The Grass King's Concubine
Kari Sperring's first novel was a finalist for the Crawford Award, a Tiptree Award Honor Book, a LOCUS Recommended First Novel, and the winner of the Sydney J. Bounds Award for Best Newcomer. Now she returns to the same amazing and atmospheric world with an entirely new story set several hundred years after the earth-shaking events of Living With Ghosts.When a wealthy young woman, obsessed with a childhood vision of a magical Shining Palace, sets out with her true love to search for a legendary land, she discovers the devastated WorldBelow - the realm of the Grass King - and the terrifying Cadre, who take her prisoner, and demand she either restore the king's concubine... or replace her.

The Grass King's Concubine Details

TitleThe Grass King's Concubine
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseAug 7th, 2012
PublisherDAW
ISBN-139780756407551
Rating
GenreFantasy, Fiction, Romance, Science Fiction Fantasy

The Grass King's Concubine Review

  • Wealhtheow
    January 1, 1970
    I am used to fantasy novels and Regency romances that star wealthy nobles and royals who have tragic pasts and presents and yet still, are afforded a great deal of respect by virture of their fortunate birth. And no one ever ponders where the money for noble Lord So&So's splendid balls, or feisty orphan Lady Such&Such's swashbuckling tour of the world, comes from. This book takes that subject head on, and delves even deeper, from a glittering steampunky world teetering on revolution into I am used to fantasy novels and Regency romances that star wealthy nobles and royals who have tragic pasts and presents and yet still, are afforded a great deal of respect by virture of their fortunate birth. And no one ever ponders where the money for noble Lord So&So's splendid balls, or feisty orphan Lady Such&Such's swashbuckling tour of the world, comes from. This book takes that subject head on, and delves even deeper, from a glittering steampunky world teetering on revolution into a mystical, allegorical land. Taking this journey are two unmagical humans, Aude and Jehan. Aude is a lonely young heiress, with a quick mind, strong sense of compassion and very little experience in the world. When she comes of age, she convinces her guardian to help her tour her factories and estates, in hopes of discovering why she has so much and others have so little. As a titled, unmarried young girl, Aude is afforded with respect but little actual authority. To help her, then, she enlists the guardsman Jehan, who is initially furious to be taken away from patrolling the city. (This first half of the novel deals a great deal with classism, capitalism, and sexism, though it never felt heavy-handed.) They finally reach the hut where Aude's ancestors first started accruing their wealth. The jumbled, yellowing papers Aude finds are no help--but then a great wind pulls her into the afterlife, to pay for a long-ago deal made by an ancestor. The servants of the Grass King don't care that Aude didn't make the deal, they just want her to fix the matter. The Grass King's servants are confusing, contradictory, sometimes kind and sometimes murderous, and Aude tries again and again to escape the strange prison she finds herself in. Jehan, meanwhile, travels through the world Between in hopes of finding Aude once more.The language is beautiful, the characters unique and memorable (my faves were the ferrets Yelena and Julana, whose alien viewpoint is fascinating to read), the magical underworld suuuper creepy but also dreamy, like an earthier, scarier version of Beauty&the Beast's castle or Sleeping Beauty's thorn-covered castle. The magical and spiritual system was wholly new to me--unlike almost every other fantasy novel with a created pantheon, I really was as lost as the viewpoint characters, and couldn't cheat by knowing (for instance) that "Mr. Wednesday" was probably Odin. I was completely enthralled and entranced and transported by this book. I only wish it was thousands of pages longer, somehow. I put off reviewing it for weeks because I know there's no way I can convey how wonderful it is, or how much depth there is to every part of it. Go read it and see for yourself!
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  • Lata
    January 1, 1970
    3.5 stars. This was an interesting story, with a world undergoing an industrial revolution, with all the attendant problems of pollution, abuse of workers, workers agitating for some respect and rights, an oblivious upper class, a young woman (Aude) from the upper class who doesn't conform to its expectations and who has a relationship with a guardsman (Jehan), who works for the rich. There is also a magical world that intersects with this world, but in a minimal way, into which the young woman, 3.5 stars. This was an interesting story, with a world undergoing an industrial revolution, with all the attendant problems of pollution, abuse of workers, workers agitating for some respect and rights, an oblivious upper class, a young woman (Aude) from the upper class who doesn't conform to its expectations and who has a relationship with a guardsman (Jehan), who works for the rich. There is also a magical world that intersects with this world, but in a minimal way, into which the young woman, Aude is dragged. Jehan, of course, goes on a journey to this magical realm to find her.That's the bare bones of the story, and it doesn't really cover why I liked this book. This is not an action-packed quest story. Rather, it's a slow, quiet unfolding of events, with characters making choices that have, in some cases, very long-range consequences. I liked a number of things about this book. The author's words about the abuses of power by the factory owners (members of the upper class) could be describing corporate behaviour from our past and our present. I liked the two leads, Aude and Jehan, and the magical realm of the Grass King was fascinating and well described. There were some beautiful and some creepy aspects. Aude, while different from other women of her class, did suffer from a mild sense of entitlement, and her questing to understand her family's origins feels believeable. And after her capture, despite how women are expected to sit around and wait for rescue, Aude doesn't. Aude constantly fights her captors and searches for a way out. Jehan is steadfast and somewhat impatient with Aude's unthinking certainty that her desires will be fulfilled, and he's just such a good guy.Aude's kidnappers are elementals, essentially, and they range from a little odd to pretty scary.And the ferrets! The hilarious, interfering ferret sisters ("...we bite them!") provide both some comic relief and general oddness to the story. I enjoyed seeing the other characters from the sisters' perspectives, and how well the sisters bonded with Clairet, the pony.
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  • Jessica
    January 1, 1970
    This is a rather wonderful book. The heroine, Aude, rebelling against the arranged marriage prepared for her by her uncle, goes on a journey to seek her origins and a magical world (WorldBelow) that no-one in her own world quite believes in any more. Aude is a convincing and likeable character, fierce and honest; her companion, the guard Jehan, is subtly drawn, a decent and courageous man obliged to defend the elite of a decadent and unjust state and forced to choose between obedience and his co This is a rather wonderful book. The heroine, Aude, rebelling against the arranged marriage prepared for her by her uncle, goes on a journey to seek her origins and a magical world (WorldBelow) that no-one in her own world quite believes in any more. Aude is a convincing and likeable character, fierce and honest; her companion, the guard Jehan, is subtly drawn, a decent and courageous man obliged to defend the elite of a decadent and unjust state and forced to choose between obedience and his conscience.Though this is the main thread, a beguiling sub-plot concerns the longing of twins Yelena and Julana, ferrets who can assume human shape, to return to their own world. They are convincingly ferrety and not at all anthropomorphic in character. It is her feeling for the natural and magical worlds that Sperring has created which give her work its distinct flavour; they are observed and evoked in vivid detail and in an original way, particularly when the point of view is not that of a human character.At the end, I wished it had continued a little further. Perhaps there will be a sequel; I hope so! Sperring has created an unusual world that surprises at every turn, giving the pleasures of high fantasy whilst avoiding the worn-out tropes. Some of my favourite elements, apart from the ferret women, who turn out to be very much not what they seem, are the erudition, the love of learning and libraries, and the idea of technology as a force which can either enhance the natural and magical world, or destroy it.
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  • Joshua Palmatier
    January 1, 1970
    I received an ARC of this book, which is why I can post about it before it's even been released. This book will hit the shelves on August 7th, 2012. You should preorder your copy today.The Grass King's Concubine is Kari Sperring's second book and while it is NOT a sequel to her first, Living With Ghosts, it is set in the same world. However, this book is nothing like her first. It has some dark themes, but the overall atmosphere of The Grass King's Concubine is much lighter and the characters, i I received an ARC of this book, which is why I can post about it before it's even been released. This book will hit the shelves on August 7th, 2012. You should preorder your copy today.The Grass King's Concubine is Kari Sperring's second book and while it is NOT a sequel to her first, Living With Ghosts, it is set in the same world. However, this book is nothing like her first. It has some dark themes, but the overall atmosphere of The Grass King's Concubine is much lighter and the characters, in general, aren't as dark either.The main premise is that there are two worlds--WorldAbove, which is where the main characters Aude and Jehan live, and WorldBelow, where the Grass King reigns. A human named Marcellan has inadvertantly traveled to WorldBelow and in the process--by introducing human ideas into a magical realm--has upset the balance of the world. The Grass King andh is Cadre are unaware of how dangerous Marcellan is until it's too late. Unfortunately, what's happening in WorldBelow is also affecting WorldAbove, causing a significant drought. Like her first novel, Kari Sperring appears obsessed with water. In Living With Ghosts there was too much water; here, there is too little. The two young lovers Aude and Jehan are separated and both end up in WorldBelow, where the Cadre is attempting to fix what Marcellan has broken. As they search for each other, they learn not only about WorldBelow, its troubles and rules and expectations, but also about themselves. And WorldBelow does not operate like WorldAbove. There are seas of moss, glass bones, rock trees, and creatures both beautiful and deadly.Readers who like slower paced, character driven novels will love The Grass King's Concubine. It is, essentially, a mystery that slowly unfolds as Aude and Jehan explore WorldBelow in their search for each other. It has an old Europe flavor to the human culture (just like Living With Ghosts) which gives it great atmosphere and just a touch of a steampunk feel. The characters are interesting, the most captivating being the two ferrets from WorldBelow who can change into human form. And the world Sperring creates is interesting and engaging. Some readers will experience a little bit of confusion in the first part of the book until they realize that some of the chapters are actually set a significant amount of time in the past, rather than concurrent with Aude's and Jehan's chapters, but that confusion clears up as soon as Aude and Jehan reach the point where they are taken to WorldBelow.Overall, The Grass King's Concubine is a great novel for those enjoy exploring a new world, in depth, at a slow pace, and with intriguing characters that capture the imagination.
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  • Andrew
    January 1, 1970
    Aude, as a young girl, saw fairies dancing under a bush. She spends years covertly searching for them in her mundane life. Then, as an adult, she runs away with a guard from an industrial textile mill owned by her family. Travelling across the steppe with her new husband, she is kidnapped by -- not faeries, exactly.It would be fair to call those sentences from completely unrelated novels; if I've made them sound like a smooth progression, I've done them an injustice. This book is what people cal Aude, as a young girl, saw fairies dancing under a bush. She spends years covertly searching for them in her mundane life. Then, as an adult, she runs away with a guard from an industrial textile mill owned by her family. Travelling across the steppe with her new husband, she is kidnapped by -- not faeries, exactly.It would be fair to call those sentences from completely unrelated novels; if I've made them sound like a smooth progression, I've done them an injustice. This book is what people call "a hot mess". It has immortal elemental spirits, the printing press, organized labor in an industrializing world, the Wounding of the Land from an industrializing-world perspective, the historical master of natural science (an Aristotle-like figure) -- all mashed up together -- I have no sense whatsoever of what they're all supposed to be saying about each other. What the story *is*, after Aude's high-speed childhood and marriage, is long scenes of Aude and her husband staggering around WorldBelow. Separately, mind you; with Marcellan (the naturalist writer) as a third point of view, indeterminately earlier. The linking element is the pair of shapechanging ferret sisters, who are inordinately charming, but in a way that makes me regrettably certain that the author keeps ferrets. (I have not tried to verify this in external reality.) Because that's why they're in the book. That's why *everything* is in the book, I'm sure; because the author has been carrying it around forever and wanted to Get It Into A Book.There *should* be fantasy about the industrial revolution and factory girls and Triangle Shirtwaist and the catastrophic, civilization-destroying singularity of the printing press. But it cannot be constructed by flinging all this stuff into a blender! The blender-wodge that comes out just has no momentum. I put this thing down *twice* to read entire other books that had arrived. (Okay, one of them was the Bujold, and not many books should expect to compete with Ivan Vorpatril on my doorstep wearing his Imperial greens and a gamy smile. But still.)Worst indictment, I think: the story wraps up at the end with neat explanations that make sense, follow from the imagery, and are thematically appropriate. But *neatly*! If you're going to give me chapters of eerie Faerieland -- and this *is* eerie, beautiful, blood-and-dust tangible stuff, *redolent*; Gaiman quality, the scenery is *wonderful* -- if you're going to *do* that book, you leave it all floating on the wind! Don't package it all up with a bow: here, this is what the bees were, this is who sabotaged the clock, mystery solved. For (John) Crowley's sake.
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  • egelantier
    January 1, 1970
    a final verdict: a gorgeous, lush, unhurried book, a darker fairytale that manages to avoid both being overwrought and drowning in edginess, populated with relatable, fascinating and lovely characters, both human and unhuman. aude, the dissatisfied rich heiress, sets out to find the origins of her privilege and finds way, way more than she bargained for (i take back her alt!england origins, by the way, the worldbuilding is more interesting than i presumed). aude is determined and sheltered but a final verdict: a gorgeous, lush, unhurried book, a darker fairytale that manages to avoid both being overwrought and drowning in edginess, populated with relatable, fascinating and lovely characters, both human and unhuman. aude, the dissatisfied rich heiress, sets out to find the origins of her privilege and finds way, way more than she bargained for (i take back her alt!england origins, by the way, the worldbuilding is more interesting than i presumed). aude is determined and sheltered but not naive, full of dignity and determination, unwilling to bow to the scariest of circumstances and never giving up, and i've loved her to pieces; she didn't always win, but god did she ever go down fighting.jehan, her husband, an unlucky officer with too much ethics for his own good, loyal and kind to the end of the earth, steadfast and calm; together they made a pretty much unstoppable team.ferret witch-sisters julana and yelena, book-stealers (metaphorically and literally too), who gave their loyalty and their love to a scholar from human land and bit and fought and intrigued for him and found their identities and their personalities in process; they started out as interesting worldbuilding detail and ended up being my favorites (and wow that was a perfect example of how to create an inhuman narrative just right).and finally, the cadre, the elemental bannermen of enigmatic grass king of the land below, wound tight in a knot of old conflicts and older loyalty, fighting for their very existence. there was a whole different book about them hidden inside this one, and the narrative glances at it and skitters away, and it's understated and clever and creepy and beautiful, and i've loved how scarilyalien they were while being so, so understandable.and, of course, the beautiful, beautiful dead remains of the worldbelow, terrifying and wonderful; the worldbuilding is subtle and gentle and just a bit out of step, and, yes, definitely merits a mention.
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  • Katharine Kerr
    January 1, 1970
    This is an exceptionally well-written fantasy that offers something different from the usual themes and characters. Sperring's heroine, Aude, comes from the upper class of a society based on a sharp division between the rich and the poor. When her awakening social conscience drives her to discover the source of her family's wealth, she finds herself trapped in a strange and magic land, the WorldBelow. While her husband desperately searches for her, Aude must find the answers she seeks or stay tr This is an exceptionally well-written fantasy that offers something different from the usual themes and characters. Sperring's heroine, Aude, comes from the upper class of a society based on a sharp division between the rich and the poor. When her awakening social conscience drives her to discover the source of her family's wealth, she finds herself trapped in a strange and magic land, the WorldBelow. While her husband desperately searches for her, Aude must find the answers she seeks or stay trapped forever.One thing I particularly liked about the book is its non-human characters. (None of them are the usual elves and dwarves.) They are as alien as any you'll find in well written SF, and some, like the ferret women, are both comic and threatening. This is not easy to pull off. (I know -- I tried it with the Dwrgi folk in the last few Deverry books.)Good writing, solid worldbuilding, and some interesting ideas about the effects a book can have on people -- I recommend it to anyone who likes to think about what they're reading.
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  • Liana
    January 1, 1970
    So, when I saw "The.." I was like, uh-huh. And then "Grass..." And then I was like, uh, okay, grass. And then I saw "King.." and I was like, oooh, Medieval? And then I saw "concubine" and I was like, ahkodfajh;lfsdjflajfjassjfda I love the title omgggg. It just makes a want-to-read-er itch with curiosity. It looks really cool. I want to read.
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  • Aliette
    January 1, 1970
    This is a book with several narrative strands: one in the present, where Aude, born to wealth, runs away and seeks to understand where her family’s fortune came from; and one in the past, where a man called Marcellan enters the Rice Palace, domain of the Grass King, the mythical being who embodies the earth and the harvest. In the present, Aude gets kidnapped by the Grass King’s bannermen, and taken to a deserted, devastated Rice Palace, where she is told she must fix what her ancestors broke…T This is a book with several narrative strands: one in the present, where Aude, born to wealth, runs away and seeks to understand where her family’s fortune came from; and one in the past, where a man called Marcellan enters the Rice Palace, domain of the Grass King, the mythical being who embodies the earth and the harvest. In the present, Aude gets kidnapped by the Grass King’s bannermen, and taken to a deserted, devastated Rice Palace, where she is told she must fix what her ancestors broke…This is slow, intimate and quite wonderful. I love the contrast between the Brass and Silver Cities and their endless hunger for wealth (and one of Kari’s strengths, I think–in addition to lush prose–is that she nails social class, social oppression and the way the progress of the Industrial Revolution was built on the misery of the many), and the Rice Palace and its fairytale logic; and the driving mystery of what exactly happened in the past is very well done (and going to an unexpected conclusion). It seems at first that the two halves (the Industrial Revolution cities and the Rice Palace) belong to two wildly different books, but on finishing the book you realise that the unifying theme is the devastation of greed and hunger for power–and that, in that respect, the present is not so different from the past–it’s a very clever and subtle juxtaposition, and it works all the better for never being outright said.I have a couple quibbles, the first is that you should avoid reading the cover copy before you start the book, because it has the worst spoilers I’ve seen in quite a while; the second is that the ending feels a teensy bit rushed–and by far the most major one is that this begs for a sequel, and there is none yet!
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  • Fran Jacobs
    January 1, 1970
    Aude has long dreamed of a shining place, and wondered how her family came to be so wealthy. She has heard of a bargain with witches, and something about the steppes, but little more than that. So, she runs away from her pampered, controlled, sheltered life with her Jehan, her husband, a common soldier, to find the answers. But when they reach the steppes and Aude begins her investigation, she is kidnapped, carried away to the 'mythological' world below, because while her family grew wealthy and Aude has long dreamed of a shining place, and wondered how her family came to be so wealthy. She has heard of a bargain with witches, and something about the steppes, but little more than that. So, she runs away from her pampered, controlled, sheltered life with her Jehan, her husband, a common soldier, to find the answers. But when they reach the steppes and Aude begins her investigation, she is kidnapped, carried away to the 'mythological' world below, because while her family grew wealthy and powerful, worldbelow suffered. There is a connection and it is thought she can put it right. Jehan, of course, goes looking for her and with the aid of his pony, and two ferret shapechanging twins, heads to worldbelow.This book is brilliant. The characters are vivid and varied, the world below is fascinating and imaginative and the ferret twins, similiar to Cora and Clarice from Gormenghast, are funny and very ferrty. Their thoughts, their speech, exactly what you would believe a ferret to be thinking. They are certainly my favourite. The book itself is beautifully written, elegant, descritpive prose, and the worldbelow is beautiful and dangerous and very real.This is the best of Sperring's work so far, in my opinion, and i am eagerly awaiting part two. As long as there is lots more of the ferret twins! :)
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  • Q
    January 1, 1970
    Sagging a bit in the middle but good worldbuilding and interesting characters. I'm still confused about connection between revolutionary theme of World Above and stolen stones. It's like a piece of this story got lost during the journey between the worlds.
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  • fridge_brilliance
    January 1, 1970
    my short verdict: this is a marxist manifesto that masquerades as a faerie fantasylet's play a game. try to guess what items from the list below were not in the book:- a lesmis arc, complete with riots of factory workers & debates over marxist alienation, leading naturally to sex in the slums that result in a touching mesalliance with a guy you unknowingly wrote letters to when you were five- zombie apocalypse- questionably sentient bees (jupiter ascending war flashbacks intensify)- ferrets my short verdict: this is a marxist manifesto that masquerades as a faerie fantasylet's play a game. try to guess what items from the list below were not in the book:- a lesmis arc, complete with riots of factory workers & debates over marxist alienation, leading naturally to sex in the slums that result in a touching mesalliance with a guy you unknowingly wrote letters to when you were five- zombie apocalypse- questionably sentient bees (jupiter ascending war flashbacks intensify)- ferrets in love with a priest- local ferrets turn into women to rescue priests- printing press triggers faerie court downfall- raining words- the bees turning into a priest, and vice versa - water conduits- land & water rightscorrect answer is, all of this is in the book. and the book is very long. and it's weirdly paced. i can't even explain to myself how was it that i actually read all of it, what made me follow through on this. first it was confusion, then it was mild interest in dysfunctional squabbling faerie lords, and at the final stretch it was this confused wanting of explanations, because what we had didn't make a full picture. or rather, didn't make one satisfyingly and in a way that would justify why i read it, why it took 495 printed pages to tell the story, how the hell the backstory explains the resolution, and most importantly, why the hell grass king is so useless and why the book needs a titular concubine. in the interest of fairness, what this book did well was create the feeling, the headspace of otherness - especially convincing in juxtaposition and sometimes direct clash with a regular human's way of seeing and rationalizing things. the faerie cadre - the highest ranking nobility, if you will - were of most interest to me, as beings of magic limited by the very traits that they were made to represent, that defines in them, and in particular - the not!haephestus craftsman/metalworker and his disastrous and occasionally resentful pet projects. it's just that - the headspace of two completely crazy ferret twins obsessed with a man is not something i'd like to ever read again about, especially not on 495 pages .___.
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  • Mookie
    January 1, 1970
    This book is something I feel like I could love. The prose is so lush in descriptors: faeryland; countrysides inhabited by woodland critters who are more than they appear; yellow miasmic fog of the industrial Brass City; vast and barren stony steppes... The visuals are absolutely intoxicating. And I think there is something so charming about these characters. Idealistic Aude, and the world-weary soldier who politely indulges her until he's so far deep in love with her he'll undertake a quest to This book is something I feel like I could love. The prose is so lush in descriptors: faeryland; countrysides inhabited by woodland critters who are more than they appear; yellow miasmic fog of the industrial Brass City; vast and barren stony steppes... The visuals are absolutely intoxicating. And I think there is something so charming about these characters. Idealistic Aude, and the world-weary soldier who politely indulges her until he's so far deep in love with her he'll undertake a quest to recover her.I mean there's a lot of lovely in this. And one day I will give this the attention it deserves. But for the life of me I could NOT get through this. I think it's me, and my inability to devote much time to books these days, but nothing in this book really ensnared me to the point of wanting to continue reading. I mean, everything about it is beautiful, but it got to the point that it was really stressing me out that I couldn't finish it, that I ended up returning it to the library prematurely. I will save this in my to-read books, as I think it's a worthy book with a fascinating story. (I have a feeling I'd love it more as a film, than as a book, weirdly enough).
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  • Unwisely
    January 1, 1970
    I usually shy away from fantasy, as a genre, because it tends to be The Chosen One, and A Quest, and Tolkien Was Great, Wasn't He? That's not to dismiss Tolkien or anything, it's just not a story I'm usually interested in reading. (And I don't enjoy it enough to sort through the chaff looking for good ones; I am open to recommendations, but I am skeptical.)This, however, is Fantasy Done Right. No one is chosen, it's not familiar races or cosmology. It is instead a the story of a woman who believ I usually shy away from fantasy, as a genre, because it tends to be The Chosen One, and A Quest, and Tolkien Was Great, Wasn't He? That's not to dismiss Tolkien or anything, it's just not a story I'm usually interested in reading. (And I don't enjoy it enough to sort through the chaff looking for good ones; I am open to recommendations, but I am skeptical.)This, however, is Fantasy Done Right. No one is chosen, it's not familiar races or cosmology. It is instead a the story of a woman who believes in the mystical, who discovers the real world isn't what she thought, a search for family history....it sucked me in. It covers class, sexism, family history, and not understanding what the H is going on, except not in a way you notice until you're writing the review later. It drew me in and kept me reading. Also: the best ferrets since the Greywalker books!
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  • Kat
    January 1, 1970
    Even knowing that this bore little resemblance to 'Living with Ghosts' I was disappointed by this novel. The last 80 pages or so were great, but too little too late. What I wanted was a) an epilogue and b) less of the middle parts.
  • Neile
    January 1, 1970
    A rich, creative, carefully constructed, and absorbing fantasy. A little slow to start, but I'm glad I struck with it.
  • Heather Jones
    January 1, 1970
    I bought this book in hard copy two years ago and decided to move it up in the reading queue by means of re-buying it in e-book form earlier this month. Since I wasn’t reading it hard on the heels of release, I wasn’t distracted by the expectations of what other people were saying about it. Overall, this is the most enjoyable novel I read all year (setting aside the entirely separate category of “mind-blowing concept but impossibly turgid prose” into which The Adventures of Mademoiselle de Riche I bought this book in hard copy two years ago and decided to move it up in the reading queue by means of re-buying it in e-book form earlier this month. Since I wasn’t reading it hard on the heels of release, I wasn’t distracted by the expectations of what other people were saying about it. Overall, this is the most enjoyable novel I read all year (setting aside the entirely separate category of “mind-blowing concept but impossibly turgid prose” into which The Adventures of Mademoiselle de Richelieu fell).The setting is vivid and particular -- or rather, composed of several particulars -- without being a clear reflection of any specific historic setting. We follow three distinct storylines, developing in different times and places but all proceeding toward the same conclusion. Aude is a young woman of well-off family but not particularly noble lineage in a society in the early throes of an industrial revolution. She has been brought to the city in anticipation of marriage to a decidedly indifferent fiance, but becomes fascinated by, and entangled in, the social divide that supports her lifestyle on the backs of a downtrodden (and increasingly rebellious) working class. The entanglement is embodied in the form of Jehan, a young officer of the guard who becomes her protector and champion. With the decidedly naive goal of discovering and understanding the origins of her family’s wealth, the two set out on a quest, heading for her ancestral lands in search of clues. Those lands, rather than being a fertile source of wealth are dead and drought-ridden and infested with dangerous supernatural creatures.The second strand comes in the form of two shape-shifting ferret-women. And it is vitally important to understand that these are not women who shape-shift into ferrets, but ferrets who have learned how to shape-shift into humans. The characterization of Yelena and Julana is one of the most delightful aspects of the story. They are always and ever very much ferrets, with concerns and reactions that feel exactly right for such creatures. Their story concerns how they came to befriend Marcellan, a philosopher who wandered into the Grass King’s realm (about which more below), how they learned to become human for his sake, and how they were exiled to the human world to become gatekeepers for The World Below (the Grass King’s realm). Marcellan’s writings about the various non-human realms form a theme tying the various strands together: viewed both as irrelevant mythology and dangerous subversion. The ferret-twins bargain for a copy of Marcellan’s book in the hopes that it will help them return to World Below (and Marcellan), but not until Jehan and Aude cross their path is that goal realized.The third strand occurs in World Below itself -- one of five supernatural realms corresponding to five elemental forces, this one the realm of earth and growing things. We dip in and out of various time-streams, learning that Marcellan’s intrusion somehow set in motion a decay and drought in World Below that mirrors the one Aude found in her own lands. The Grass King and his five elemental captains enact their own dramas and tragedies that intersect with Aude when she is kidnapped and brought to World Below in expectation that she will somehow be able to make restitution and heal the land, though no one is quite sure how.The first half of the book is slow, vivid world-building with the constant tease of the connection between Aude’s stark and concrete present and the magical vision she once had in childhood of the shining World Below, which she has never entirely stopped seeking. The three strands are developed independently until Aude’s quest brings them together in a tangled snarl. At this point, the story weakens a little. There are several episodes of nebulous travel through bleak unnatural landscapes which bear some resemblance to hallucinations. Several of these felt more present for the purpose of description than to advance the plot in a meaningful way. Similarly, Aude’s experiences as a captive in World Below sometimes shade into repetitive descriptions of opulent deserted palaces, unexpectedly luxurious baths, and cycles of conflict with her captors. The strands all braid together in the end, forming a satisfying and unpredictable resolution that evolves, in important ways, out of the basic underlying good will and generous impulses of the main characters (both human and not) and an understanding of the flawed “humanity” of characters who are decidedly not human at all. The blending of a feel of classical mythology (though not at all a default western one) with modern social/industrial dynamics is unexpected and successful. With only a few exceptions, the strength of the story lies in the vivid and concrete depictions of the several planes of existence in which the story operates. And the characters -- of all types -- are complex and engaging. But if for no other reason at all, read this book for the ferret-twins. They are absolutely delightful.
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  • Catherine Sharp
    January 1, 1970
    It's hard to know where to start reviewing this novel. Maybe with a disclaimer: I know Kari, and I possibly wouldn't have read this novel if I didn't.Which would have been a damn shame. This is exactly the sort of secondary-world fantasy I love. A clever, thoughtful setting which hints at so many more layers of history and geography and magic than are revealed; intelligently-written characters whose mistakes and triumphs drive the plot as much as the plot drives and manipulates the characters. A It's hard to know where to start reviewing this novel. Maybe with a disclaimer: I know Kari, and I possibly wouldn't have read this novel if I didn't.Which would have been a damn shame. This is exactly the sort of secondary-world fantasy I love. A clever, thoughtful setting which hints at so many more layers of history and geography and magic than are revealed; intelligently-written characters whose mistakes and triumphs drive the plot as much as the plot drives and manipulates the characters. And beautiful beautiful descriptive prose, full of wonderful little details, and realistic dialogue.So why only 8 stars? Maybe because it took me two readings to properly get this novel. Oh, the setting pulled me in straight away, but it took me a second reading (most of a year later) to appreciate all of the characters and the subtler levels of story. (Plus I occasionally got bogged down in the very very long paragraphs.)---As a child living on her family's country estate, Aude had a vision of a shining place, which she finds sometime later described in the religious texts of Marcellan. As a young to-be-married wealthy woman in the Silver City, she's still trying to find that place, even if she's been sidetracked in trying to learn more about the Brass City below with its workshops and mills and downtrodded workers (which reminded me a little of Les Miserables - the novel, that is, not the musical). Although Aude isn't supposed to visit the Brass City, she's accompanied unofficially on her excursions by Jehan, a young army officer.And when she finally decides to leave the city, both to escape an unwanted marriage and to find the source of her family's wealth, she sweeps Jehan off with her.Now, that sounds like most of the whole plot for many a romance novel. But in The Grass King's Concubine, that's a mere 2 chapters! What comes next takes the relationship between Aude and Jehan for granted in a very lovely way, but it also stretches it and enhances it. Aude and Jehan end up on the steppes, investigating a house which belonged to Aude's family, but Aude is swept away into World Below, and Jehan must find her.But again, that's not all. Interspersed with Aude and Jehan's chapters are those following Yelena and Julana, some of the most original fantasy characters I've met in a long while. Twin sisters, by nature they're ferrets although they can transform themselves into human form. And they have a very particular link with Aude's family - and also with Marcellan. Most of their chapters are set in the past, in World Below when the Grass King and his Cadre were powerful, when Marcellan found his way there. I didn't find the time shift confusing though; although Yelena and Julana are participants in Jehan's chapters too, it was nicely clear which When I was reading about.World Below, the domain of Earth, was ruled by the Grass King with the aid of his Cadre, each of the five representing their own element (earth, fire, water, air, darkness). But during Marcellan's time in World Below (as told in Yelena and Julana's chapters), something happened which caused Tsai, the Waterling and the titular concubine of the Grass King, to fade away. And with her, the water. So when, years later, Aude came into reach of the remaining Cadre, they dragged her off to World Below where she must either find out what happened to Tsai, or replace her...---The first time I read this novel, I came away feeling very satisfied with the story. It seems a fairly simple plot when laid out linearly, but it's told in a way that kept my interest and kept me guessing. However, that first read left me disappointed with Aude; I found her character too flat. And the Cadre were too mysterious.But the second reading, as well as making me appreciate the sheer craft in the prose and plotting, made me understand Aude an awful lot better. I'm not sure why it took me that long - other readers might not have that problem. Perhaps I was distracted by the brilliance of Yelena and Julana, and the steadiness of Jehan (who frankly is my kind of understated hero). I also appreciated the nuances in the Cadre a lot more - their Otherness is very well done.And that's why it's taken me this long to write a review. My fault, not the author's!---If you like fantasy with a strong sense of place and history tinted with magic and mystery - such as the novels of Guy Gavriel Kay - then this is for you. Buy it and read it, and Kari's debut Living With Ghosts (set in the same world although at an earlier time). And when the sequel to The Grass King's Concubine comes out, BUY AND READ THAT TOO.Review first posted at Sharper Words blog
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  • Paula
    January 1, 1970
    The Grass King's Concubine - Kari Sperring I first came across Kari Sperring at WorldCon, back in 2014 when it was in London, and after hearing her on a couple of panels I made a mental note to get hold of her books - sadly, The Grass King's Concubine is one of only two novels she's published to date (the other being her first novel, Living With Ghosts, which I plan to get hold of as well). Both books are stand-alone novels, with The Grass King's Concubine seeming to start off like many fantasy The Grass King's Concubine - Kari Sperring I first came across Kari Sperring at WorldCon, back in 2014 when it was in London, and after hearing her on a couple of panels I made a mental note to get hold of her books - sadly, The Grass King's Concubine is one of only two novels she's published to date (the other being her first novel, Living With Ghosts, which I plan to get hold of as well). Both books are stand-alone novels, with The Grass King's Concubine seeming to start off like many fantasy novels, with a young girl growing up who is desperate for adventure - in her case, Aude is an heiress but is fascinated by explorers and early on writes to the army suggesting that they follow in the footsteps of one of her idols and send out expeditions. She is horrified to discover that she has been promised in marriage at an early age and, when she later meets her intended when the family move to the privileged Silver City, Aude is even more determined not to marry him. She is also curious about the source of her family's wealth and power, as well as what life is like in the adjacent Brass City - this is where all the people live who are servants in the Silver City and also a place of manufacturing. Aude's curiosity leads her into danger and also lets her meet Jehan, a soldier whose job it is to keep the peace there. Alongside this, there's another story involving the powers that rule the WorldBelow, a counterpoint to the steppes where Aude's family originated - this is the realm of the Grass King and his servants, the Cadre who represent the elements. Later, after she and Jehan leave for the steppes, Aude is captured by the Cadre who think she holds the key to restoring the Grass King's kingdom, which is dying for lack of water. Jehan sets out to rescue Aude, who is by this point his wife, though she does a pretty good job of looking after herself while they're separated, which was one of the things I really liked about this book. I usually try not to compare books I've read, but for me The Grass King's Concubine shows much better how you balance characterisation and world-building than the other book I recently finished - perhaps because it's not part of a series, more attention has been paid to making the characters believable and three-dimensional. That goes for both the main characters and those who are in a more supporting role, with the possible exception of the Grass King himself who I didn't really get a feel for. Anyway, I enjoyed this book and look forward to reading Living With Ghosts, as well as hoping for more novels from this author in the future!
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  • Victoria Phillips
    January 1, 1970
    The Grass King's Concubine by Kerri Sperring This is a wonderful tale about adventure to the unknown as well as finding your roots. In this story a young girl gets a hint about a wonderful world. She then devotes the rest of her life to trying to find this wonderful place, her Shining Place, as well as trying to figure out where her wealth and family lineage comes from. However, she gets more than she bargains for when she realizes that not everything makes sense about her lineage. When she fina The Grass King's Concubine by Kerri Sperring This is a wonderful tale about adventure to the unknown as well as finding your roots. In this story a young girl gets a hint about a wonderful world. She then devotes the rest of her life to trying to find this wonderful place, her Shining Place, as well as trying to figure out where her wealth and family lineage comes from. However, she gets more than she bargains for when she realizes that not everything makes sense about her lineage. When she finally get to this place she has dreamed about for so long, she realizes all is not well in her Shining Place and that its inhabitants expect her to be the key to restoring their realm. In this story of adventure, Sperring captures and creates this wonderful "other" world for her readers. She manages to keep you on your toes, clutching the edge of your seat, or hugging the blanket to you with every turn of the page. her grasp on descriptions particularly that of the surrounding of the Shining Place, can almost make you smell the oranges that are a common occurrence for her main female character. Sperring also manages to leave her novel open enough to be able to continue the story, but also doesn't leave a reader hanging in suspense. Now on to some technical things. In the copy that I have, there are quite a few typos and things that did not get processed out when it was edited. In having all of these typos it would jar me very suddenly out of my readers trance as I call it, and it detracted from the novel. However, despite this I still feel that If you like stories about adventure and discovery, you should definitely go and read this book.Disclosure of Material Connection: I received the above book for free from Goodreads First Reads, in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I enjoy and believe that my readers will enjoy. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”
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  • Jacey
    January 1, 1970
    Set a few hundred years after the beautifully written 'Living with Ghosts' and in the same world, but a different part of it, Kari Sperring's second novel is a delight. Aude is from a wealthy family in the Silver City, rich on the proceeds of the sweat of the workers in the Brass City which has a very steampunky feel to it and is almost on the brink of revolution. She meets Jehan, a guard in the city torn between his duty and the just cause of the oppressed workers. He sets her straight on a few Set a few hundred years after the beautifully written 'Living with Ghosts' and in the same world, but a different part of it, Kari Sperring's second novel is a delight. Aude is from a wealthy family in the Silver City, rich on the proceeds of the sweat of the workers in the Brass City which has a very steampunky feel to it and is almost on the brink of revolution. She meets Jehan, a guard in the city torn between his duty and the just cause of the oppressed workers. He sets her straight on a few of the social aspects of how the city and wealth works. When Aude decides to escape an arranged marriage and go on a quest to discover the source of her family's wealth it's Jehan who accompanies her, now more than just a guard. The action goes from the grease and sweat of the Brass City to the arid Steppes, dying to dust for lack of water because Something is Broken in the WorldAbove.In WorldBelow the Grass King reigns with his terrifying Cadre of elementals, each with their own hidden agenda. Something is out of balance and both worlds are suffering for it. Aude and Jehan are parted and both swept into the WorldBelow separately with echoes of the Persephone legend coming to the foreThere are two different timelines, one with added shapeshifting ferret-women, who are absolutely charming characters, searching for their lover Marcellan, in WorldBelow.The world building in this book is superb, with grimy cities and sweeping vistas above and the creepiness and danger of below. The plot unfurls at a leisurely pace and the writing is elegant.I read some of this in manuscript form while it was still being written as I've done a few weeks at various Milford Writers Conferences (www.milfordSF.co.uk) with the author and it's lovely to see it at last in printed form. I do happen to know that there is a sequel to look forward to.
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  • Alisa Hedden
    January 1, 1970
    The main character of this story is someone searching for her roots. As such, this character is easy to relate with. Set in a culture that seems to be at a cross-road between migratory and settled, and where water rights mean everything. An intelligent young lady trapped in a very proper society where intelligence for women is not exactly a virtue. Her intelligence and curiosity have led her to question such things as why the poor are rebelling and why does her family have so much when others The main character of this story is someone searching for her roots. As such, this character is easy to relate with. Set in a culture that seems to be at a cross-road between migratory and settled, and where water rights mean everything. An intelligent young lady trapped in a very proper society where intelligence for women is not exactly a virtue. Her intelligence and curiosity have led her to question such things as why the poor are rebelling and why does her family have so much when others have so little. A marriage is arraigned to someone that obviously is only interested in her inheritance. She, of course (like every good adventuress) must run away from this luxurious prison in search of her family’s history and the visions that have been haunting her since childhood, visions of a palace with graceful dancers and the smell of oranges on the breeze. Unbeknownst to her, the sender of the visions has been trying to capture her since childhood, in order to right a terrible wrong. As below, so above, the water is going away and all will die if this can’t be solved. Bearing the classical elements of the Hero’s journey and the legend of Persephone, there is a journey to the underworld and the overcoming of seemingly overwhelming odds. Wrongs are made right and it turns out that even demi-gods can have the same driving forces as regular human people. Told along two differing time lines, this can be a little hard to follow, but is well worth the effort. I really did like the ferret twins. Kari has also written several non-fiction books under the name Kari Maund. So, even though she only has two works of fiction out, she has been honing her craft for a while. © Night Owl Reviews - http://www.NightOwlReviews.com
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  • Mikaela
    January 1, 1970
    The Review:The first time I heard about this book was when Kari Sperring read from it at Eurocon in 2010. I have waited for it to be released ever since. Did it live up to my expectations? Yes.The setting felt believable. In fact, at times it felt like I was reading a historical fantasy. Because while the Brass City is imagined,it reflects the uncertainities of life in the mid 1800's in European Cities. But it wasn't just that. It was the clear contrasts between the wealthy in the Silver City an The Review:The first time I heard about this book was when Kari Sperring read from it at Eurocon in 2010. I have waited for it to be released ever since. Did it live up to my expectations? Yes.The setting felt believable. In fact, at times it felt like I was reading a historical fantasy. Because while the Brass City is imagined,it reflects the uncertainities of life in the mid 1800's in European Cities. But it wasn't just that. It was the clear contrasts between the wealthy in the Silver City and the poor in the Brass City, and how that affected the relationship between the cities.But if the Worldabove was believable, then Worldbelow was chilling. That was enhanced by seeing how the World Below looked in it's hey day.The plot wasn't fast paced, but it was well paced. The story switched between past and present, between World Below and World Above. It should have been confusing, but it wasn't. The main reason for that was because it was easy to follow the characters logic. Well, maybe except for the Cadre.The characters felt unique. I admired Aude for her mix of curiosity and pragmatism. Which showed in a lot of ways through the story. And then there were the twins... I think this is the first time that I have read a ferret's POV. I felt for Jehan as he chased after Aude.The only problem I had with this book was the budding romance between Aude and Jehan. I felt that it was buried behind Aude's search for her family's history, and it wouldn't have hurt if it was a little bit stronger. (Just a tip to DAW: If you write a blurb for a book, use ALL of it online. Not a third.)
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  • Ian
    January 1, 1970
    I bought this after it was pointed out that I don’t read enough by fantasy by women writers by the author herself (it was a general admonishment on Twitter, not one personally directed at me, but I felt it was a fair comment). And I’m glad I did. I am not a huge fan of epic fantasies – I’ve read a fair number of them, and no longer find their tropes or stories interesting. Happily, The Grass King’s Concubine is nothing like an epic fantasy. Fantasy, yes; and a very cleverly done one. But not epi I bought this after it was pointed out that I don’t read enough by fantasy by women writers by the author herself (it was a general admonishment on Twitter, not one personally directed at me, but I felt it was a fair comment). And I’m glad I did. I am not a huge fan of epic fantasies – I’ve read a fair number of them, and no longer find their tropes or stories interesting. Happily, The Grass King’s Concubine is nothing like an epic fantasy. Fantasy, yes; and a very cleverly done one. But not epic. And that’s meant as a compliment. Aude is the daughter of a rich land-owner, not old money but rich enough to be accepted into high society, but she is curious as to the source of her family’s wealth and determined not to marry and become just another trophy wife. After a couple of visits to the Brass City, the Dickensian industrial part of the city where she lives, she ends up running away with provincial officer Jehan. Aude’s search ends up with her being forcibly taken to the WorldBelow, ruled by the Grass King; and Jehan is taken there by a pair of ferrets who can take human form and act as guardians to the gate. Aude is a refreshingly forthright and active female protagonist, and there’s a welcome line of social commentary running throughout The Grass King’s Concubine. The fantasy elements are also interesting, original and well thought-out – Aude’s explorations of the Grass King’s palace are particularly well-drawn. If I had to recommend a modern fantasy novel I’d be more than happy to recommend this one. Go and get yourself a copy.
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  • Deborah Ross
    January 1, 1970
    Kari Sperring’s latest novel is the luscious The Grass King’s Concubine. If you haven’t read her debut novel, Living With Ghosts, drop what you’re doing and read it now. If you have, you know that her work is complex, thoughtful, compassionate and literate without the least pretentiousness. She has the uncanny ability to take five abrupt turns while maintaining the seamless integrity of the story. We go from a world that feels like pre-Revolutionary France (or Industrial Revolution England) to t Kari Sperring’s latest novel is the luscious The Grass King’s Concubine. If you haven’t read her debut novel, Living With Ghosts, drop what you’re doing and read it now. If you have, you know that her work is complex, thoughtful, compassionate and literate without the least pretentiousness. She has the uncanny ability to take five abrupt turns while maintaining the seamless integrity of the story. We go from a world that feels like pre-Revolutionary France (or Industrial Revolution England) to the steppes of Central Asia to an underground realm of elemental nature spirits and it’s all a piece, it all fits. Some of her characters are sympathetic, others are incomprehensible. By far my favorites are “the twins,” two oversized ferrets who can and reluctantly do take human form and keep forgetting their clothes. It’s a thick book and that’s a good thing, for it is to be savored.
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  • Lauren
    January 1, 1970
    This book really frustrates me, because it is just not as good as it should have been. It has all the elements to be really amazing - a beautifully crafted world, vibrant writing, a mystery buried in the past, some cool fairy characters - but it never quite came together. The ending doesn't resolve the major question - what happened to the water? Was it Marcellan? Was it the ferret twins? Was it Aude's ancestors? I wanted an answer to that, and it seemed like the answer got pushed aside in favor This book really frustrates me, because it is just not as good as it should have been. It has all the elements to be really amazing - a beautifully crafted world, vibrant writing, a mystery buried in the past, some cool fairy characters - but it never quite came together. The ending doesn't resolve the major question - what happened to the water? Was it Marcellan? Was it the ferret twins? Was it Aude's ancestors? I wanted an answer to that, and it seemed like the answer got pushed aside in favor of solving the problem. That's perfectly reasonable for the characters' motivations - but as a reader, I felt cheated not to get it answered. I felt like the whole book was setting up for a big revelation that just didn't have any pay off, and that lack of resolution meant that my enjoyment of the rest of the book was decidedly lessened.
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  • Lexie
    January 1, 1970
    Prelim Review: Here's the thing--I found this immensely engaging when Aude was young and trying so hard to find 'the bravest soldier' to help her on Marcellan's quest. I remember quite well the days when I was young and would draft anyone I could to help me poke in closets, wooded areas and drafty buildings, hoping to find Narnia (or Tir na nog or a doorway to the fairy world).Things fell apart around the time Aude came to Brass City and her quest went from being about fulfilling the promise of Prelim Review: Here's the thing--I found this immensely engaging when Aude was young and trying so hard to find 'the bravest soldier' to help her on Marcellan's quest. I remember quite well the days when I was young and would draft anyone I could to help me poke in closets, wooded areas and drafty buildings, hoping to find Narnia (or Tir na nog or a doorway to the fairy world).Things fell apart around the time Aude came to Brass City and her quest went from being about fulfilling the promise of Marcellan's quest to some quasi-social reform for the impoverished. And then it got really weird when she became separated from Jehan.Nothing worked for me after that. Not Aude's obsessive need to find out the truth, not Jehan's certainty that he should have refused Aude to save her from herself and definitely not what was really going on with Aude's family.
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  • Michelle
    January 1, 1970
    While still passably engaging, I didn't feel this book worked that well for a couple reasons. Primarily I didn't feel that Aude's reason for going on her quest very compelling. Yes she feels the injustice of the split between rich and poor and this leads her to try to find out the true story of her family's wealth rather than try to fix stuff? Her relationship with Jehan is ok. Predictable, but has some nice moments. I feel sorry for him though. Having to be dragged all over the countryside. Not While still passably engaging, I didn't feel this book worked that well for a couple reasons. Primarily I didn't feel that Aude's reason for going on her quest very compelling. Yes she feels the injustice of the split between rich and poor and this leads her to try to find out the true story of her family's wealth rather than try to fix stuff? Her relationship with Jehan is ok. Predictable, but has some nice moments. I feel sorry for him though. Having to be dragged all over the countryside. Not really in the right frame of mind to write this in an organized fashion I guess but I'll try to sum it up. The worldbuilding was nice. I really enjoyed her imagery. But I feel like the characters lacked believable motivation.
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  • Tal
    January 1, 1970
    When a wealthy young woman, obsessed with a childhood vision of a magical Shining Palace, sets out with her true love to search for a legendary land, she discovers the devastated WorldBelow - the realm of the Grass King - and the terrifying Cadre, who take her prisoner, and demand she either restore the king's concubine... or replace her.as with Living with Ghosts, Ms Sperring's previous book, The Grass King's Concubine starts slowly and only picks up the pace about half-to-2/3s in. this means t When a wealthy young woman, obsessed with a childhood vision of a magical Shining Palace, sets out with her true love to search for a legendary land, she discovers the devastated WorldBelow - the realm of the Grass King - and the terrifying Cadre, who take her prisoner, and demand she either restore the king's concubine... or replace her.as with Living with Ghosts, Ms Sperring's previous book, The Grass King's Concubine starts slowly and only picks up the pace about half-to-2/3s in. this means that occasionally the book needs perseverance, but once Aude arrives in WorldBelow, that patience is richly rewarded.The weaving of Marcellan's new ideas with Aude's journey is a nifty touch and i loved the ferret twins.
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  • N.A. Fedorak
    January 1, 1970
    Highly irritating. It starts out very well, and has a believable young character, and then she develops (of course develops into a feisty young woman who wants to know more about the corrupt world! Like all other protagonists ever!). But then it reaches a downside about halfway through. She ends up in a dream-world sort of (and the mythology of the universe is actually interesting prior to them going to the mythology/dream world), and then it gets v. boring. She also gets pregnant, which is just Highly irritating. It starts out very well, and has a believable young character, and then she develops (of course develops into a feisty young woman who wants to know more about the corrupt world! Like all other protagonists ever!). But then it reaches a downside about halfway through. She ends up in a dream-world sort of (and the mythology of the universe is actually interesting prior to them going to the mythology/dream world), and then it gets v. boring. She also gets pregnant, which is just sort of thrown in as a last second thing, and her relationship with the male protagonist isn't believable. It's about half of a decent book, with great mythology that isn't well used.
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