65 points, 3 ½ stars
I received a copy of this book from netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Kay Parley, Radiant Press, and Netgalley for providing this copy for review!
I read this together with Para at To Other Worlds reviews. Read her review here.
The grass people have forgotten how to listen and follow the Way; the elves and fairies have disappeared from the tall prairie grasses. Their once idyllic existence is now fraught with danger. They must evade or defeat wildbeasts, the mower, predators, and four-legged shadows. It is also rumoured that tall men exist and may arrive soon. Dyra leads his village with great courage while some grass people await the return of their spiritual leader, Dokrimalitzla, and the restoration of magic. Meanwhile Brecort, the mayor of a nearby cave city, plots his conquest of all the villages. He sends an emissary with propaganda to convince them that only he can save them with his guns, guard towers and walls.
“That’s what’s wrong with the big village. Instinct and intuition – they have been lost. When you tried to tell him that, he couldn’t even understand what you meant.”
The worst thing about The Grass People is that it is so well written. The start is amazing. We are introduced to the world of small people so well. Kay Parley made me feel like I was as small as the Grass People were. Dangers I never thought about, such as small dips in the ground, were pointed out to me in a great level of exploration. There were also dangers from the human and animal worlds. “The Mower” and the “the Great Shadow” are the enemies in the first part of the book, killing Grass People indiscriminately. I felt like a Grass Person.
The writing is just so well done. If this weren’t so frustrating to read, this would definitely be rated higher. The book is broken up into four parts of five parts total, highlighting different points of life for the characters. We follow the main couple through their first child, through that child and their others growing up and getting married. We follow the life of their village through its infancy, until it grows big enough to branch off into another village. We follow their society through the dark times until the time of enlightenment.
The slice of life parts to the story are amazing. I loved every moment of it. Learning how they lived, their dangers, and even their society I loved. Even if I hate their society, I liked learning about it. The characters are also incredibly realistic. You have probably known someone like every single one of the main characters of the book. Dyra is selfish as hell, but believes he isn’t, especially once he becomes leader. His wife, Koalee, is the only one I can stand, mostly because I have nothing to hate her about. Their oldest son, Hoyim is a young man who takes a while to find himself, mostly because he isn’t traditional and doesn’t want to disappoint his parents. They’re frustratingly realistic.
It is other things I have trouble with.
The story starts out innocently enough. The Grass People are fighting for survival before an Elf comes and tells them they have to leave, or they will die. So our two main characters at the time, Koalee and Dyra, leave. Without telling anyone, including the people they love. Because that will end well, right? Well, eventually things work out, and they’re back to survival, only this time without any big people dangers. Life is good, life isn’t easy but it is easier. They’re thriving, and growing. Everything is going well, and I really liked it. Just so slice-of-life for the first part of the book.
And then about the halfway point of the book, and everything started changing. I started getting more and more frustrated. I started hating everything. The story turned. It was no longer about their way of life. It was about how the society functions and their values. These values are anathema to me. They are too old fashioned, I hated them. I already disliked most of the characters prior to this point. By this point I hated every single one of them. Dyra has become the leader of the village, and it is his way only. He rules. Benevolently, but he has final word, about everything. He is stuck in the old ways, in the traditional ways. Anything not the traditional way is considered bad and wrong. For a man who started the story as being against their entire way of life before they had to move, this is just a little hypocritical.
These values and these traditions are very stifling. Women have their place in the home, but they have no real powers. A woman only really has any place in their world as wives and mothers. If any of them do anything outside of the “traditions”, they are chastised for not following the way. The young people aren’t listened to at all. This is most apparent in Dyra and Koalee’s son, Hoyim, who is a nonconformist and “doesn’t understand his place yet”. Dyra, in his belief that he is the ultimate word, ends up contradicting himself constantly, in both deeds and words. He ends up yelling at his son for not following him, for wanting to speak about the things Hoyim has noticed in his own world. It is a frustrating, yet realistic dynamic.
Then, it gets even more frustrating. People from the big city come, trying to learn the Grass People way. But surely, they must know because it is instinct, right? Nope, the people in the city are corrupted, because there are too many of them! They no longer have any ties to the community because the community is too big! They are no longer part of the Grass People because they do not listen to their instincts! Hoyim and some friends go to find out what it is really like, and all we hear are horror stories. And everything boils down to “we must stick to the traditions, because the traditions are our way.”
The advent of the city people being, in their minds, a complete abomination changes the dynamics of the story. The plot where the young people believe they are being led wrong completely goes away. They are united with their elders against the horrors they have seen and heard. Especially when the city announces that they are now the ultimate leaders of the Grass People, despite some prophesied leader that the elves are supposed to announce – and they haven’t yet. They refuse to be led by Grass People who do not follow Truth.
That isn’t the only plot that is completely forgotten about. The enemies in the first part of the book, the Mower and the Great Shadow are controlled by the big people, as the Grass People learn. The Grass People fear the big people, and hate them because who could harm another person like that. Until they actually meet one of the big people. They become friends, and the big person sort of protects them as best he can. Only, that is the only thing that happens, really. He is completely forgotten. The most interesting part of the story to me was how the big people and the little people were coming to know about each other, and it goes absolutely nowhere.
Unfortunately, the ending let me down. I was really hoping that the end would make up for the frustrating middle part. In my mind, it wasn’t a true ending. It was just someplace to set down the story. Kay Parley worked all that time to establish all these values and traditions. She worked very hard to give everything an out clause, in the form of an ultimate leader to take up the reigns of leadership. And then once the leader comes around, it basically just ends. That is the end, because what else would be told in her mind. Their leader is there to lead everything, we aren’t needed anymore. We just have to follow the way, to follow the Truth, and to look to our leader who will make everything okay again. But, we’re not allowed to see it, not that there is much to see. The Grass People will follow, because that is what they do.
Only, that also wasn’t the actual end of the book. It was the end of the story, but not the end of the book. It was only the end to the fourth part. Then there is a fifth part to the book, which is basically the prologue, stuffed at the end instead. It is the tale of the life of someone named Nanta, who lived before the start of the story. He is important to the story, but he had no real part in it. He was just the person who started certain elements of the story into place. This is at the end because Nanta knew the lessons the characters learn throughout the book already, and lived them. Without having learned those lessons ourselves, his story would have no meaning.
Kay Parley had an amazing idea. I was incredibly interested in reading a fantasy story written by an older woman, a woman in her mid-90s. It is just too bad it feels like I’m being told a story about “the good old days” from my own grandmother. I feel like I’m being yelled at by my grandmother that I’m wrong for wanting to be my own person, for not wanting to be only a wife, to want to live in the modern world. No, Grandma. The good old days weren’t better. They were harder, they were less free, and they were less safe. I like the world I live in now, I hope it gets better in the future. Change isn’t bad, stagnation isn’t better than change. This was just incredibly frustrating for me to read.