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September 12th, 2012, 08:16 PM #1
Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear
So, Elizabeth Bear has a new fantasy trilogy in the works, with the first book being Range of Ghosts. It came out a few months ago with pretty good reviews and such. The trilogy is called Eternal Sky and there are also some companion novellas in the works.
So, who has read Range of Ghosts ? I quite enjoyed it.
I read it a while ago and finally got a review up. (excerpt below)
Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear follows this new trend with inspiration from the Asian steppes, Mongol hordes, mountain Buddhists and desert caliphates. Of course there's magic, an interesting set of very real gods that literally change the sky above, and a quest. Range of Ghosts shows Bear executing at her best - the economy and ease with which she unveils the story shows a mastery of her craft.
The economy with which Bear writes Range of Ghostsstands out as one of the biggest triumphs of the book. It's an epic fantasy, the opening of the Eternal Sky trilogy, and it's only 334 pages long. It's not that the book is without depth, or that the characters are lacking development, or that the world is not built well enough. It's simply that no word, no sentence, no paragraph is wasted. And the language flows almost poetically, harkening back to an earlier time in epic fantasy and the likes of Le Guin and McKillip. The near-poetic style of writing helps to set the tone of the setting and culture, completing the otherworldly feel that the best of fantasy can achieve.
However, for all the beautiful economy of the language, I found it a bit challenging to become fully engaged in the book and its characters at first. While I won't say I was disinterested, I didn't care as much as I should have for the first third of the book or so. I can't fully explain why this was, but it was a bit of a hindrance to me fully engaging with the story and its characters. I suspect that it's mostly due to the necessary set-up of an opening book in a new world and something on an unconvincing opening romance (though I really like the direction this appears to be going by the end of the book).
But, once the set-up is complete, the pace really gets going. The interplay between the characters is well presented - their depth, conflict, uncertainty, confidence, even arrogance is very nearly priceless. And there's just enough humor interlaced with the tense, dangerous, and even tragic moments to bring things to life.
Last edited by kcf; September 12th, 2012 at 08:20 PM.
September 13th, 2012, 01:38 AM #2
I like it better than anything else of hers that I've read -- more original, more entertaining -- and think you've written a very fair review. I liked what we saw of the steppes gods and mythology the best, the sky full of moons that died with the princes, didn't care quite as much for the other settings, but I'm looking forward to the next book.
September 13th, 2012, 07:16 PM #3
I'll agree that it was quite original and the mythology was extremely interesting. It's certainly a well written book, one I'd recommend to many. That being said, I had trouble engaging with the story and wasn't interested enough to continue. At least not this time.
One thing I should add is that I didn't realize this was part of a series/trilogy until about halfway through. In fact, there's nothing official about it until the end of the book. It's not really a major issue, but I do think it was a PR mistake on the part of Tor.
September 14th, 2012, 05:45 PM #4
September 16th, 2012, 07:41 PM #5
- Join Date
- Dec 2007
Yeah, the absence of any series info is very annoying. Tor also did this with Bear's previous series, The Edda of Burdens, but at least those books can be read as standalones, and the blurbs do a decent job of marking them as part of something larger even though the series is never named on the physical books. In the case of The Eternal Sky it's a bigger problem, as they are flat out "to be continued" parts of a larger whole. Tor is usually fairly good at this; I wonder why they aren't bothering?
Puzzlingly, Bear's occasional writing partner Sarah Monette had a similar issue with her own series [published by a different house]: Nowhere on book 1 is it indicated that more will follow. The first novel ends with a massive cliffhanger, and book 2 picks up almost immediately with no context whatsoever, as if we'd turned a page rather than starting a new book [I believe this was originally the case, but the books were split for length reasons]. It was pretty much a worst case scenario in terms of accessibility.
I did find the book moved quite fast. It's not an "action read" persay, but Bear expects us to invest in characters and settings quickly and based on only a few lines or pages, and I thought sometimes this teetered on the edge of turning into an "and then they went, and then they met, and then..." type of catalogue without ever quite tipping over. Could've used a bit more flesh, for me, certainly, particularly on the villains and some of the stops once the quest starts rolling, but overall I like Bear's very spare, economically impactful approach to epic fantasy. Bit like Abraham, in that something happens and you think "oh, hum, that is a thing", and then the ripples from the event spiral out and hit you later.
I ... think the story's pretty gosh darned exciting, to be honest, but could see the style not being for some folks and getting tripped up in terms of engagement for that reason. I've seen some criticism of the male lead, who is interesting to me in that he is a strong warrior type who is, in terms of group dynamics, definitely playing follower to the female lead's leader, and is perfectly okay with this. I like him, myself; I think he's shown to be slightly out of his depth without being made to look in any way incapable. He's competent and growing into himself. Besides, Samarkar is boss; doing what she tells him is just a mark of good sense on Temre's part.
I think that, so far as recent epic fantasy goes, the book is still very very underread. Its story is right in the epic fantasy wheelhouse [dark forces manipulating dynastic conflicts for evil purposes, ancient sorcerer kings]. Its style's going to be an acquired taste, but less so than folks might think. Certainly worth finding out if it's for you.
September 16th, 2012, 08:08 PM #6