Review: Range of Ghosts, by Elizabeth Bear

I’m getting behind on reviewing the books I’ve been reading. Back on my reading female authors thing, the next one up was Range of Ghosts, by Elizabeth Bear.

I wanted to read one of her novels after reading her short story on Tor.com, “The Horrid Glory of it’s Wings” which is a beautiful story. I decided to pick up with this, her newest one, and I have not been disappointed.

The most interesting part was the worldbuilding, from the astrological quirks of the world, to the societal. They sky of this world reflects whoever is ruling the land. Under the psuedo Mongol horde, the sky has countless moons, one for each of the Great Khagan’s heirs, but in Samarkar’s land, there is only one moon. And when the characters come to a land where the sun rises in the west and sets in the east, they go “Oh crap….”

Also interesting and refreshing is the dominance of what North Americans would consider non-normative marriage customs. Among Temur’s tribes, women are very sexually free, even when married, though men may have many wives. And in Samarkar’s land, when a woman marries, she marries all of a man’s brothers.

The world is immersive, and it’s nice to see epic fantasy that’s not set in the done to death western european medieval fantasy world. Have I said that before, that I’m sick and tired of medieval western Europe? I have? Oh, well, there it is again. I really, really am. I’ll put up with it for George R. R. Martin, but I can only handle one of his books a year, and my quota for medieval western european fantasy is shot right there.

But that’s getting me side tracked. I think it’s because I was so impressed that someone somehow made the exiled-prince-destined-to-overthrow-his-evil-usurper-uncle fresh. Because that really is a huge part of the plot. I kept looking at it and thinking “am I really reading this and not rolling my eyes at it?” Funny how a change of setting and some really great worldbuilding to take you away from the familiar can do so much for such a cliche. The societal dynamics put an interesting light on things, especially when characters are not expected to restrict themselves to a single lover, and taking another is not a betrayal of the first. I’m curious to find out if jealousy plays into things later, and how much.

The characters are likable, and I always like strong, active female characters. Samarkar is definitely that, and pushes the story along by the force of her will. Temur, too, treats Samarkar as an equal, and it makes me like him more.

Anyway, it’s a book that was nice to settle down into. It doesn’t move at a breakneck pace, but it’s a comfortable an enjoyable read for those who love epic fantasy, and Bear has an expertise with the English language that drew me into the story all on it’s own.

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4 responses to “Review: Range of Ghosts, by Elizabeth Bear

  1. “Temur, too, treats Samarkar as an equal, and it makes me like him more.”

    I’ll just throw this one in, I’ve haven’t read this book so I don’t know who Temur and Samarkar are, or what their relationishp is, but if we assume that it is self evident that men and women are both equal and different on all kinds of levels, how do a man and a woman who are working together as a team (as husband and wife, or business partners, or simply working together towards a common aim) work out what to do if they disagree on a course of action?

      • ..or even two women, I suspect the gender of the people invovled is irrelevant. I think the answer to your question might depend on at least three factors:

        1. How well they know each other: so for example – “my partner and I both know that I’m good at making cakes and they are good at plumbing so however much we argue the outcome is probably better if I head for the kitchen and she fixes the leaky bathroom tap.”

        2. How proud / stubborn each person is – as in this scenario “When we first started arguing about this I thought I was right, but now I’m not sure and what’s more I don’t care anymore, and I’d like to make peace with you, but that would be like admitting DEFEAT GAH!

        3. How much each party believes in there being only one right answer every time. If I argue with my friend about the right way to plan a party the argument will fizzle out pretty quickly if we both think there are lots of possible ways to do this, but if we both have one absolute idea about how it’s done and that is the right way , then sparks might fly.

        • Exactly. In other words, gender is not the first thing to consider when writing characters. They’re people first, with desires and personalities and varying coping skills.

          I always roll my eyes when noob writers panic about writing characters of opposite gender to themselves and go OMG, this person is a different gender, this changes everything and I know nothing about what it means to be a human with different plumbing!!! Ok, that’s not exactly how they say it, but a clever author, can’t remember which one, when asked how he writes such believable female characters, replied that he just pretends that women are people too.

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