The Grandson of the Great Khan, Temur, awakens on a field of dead men, having just survived a bloody battle in a civil war his uncles have perpetuated. Abandoned and alone with no family and no friends, Temur finds a pony and begins to ride away from the dead. After finding a lover, Edene, among the people of the plains, the wizard Al-Sephr steals her away in a storm of ghosts, and Temur vows to bring her back. And south among the mountains, the once princess Samarkar has finished her training and awaits the form her magic will take. Soon though, she is embroiled in the great war of khagans, and joins Temur to find Edene and bring peace to the continent.
Inspired by and set against the backdrop of 14th century Asia, Elizabeth Bear creates a wonderful, rich, and complex world in the first book of the Eternal Sky series.
Paint by numbers no more
Elizabeth Bear has done away with the standard paint by numbers fantasy world that so often happens in the genre. She writes a vivid world of magic and politics, far removed from the usual medieval European fare. In every corner of the world, the sky changes color with the gods, shifting from purple and blue to the burning bright orange of a heartless sun, with dozens and dozens of moons in the night sky. Magic is not defined by any known science; it forms in the hole in your heart and your strength defines it. Ghosts of all manner haunt the world, and tiger warriors hide among the mountains and hills.
Powerful prose, vulnerable characters
While the worldbuilding is top notch, the true heart of the novel is in the subtlety of the writing and the strength of the characters; those two cannot be separated.
Bear writes with a certain economy, always choosing to hold back a paragraph when a sentence will do, especially in regard to a character’s inner turmoil. When Temur feels the loss of his family, when Samarkar questions her strength, or when Edene fights back against her captor, the readers are able to reach across the divide of the writing and draw the conclusions for themselves. Bear never treats her readers like idiots, and it is that confidence and subtlety that make this such a great novel. Their pain is our pain, their triumphs are our triumphs, and it is all because of the confidence and trust that Bear gives the readers.
Any writer, or reader for that matter, can tell you how important plot is. Characters, worldbuilding, prose: none of these things matter if there is not a strong story behind them. Bear demonstrates her mastery of the craft in this novel, as she has all these elements as well as a strong, solid plot with an innate sense of pacing. Range of Ghosts is a novel that takes its time. Range of Ghosts is never slow but it does not rush, either. Bear takes her time with each character and each moment, but never lingers too long. Like a storyteller around the fire, she knows exactly where to focus and how many breathes to take between sentences.
Why should you read this book?
The strength of the worldbuilding, the subtlety of the characters, the economy of the prose, and the pitch perfect pacing all make this book one of the best released in 2012. If you are tired of your standard, paint by numbers fantasy, then take Range of Ghosts for a spin and fall in love with its world.