Reviewed by Rowena C. Ruiz
The Grass King’s Concubine chronicles Aude Pelerin de Puiz’s quest to trace her roots and to find the source of her family’s wealth. As a child, she has been told that her wealth originated in the steppes and as the family’s wealth increased, the family moved away from the region. Aude also experiences first contact with the World Below in the aftermath of an earthquake. This sparks her curiosity and embarks on a search to find out if this world, shrouded in legend, really exists. Drawn into her quest is Jehan Favre, a city guard who later becomes her husband. Events conspire to draw him and Aude into the World Below, where they find that what happens there is intertwined with the events of the World Above.
Two themes in the novel caught my attention. The first concerns the power that words and ideas have on people. In the story, it is Marcellan who provides the catalyst that brings about change. In the World Below, his words leave their mark on the city and his ideas inspire Liyan to invent a printing press and a clepsydra. In the World Above, his writings inspire the Eschappes, reformers and rebels in the Brass City, to fight for the rights of the working class. It is his work that inspires the twins Yelena and Julana to bargain with Aude’s ancestress so that they can find a way back to the World Below after being exiled. It is his words that sparks Aude’s curiosity and sets her feet on the path that brings her to a collision with the inhabitants of the World Below.
The other theme highlighted in the story is that actions have consequences and they affect people and the environment. Aude’s story and that of the World Below seem to be separate from each other but their stories become connected because of the actions of others. Thus, the Cadre sees Aude as the solution to the disappearance of water in the World Below. In reality however, it is the actions of the inhabitants of the World Below that have brought about this disaster. Liyan with his impulsiveness and inquisitiveness does not consider the consequences of publishing Marcellan’s work, Qiaqia, in her desire to be free, breaks the clepsydra’s mechanism but does not foresee that Tsai’s waters will be affected by her actions. But it is Julana and Yelena’s action of trading a piece of stone belonging to the World Below and some water from the Lefmay’ s source that bring Aude and Jehan under the influence of the World Below. Each person had their own motives, never thinking about the effect it would have on their city.
Kari’s work helps us to see that we need to exercise caution in the things we say and do. We must not forget that we are not alone in our journey. There are other who travel with us, friends, family and even strangers whose lives will be affected by what we do. Words and ideas, and actions: these are powerful tools that can shape or break the future. Do we use them wisely and judiciously? When those who come after us, look at what we have done and said, will they be inspired to greatness? Or will they perpetuate the cycle of hurt, abuse and exploitation that have plagued our race for centuries untold? We must remember that these things are also part of the legacy and heritage we will leave behind and it behooves us to consider the possible outcomes.
Initially I thought that it would be nice if this book would have a sequel as Aude’s journey has just begun. On second thought though, I think it is good to leave it that way. Her journey is ours as well and we hold in our hands the answer to what the future holds.
Rating: 5 charms