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Range of Ghosts Hardcover – Mar 27 2012


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Review

“Bear's ability to create breathtaking variations on ancient themes and make them new and brilliant is, perhaps, unparalleled in the genre."
Library Journal, starred review, on All the Windwracked Stars

“You should read this book; you should read it because the entire thing—from beginning to end—pushes sense-of-wonder buttons so hard you almost want to hit the pause button, forget about the plot, and look. Bear holds nothing back, and everything that she pulls into her story just gleams with that special wonder of discovery. I could not put this down.”
—The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction on All the Windwracked Stars

“Numerous fantasy authors adopt the tropes of Norse mythology, but Bear actively pursues them, channeling those myths directly rather than overlaying them on more familiar ones. The result demands much from readers, but repays it in vivid, sensual imagery of a wholly different world.”
—Publishers Weekly on By the Mountain Bound

About the Author

ELIZABETH BEAR was born on the same day as Frodo and Bilbo Baggins, but in a different year. She was the recipient of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2005. She has won two Hugo Awards for her short fiction, and her “Hammered” trilogy is a Locus Award winner.

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Amazon.com: 47 reviews
31 of 31 people found the following review helpful
"She was imperfect and full of striving. And that would be all right." April 3 2012
By H Waterhouse - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
You have to love a man who names his heroic horse "Dumpling".

You have to love a princess who trades her broodmare status for the hope of power.

You have to love a quest group that consists of three women and a dude who respects them all.

If you go to describe this story, it is easy to get tangled in the A plot and the B plot and trying to figure out what's about to go on, but when you're reading it, it's very seamless. As you realize that all these plotlines are converging, the story seems to pick up speed and momentum, tumbling to a not-quite-conclusion.

As usual, Bear's writing shows the toolmarks of master craftsmanship, and once in a while has showstopping images:

"As the sky dimmed, the glow they twinkled in was cast by candles, fixed in glass jars to the shells of ambling tortoises, so as the sun set, the whole of the garden was filled with a moving light. Birds sang themselves to sleep in the tree branches, and the twilight made a canopy overhead."

And one that would be a spoiler, but eek, hungry ghosts!

One of the things I enjoyed most was the exploration of fertility and the consequences of chosen infertility. There were so many details that bespoke long thought about how this could be made to work in a pre-industrial era. There are apples studded with nails to build up iron, and an emphasis on the consumption of soy to provide phytoestrogens. The real chance of death by infection. But the beautiful payoff for all of this is here:

"She folded her legs one atop the other and brought her hands before her groin, where the center of creation had once lived and lived no longer. There was the essence of wizardry. It was an act of creation; it was a pure delight in defiance of hunger, and thirst, and sorrow, and the inevitability of death and devouring. As she had sacrificed the power of creation with her body, so she gained the power of creation with her mind."

As a woman and a mother, I thought this was immensely moving, to take all the iconography of childbearing and turn it into magic available only to those who choose not to bear.

The story is obviously headed toward the second book, but I feel ok about that. In the meantime, I keep having moments where I forget I've finished the book and I look forward to reading more about Samarkar and Temur and Bansh. Will they defeat the rakh-rider? Is Temur about to have some 'splainin to do? Where will they travel next? I'm looking forward to finding out.
33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
Exceptional World Building March 27 2012
By Justin Landon - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Up until now, I'd never read Elizabeth Bear. If I'm being honest, I couldn't have produced the titles of anything she'd written. That isn't to say I didn't know who she was -- she's a visible figure in the genre community and an active Tweeter -- just that I hadn't been exposed to her actual work. When her new novel showed up on my doorstep, I made it a priority. Joining a wave of 2011/2012 fantasy firmly couched in Middle Eastern and Asian influence, Range of Ghosts is an epic scale love story that tries to appeal fans of both romance and high fantasy and succeeds by any metric.

Egads! Did I say romance? Normally, the mere mention of 'romance' sets off alarm bells in my head, calling to mind smoldering glances and heaving bosoms (not that I don't like heaving... never mind). For those who share my reticence, don't worry. Range is a love story, but not a romance. With that in mind, my first reaction to what I was reading came around the fifty page mark where Bear writes the best sex scene I've read in fantasy. To whet your appetite:

She was softness, lush dimpled softness of arms and flanks wrapped around strength, like a bent bow. She was the fall of cool hair across his throat and his burning face, like water to a man sick with sun. She was the smell of sweat and pungent oils. She was the warmth of the night, and seventeen moons rose over her shoulders while she rode him with the purpose and intensity with which she raced her mare.

Of course, now all the readers of George Martin, Joe Abercrombie, and Brent Weeks are saying, not for me! And they might be right. Range isn't hyper violent, or unduly action packed. The pace is smooth, and even. There is violence and action, but it's carefully inserted (not a euphemism), representing a culmination of tension and then over again in a flash.

Instead, Bear's novel is carried on the back of a thoughtfully constructed and flawlessly articulated world. That isn't to say she's dumping information left and right, rather she instills an inherent sense of wonder that pervades, and in many ways overwhelms, the characters and plot. It's not that her plot or characters are weak, the world is just that good. With a different sky for every kingdom, a system of magic that has costs and limitations, and a cultural depth that codes realism, Range is a thoughtful exploration of culture and the right to rule.

On the Khaganate steppe a hundred moons dot the sky, one for each of the male scions of the Great Khan's line. In the Uthman Caliphate those moons are no where to be seen:

Mukhtar ai-Idoj, al-Sepehr of the Rock, crouched atop the lowest and broadest of them, his back to the familiar east-setting sun of the Uthman Caliphate. Farther east, he knew, the strange pale sun of the Qersnyk tribes was long fallen, their queer hermaphroditic godling undergoing some mystic transformation to rise again as the face of the night.

Range is told from several different points of view, but operates primarily from the perspective of Temur, grandson of the Great Khan, and Once-Princess turned Wizard, Samarkar. Surviving a bloody war between his cousin and brother, who fought to rule the Khaganate, Temur looks to the sky every night and finds another cousin, uncle, or brother dead, their moon extinguished forever. Formerly the heir to the Rasan Empire, Samarkar has been replaced by her half-brother. Widowed and vulnerable, she renounces her position at court to seek a new power with the Wizards of Tsarepheth. In the midst of their changing world a cult begins to manipulate empires, bringing strife and civil war under every sky the world over.

Outlined as such, it's not a complex plot and the characters are somewhat archetypal, but the motives that move both are anything but. It's those motivations, driven in large part by the veracity of Bear's world building, that makes Range such a compelling read. Compelling, but not necessarily the kind that kept me up into the wee hours of the morning. The pace, and style, make it something to get lost in, to hang on to each detail and relish the creative process that birthed it. That's exactly what I did.

Over the last year I've observed a real trend toward non-western fantasy worlds. From Blackdog (Johansen) and The Emperor Knife (Williams), which share some DNA with Range of Ghosts, to the more Middle Eastern Throne of the Crescent Moon (Ahmed) and the Cyrillic Winds of Khalakovo (Bealieu), there seems to be a concerted effort by authors and editors to expose readers to something new. Some of that is coming from the desire to be different, some is coming from authors of different cultural backgrounds entering the field, and some of it is coming from a desire to mine a new market of readers. Regardless of its intent, fantasy is in the midst of a boom of non-western ideas and cultures. I find it refreshing and even moreso intellectually stimulating. It's an exciting time to be reading and Elizabeth Bear's newest novel is a great example of the times.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Breathtaking! April 16 2012
By N. Gargano - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I just finished reading this wonderful fantasy by Elizabeth Bear and at first I decided not to review it. I was not sure how to describe it, or how to explain exactly why I loved it. However, I wanted to pass the word along with the other reviewers, because I feel as if this is a book that should not be missed.
This book is so different than the normal fantasy books I am attracted too. However, this was a recommended book on a review web site, and it just caught my eye. I am so glad I gave it a chance. There is magic, sorcery, action, romance and an array of cultures and world building that was outstanding. I was not sure if I would like it when I first started it, but once I got into the flow of the writing and the names of the characters, it was such a joy to read. I never knew what was around the corner and I got so attached to the characters. Even the villains are so interesting, I just could not stop reading it.
There was a cliff hanger ending, so if you are looking for something that is stand alone, this may not be for you, but I cannot wait until the next book to see not only what happens to the characters, but what the author is going to come up with. It is beautifully written, just a wonderful read.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
worth the purchase June 30 2012
By Carebare - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This is a great swords & sorcery story. Tamur is a wounded soldier on the run in an archaic Mongolian setting, who values family and is seeking purpose/revenge. The love interest is a strong woman with royal ties and magical abilities.

Although this book didn't quite make my all-time favorites, I highly recommend this book and totally look forward to see what happens next in its sequel "The Shattered Pillars."

The book is well written, but I found myself skimming through several chapters-- namely those about anyone except Tamur. The mix of sorcery with Mongolian culture was initially disconcerting, but I appreciate the originality of setting since the book otherwise treads familiar ground (i.e., JV Jones' "Sword of Shadows").

I think Bear could have further explored certain avenues in order for me to really care about the characters and setting. And of course further developed the novel climax, and lead up to it. I may have been able to keep track of the side characters or history if I really cared, but as it was I couldn't keep track of the unusual names. I also didn't really see the story develop through the characters' POV.

Conclusively, while the book wasn't original in terms of plot and could have been better fleshed out, it was overall a genuinely entertaining and engrossing read.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
A Masterpiece of Epic Fantasy March 27 2012
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition
Range of Ghosts is the first in a fantasy trilogy, the kind with a map in the front of the book and a lot of travel and conflict between nations. It's set in a non-European second world fantasy, and it's about a princess who gave that up to study magic, and a prince who was on the losing side of a civil war. Together, they fight crime! ...or at least fight evil sorcery and the manipulations of someone who wants more war, because honestly, they are not very pro-war. It's bad for trade and it kills a lot of people. But sometimes you need an army to make peace.

I have a difficult time reviewing this book, because trying to state more than the bare facts--it's about these two people (and many others), the prose is gorgeous, the setting is fascinating, even the cover is beautiful--starts descending into uncontrollable squee on my part.

Because this book is a god damn masterpiece.

The prose is spectacular. This is a book where every single sentence is a polished little jewel--without in any way distracting from the rocking adventure story. And the plot! There are a lot of different people working towards their own individual goals, noble or horrible or selfish or otherwise, but I never ended up confused. The slowly shifting goals of the characters were a joy to watch as they changed what people meant to do. Our prince starts with "get off this battlefield alive," our princess starts with "live through the process that lets me try to acquire magic," and...well. Things shift. Expand. React to other things.

The characters are spectacular. I adored the protagonists, I adored many of the supporting characters--including the Best Mare Ever, who is my new favorite animal companion--and even the villainous types always had plausible, sensible goals and motivations of their own. Even the man doing child sacrifice for horrible magical powers has a sane, practical reason for doing so.

Oh, and there's a woman warrior who happens to be a bipedal tiger. She's pretty awesome too.

This is the problem with trying to review the book. Every time I try to explain some aspect, I realize I forgot something else. The horses! The ghosts, and how to fight them! The complex mix and overlap of cultures that aren't Ye Olde Fantasye Europe for once! The way the sky overhead changes--color and moons and direction of the sun's movement--depending on which nation you're in, to the point that you can tell something's happened to a city if you get there and the sky isn't the one you expected! Culture shock and family ties and women who do things and delicious marmot snacks and and and--

Look. It's excellent. Buy it and read it.

(For those who care about such things: this is clearly the First Book Of A Trilogy, with a lot of major plot threads set up to be resolved in other books, but several plot points are dealt with in a satisfactory manner in this one. It's not all cliffhanger.)


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