three doors. The first was of beech wood, carved with an intricate border of interlocking beech leaves all around its edges. The second, carved of what she thought was red cedar, had fantastic animals twining together in sharply jagged patterns that linked each of its panels to the next. The third door was absolutely plain, made of some ink-dark wood she did not recognize, with no carving at all.
"Ah," said the mage, looking at her face. "How many doors do you see in this hall?" (p.118)
5. And I liked it because the ending wasn't just a stopping right after The Big Showdown part. It went on for a nice little while, as life does, in all its complexities. This is clearly a self-contained story, not the beginning of a trilogy, so this somewhat extended ending is especially appreciated.
(edited to add: There are also lovely cats, and a kitten of great charm).
Especially and whole-heartedly recommended to fans of Patricia McKillip.
I have, however, one criticism: Nemienne's sister Karah is so wonderfully Nice that she seems almost half-witted. It's a bit too much to take.
Note on age of reader: prostitution is mentioned, and adult relationships play a role in the plot (although there is no sex (sigh, in this case--not as a criticism, but as a personal preference-- I would have liked a bit more frisson*) and two of the main characters are in their twenties. So sure, it's Young Adult. However, story-wise, it's just fine for older middle grade readers beginning to separate from Family and wondering about making their own way in the world. If I had a dreamy, introspective seventh grade girl kicking around the house, this is one I'd give to her in a second.
*is there a decent one word English equivalent of frisson?