Author: Elizabeth Bear
Publisher: Tor Books
I’ve heard good things about Elizabeth Bear, but before Range of Ghosts, had never read her work. In interviews she is witty and intelligent and given the accolades this book has received, you can imagine my excitement in reading this book. In many ways it met or exceeded my expectations.
Range of Ghosts takes place in a fictional world resembling central Asia. This novel is not so much about plot as it is about the milieu and its characters. Range is primarily told through (but not limited to) two points of view: Temur, heir and grandson of a Great Khan, is left for dead and is roaming the countryside to stay alive. Samarkar, once a princess and heir to the Rasan Empire, has renounced her royal status and fertility to become a sorceress. Amidst a great war, Temur and Samarkar will cross paths and work together to survive.
Let me start off by saying that Bear has writing chops. Her prose is well-crafted and smart — sometimes the humor is embedded in the text and can be missed if read too carelessly. When I first saw that novel was only 336 pages, I expected a quick read. That is not the way to read Elizabeth Bear. Her words are carefully selected and the pace is slower than most, but that does not make it dull. The world building is fascinating and it is okay to stop and smell the roses.
The plot itself is not terribly complex, but it is made rich by applying non-traditional tropes. This is not an epic fantasy of white men battling in Western Europe during the dark ages. Rather, Range of Ghosts follows the trend of recent fantasy with a non-western culture. Applying ghosts and djinn also help to separate this from traditional fantasy.
I struggle to be critical of this novel and I suspect it will be nominated for awards next year. A couple items prevent me from giving it a flawless review. First of all, the pacing is a bit slow for me. Perhaps it is my own impatience, but I found my mind wandering a couple of times as the novel digressed on history, setting, and the nature and details of Temur’s horses. Secondly, I found Samarkar’s character a little rigid, making it difficult for me to care about her.
Criticisms aside, this is an excellent novel and Bear is an author whose works I look forward to reading in the future. Range of Ghosts effectively demonstrates her ability to create a compelling world and story, leaving the reader satisfied for having taken the journey.