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!