A Rogue Librarian's Reading List

{April 1, 2012}   Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear

Plot: Temur is the grandson of the Great Kaghan; his iron moon hangs each night in the Eternal Sky. He used to be one of many heirs but a bloody civil war has left most of them dead. Exile seems his only chance for survival. Meanwhile the Once-Princess Samarkar has sacrificed her fertility for the chance of becoming a wizard. She too hopes to escape a bloody struggle for succession. These two unlikely companions come together to fight a hidden cult and prevent their homelands from being destroyed by war and ambition.

Bear has created a sprawling fantasy world based on ancient Mongolia, China and Persia. I’m always happy to find a well executed non-European fantasy but Bear goes so far beyond that. She is a skillful and subtle writer and her world is almost a character in its own right.

The story starts with Temur left for dead, literally holding a mortal wound closed, and the danger never really lets up. And yet for all the battles, the horror and the politics, this is a character driven story. Temur, Samarkar and their companions, even the vilains, became real people to me. Their pasts and their depths are revealed little by little, through their choices and their relationships.

And did I mention that there’s a tiger-woman? Not a curvy, skantily-clad tiger woman, but a huge warrior with claws longer than your fingers and a keen intelligence. Women in this book, be they wizards, tigers, queens, or proud plainswomen, kick ass and they own their sexuality. I love Temur all the more because he respects them and their strengths.

I love the way stories and mythology literally shapes the world. Each kingdom lives under a different sky, one that represents their belief system. The most blatant example are the hundreds of moons hanging the the Eternal Sky of the Kaghan’s realm, each representing an heir. The different versions of the legend of the Carrion-King are also fascinating; each telling as much about the storyteller as about the mythical king. Religion and belief are not simple, black and white things in Bears fantasy world: there are sects, differering interpretations and people who struggle with their beliefs. It adds layers of depth and realism to the story.

Range of Ghosts is the first in a new epic fantasy trilogy. I await the next installment, The Shattered Pillars, with baited breath.

2012 (#34)


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