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 Ghosts
stands 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.