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The Grass King's Concubine by Kari Sperring
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The Grass King's Concubine

by Kari Sperring

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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! ( )
  wealhtheowwylfing | Feb 29, 2016 |
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. ( )
  iansales | Dec 31, 2015 |
Interesting, unusual, and well-executed, but I never quite connected with it. ( )
  ellen.w | Jun 1, 2014 |
Interesting, unusual, and well-executed, but I never quite connected with it. ( )
  ellen.w | Jun 1, 2014 |
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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.
[retrieved 9/8/12 from Amazon.com]
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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.… (more)

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