Review of Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear a fantasy novel set on the mongolian steppes in the 1200s. A wonderful culturally complex novel with a fast paced plot and interesting characters. Range of Ghosts is all about power and political intrigue.
My review of Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear
I adored the cultural complexity in Range of Ghosts. I was fascinated by the use of language barriers between characters. I am not sure I have seen that before in fantasy fiction – not without a “common” to default to.
Range of Ghosts is a fascinating story and one that I greatly enjoyed. I definitely recommend it – especially if you want an epic fantasy that isn’t faux medieval Europe. If you like me enjoy political games in your fantasy I think you will like this.
My review from 2015 of Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear
“Ragged vultures spiraled up a cherry sky.”
I suggested this book to my newly founded book club because I had enjoyed Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear so much. Since we had agreed not to suggest anything we had already read, I picked Range of Ghosts both because it had been sitting on my interesting shelf for a long time and because I wanted to read some else by Bear. We are four women in the book club – all but one had really enjoyed the read and we had a great and interesting discussion about it. Everyone had noticed something someone else had not. We talked a lot about motivations, characters and themes in the story. Most of us were fascinated by what was going on and a bit mystified as well. We picked out some plot points and talked about where we think they are going and also talked about all that we could figure out. The story change perspective a number of times – I could have done without the antagonist’s perspective – as always – but that is generally not something I enjoy.
Range of Ghosts is very much a story about political power plays. Multiple actors are trying to take control of the same area – the same empire. At the same time it is a story about belonging, about family – and found family. It is a story where the gods seems to be interacting with the mortal world. Mythology plays a huge part in the story. I loved the way the myths of the different people got physical form in the world – like the changing skies.
Bear is a master of sending plot balls rolling and picking them up later, making me marvel over the delicate and intricate plotting. I think it would benefit from a re-read because of the amount of breadcrumbs that she puts out for us to pick out. Right now I want to read the next book though.
The characters are fascinating. They are complex and they are all from privileged backgrounds that makes them navigate political situations as natives. They are however often outside their own culture. Temur is the grandson of the great Khan – I find it fascinating that if he had not been pushed he would have been perfectly happy to live a peaceful life outside the political scene – at least he believes that to be the case – I find that less likely. Samarkar however might have withdrawn from the political scene on purpose but is disappointed when she finds her magical power to be average. She is quite ambitious and the fact that she jumps at the first chance she gets of involving herself in politics tells me that her not being involved in politics was never going to happen.
I adored the cultural complexity in the story. I was fascinated by the use of language barriers between characters. I am not sure I have seen that before in fantasy fiction – not without a “common” to default to.
It is a fascinating story and one that I greatly enjoyed. I definitely recommend it – especially if you want an epic fantasy that isn’t faux medieval Europe. If you like me enjoy political games in your fantasy I think you will like this.
Published: 2012 by Tor Books
Length: 334 pages
Read: September 18 to 23, 2015
Author: Female, white, USA
The protagonists: Samarkar & Temur
A note in 2023 on Elizabeth Bear
Elizabeth Bear has been involved in a number of controversies including a me-to case and RaceFail, so please look her up before you decide if you want to read her.
This review was originally posted: October 8, 2015. Updated and edited June 26, 2023