Elizabeth Bear’s RANGE OF GHOSTS
On a more cheerful note: today is the release date for Range of Ghosts, by Elizabeth Bear (matociquala).
She had me at “Central Asian epic fantasy.” I have been eagerly awaiting this book since I first saw her mentioning it on LJ, oh, more than a year ago — maybe two. THERE IS A SHORTAGE OF MONGOLIAN FANTASY IN THE WORLD, Y’ALL. Fortunately, this is the first book in a series, and so that means the lack is being addressed, at least in small part.
The most succinct thing I can say about this book is that it’s rich, to a degree I haven’t seen in . . . ever? Rich in culture, rich in fantasy, rich in politics. I don’t know enough about the Mongols to tell where Bear diverges from their real society into her own invention, but her Qersnyk tribesmen are not Standard Fantasy Nomads, and the care and detail devoted to the horses in the story is both beautiful and necessary. Without that, I wouldn’t believe in the culture. The political complexity laid out in this first book bears no resemblance to the “good guys vs. black-armored masses” dichotomy of older epic fantasy, and promises to bear interesting fruit as the story goes along. And then there are the touches that are just pure wonder: the sky above your head depends on who controls the territory you’re in, and in Qersnyk lands, there is a moon in the sky for each member of the ruling family. Temur, the Qersnyk protagonist, looks up each night to see which of his cousins are still alive.
This is very much the first book in a series. The necessity of setting things up means the story is less plotty than I was expecting; Bear can’t just wave vaguely in the direction of the usual epic fantasy tropes, but has to spend time developing her world and the societies Temur and Samarkar (a female wizard from Tsarepheth, and the other main protagonist) come from. There’s a lot of foundation-laying going on, and the climax of this book doesn’t particularly wrap anything up, even in the short term. (There is no blowing up of the Death Star 1.0 here.) But the richness is pretty entrancing all on its own, and I’m very eager to see what grows out of it in the later books.
(And I want to see more of Bansh. Because Temur’s horse is the best horse ever.)
As I said, this is the release date — yeah, I got an advance review copy; envy me! — so hie thee to a bookstore and see if they have it in. Between the familiarly Europeanish tone of most epic fantasy and the real-world setting of urban fantasy, the difference of Bear’s world is like a breath of fresh (and magical) air.