Kari Sperring is, insofar as I’m concerned, a criminally under-appreciated writer. She has a rare gift for making worlds feel lived-in: her settings always feel as though they are very much larger, as though the story happens to focus on one character or another, but there are a dozen, a hundred others just outside the wings, living their lives in a city or in a place that really exists somewhere.
In The Grass King’s Concubine, she displays this gift for worldbuilding, not through people, but through a place: WorldBelow is an alien splendour, a fairytale world where The Grass King, the mythical ruler of spring and the harvest, lives with his court. In Sperring’s novel, the eponymous concubine has vanished alongside most of the court, and Aude, a woman dragged into the palace of WorldBelow, must figure out what went wrong while her husband Jehan goes after her. While Jehan’s strand of the story is familiar—a rescue of a loved one taken by supernatural beings—it’s Aude’s story that shines, and in particular, it’s the depiction of WorldBelow as she explores a haunted, empty palace that made a deep impression on me.