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Eternal Sky #1

Range of Ghosts

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Temur, grandson of the Great Khan, is walking away from a battlefield where he was left for dead. All around lie the fallen armies of his cousin and his brother, who made war to rule the Khaganate. Temur is now the legitimate heir by blood to his grandfather's throne, but he is not the strongest. Going into exile is the only way to survive his ruthless cousin.

Once-Princess Samarkar is climbing the thousand steps of the Citadel of the Wizards of Tsarepheth. She was heir to the Rasan Empire until her father got a son on a new wife. Then she was sent to be the wife of a Prince in Song, but that marriage ended in battle and blood. Now she has renounced her worldly power to seek the magical power of the wizards.

These two will come together to stand against the hidden cult that has so carefully brought all the empires of the Celadon Highway to strife and civil war through guile and deceit and sorcerous power.

334 pages, Hardcover

First published March 27, 2012

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About the author

Elizabeth Bear

309 books2,266 followers
What Goodreads really needs is a "currently WRITING" option for its default bookshelves...

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 553 reviews
Profile Image for Lightreads.
641 reviews525 followers
October 1, 2012
So the draw here is entirely the worldbuilding, to my eye. And it is good worldbuilding; Bear didn’t just say ‘hey, I want to write heroic fantasy about them easterners instead of another damn western European retread,’ she actually thought it through. This is not worldbuilding that relies on exoticized stereotypes. This stuff makes sense, right down to the nutritional advice given to a woman who has just lost her fertility (eat soybeans, which is exactly the advice that would come out of a doctor in this culture, given its real world cognates, and, not for nothing, which is also actually pretty good advice). Tangent.

But otherwise . . . meh. It’s such straight-faced heroic fantasy, and you know when the magical pony shows up and I find it annoying, a book has failed to work on me. I have no desire to read two more books of giant evil birds and sorcerers and weird visions and endless, endless, endless horse travel, mostly because if the entire main cast was slaughtered, I probably wouldn't blink.

Some of you guys will find the worldbuilding far and away worth the price of admission, though.
Profile Image for Mayim de Vries.
577 reviews828 followers
December 5, 2018
“This-this was how empires ended. With the flitting of wild dogs in the dark and a caravan of moons going dark one by one.”

I am afraid I cannot say many good things about the Range of Ghosts. It is a generic fantasy as bland as an unsalted porridge.

It is not surprising that with the saturation of the sword and sorcery fantasy set in Western quasi-mediaeval setting, the authors migrated Eastward to look for new pastures. The Eternal Sky series is also drawing upon the rich cultural and civilisational heritage of the East with clear Mongol, Chinese and Arabic influences and so those readers who enjoyed the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, Eon, Inda or Wheel of the Infinite (don’t tell me you allowed this gem to pass you by) might also find it interesting. That is, if you don’t care about anything else except for world-building.

When a book starts with a dying man travelling through a battlefield and instead of being devastated, sorry for him, petrified, all the above, all you feel is polite disinterest, you know that something is wrong. It might be the writing style, it might be the main protagonist or the way the story develops. In my case, the Range of Ghosts failed in all three areas; the only decent characteristics of this book is the world-building. Because the harsh fact is that in this magnificent world, where sky and sun changes with the conquest, where magic is not innate but wizardry is attainable through surgery (if you sacrifice fertility, magic may or may not bloom in you) and where members of certain family have their moons scattered upon the firmament like coins, in the world inhabited by fantastic humanoid and non-humanoid races (including living stones pooing gems) nothing interesting happens.

There are two main POVs, male and female: Meet Temur, your generic princeling forced to fight for his heritage, and Samarkar, who rejected her royal family to become a wizard. Of these two Samarkar is a more mature and better developed as a character and I found her chapters more interesting mainly because Temur’s narrative (particularly at the beginning) suffers from an absolute lack of exposition. OK, I know, I know, showing no telling. But when all the author shows is an incomprehensible picture, this really doesn't make it easier for the reader to develop an emotional attachment. Writing should be about conflict, but stakes in the Range of Ghosts never seem to be high enough and the lows she puts her protagonists through never seem to be low enough.

For Temur (or, in my head, Femur) the first plot twist is based on an emotional bond that is not credible. I do not deny that an attachment can form on a basis of a purely sexual fling but in this case, it is absurd to agree that this thing could outweigh Temur’s personal drama. Samarkar's chapters run smoothly but again, the internal conflict is non-existent and her personal sacrifice looks more like a compromise. Also, the way the story is told is too slow even for me - and I am usually very fond of slow-burners (take Guns of the Dawn or The Curse of Chalion). Here nothing happens for the better part of the book (boring travelogue) and there is no beauty to this nothingness, no purpose either. When something does happen, it happens so fast or in such a manner that it is very hard to discern where it fits in the larger tale. For now, it is my conclusion that Ms Bear is not a skilled story-teller. I need something more than magical horses (really), prophecies, and necromancy to be seduced. The forming love triangle towards the end of the book was the last straw.

On top of everything, I had problems with the writing style limited vocabulary and absurd scenes .

I finished with a great pang of disappointment. Aside from occasional ingenious world-building ideas, the cover is one of the biggest advantages of this book. I will continue the series but halfheartedly. If you are not an ardent fan of Eastern influences in fantasy and your pile of books waiting to be read is rather substantial, I’d skip the Eternal Sky altogether.

Also in the series:

2. Shattered Pillars ★★☆☆☆
3. Steles of the Sky ★☆☆☆☆
Profile Image for The Shayne-Train.
363 reviews90 followers
July 6, 2015
I seriously could not get enough of this book!

The story was instantly engaging. That's always a worry for me. It can be the most amazi-crazy book in the world, but if the first 15 pages don't grab me, I may not be finishing it. I know that's kind of harsh, but I have an intimidatingly huge To-Read shelf, and if'n you wanna be in mah brainz, y'all needta come correct.

So often, fantasy novels come down to world-building. This is a new and foreign place to the reader, and the details of the way this particular world works are a big part in how much you enjoy inhabiting the aforementioned world. That being said, this world was explained not only succinctly, but beautifully. Ms Bear's prose is lovely, her characters deep and thoughtful, and the rules in this world are mysterious and interesting, yet easy to understand.

Plus, this has the historical-fantasy aspect to it as well. And since the analogs are the Russian empire, the Middle East, and the steppes of the Khan (all of which interest me greatly), I felt transported while reading this wonderful book.

The next two in the series shall be devoured forthwith!
Profile Image for Jason.
1,179 reviews256 followers
July 2, 2012
4.5 Stars

Range of Ghosts is a great read that blends a fantasy with a fairytale. This is my first Elizabeth Bear read, even though she has been on my reading list for a very long time. After reading this one, I will surely be looking up her other works.
This book is magical. The writing is sublime. The prose is lyrical. The vocabulary is extraordinary. Bear’s writing style adds to the wonderful world that she pens on paper. This is a novel that is incredible because of the amazing writing itself. The characters she creates are unique and three dimensional and I liked them all. Although this book has a straight forward story line with very few twists or turns, I did not want it to end.

“He looked up to see a girl about his own age, seventeen or eighteen winters behind her, seated astride a rangy rose-gray filly with the long ears and sparse mane of steppe blood. The young horse curvetted, snorting—showing off—and Bansh flicked her own ears as if to show herself unimpressed by the strenuous affectations of youth. The girl’s nervousness, Temur judged, was communicating itself to her mount.”

“Even as he thought this, something stirred the mist. Something flitting, sparkling even in the gloaming, like chips of mica on the wing. Thousands of somethings, smaller than the span of Temur’s palm, their pale or dark wings largely robbed of color in the dusk. Butterflies. Thousands and thousands of butterflies. Bansh stood stolidly as they swirled about her like windblown leaves. Buldshak snorted and shook out her tail, tossing her head when they landed between her eyes and crawled up her ears to take flight again. Their wings brushed Temur’s skin like falling petals. The delicate prickers of their feet tickled his face when they lighted briefly, then took off again. The wind of their passing was comprised of a thousand shifting currents”

“He took a breath. The words that were coming out of him had the ring of portent, the air of a gathering storm. But he had not rehearsed them, and he did not know from what reservoir within him they sprang. “I am Re Temur. I will help you fight your Rahazeen warlord, Hrahima. And I will take back from him in turn what he first took from me. And then I will come back and see Qori Buqa put out of the place that was rightfully my brother’s.”
"Something poured out from him as he spoke. He saw Samarkar’s light react to it. It sped from him like the shadow of a ripple on the sandy bottom of a river’s ebb. He saw the movement of Samarkar’s collar as she swallowed; he saw Hrahima’s whiskers come forward and her tired ears perk up. He saw Payma’s left hand fall to her side and squeeze her robes against her thigh.”

I loved this magical adventure that would surely be loved by fans of Neil Gaiman.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 6 books3,970 followers
February 9, 2017
I can easily say this is my favorite book by Elizabeth Bear. I liked the two main characters very much, the writing was smooth as silk, and probably most importantly, I loved the depth of the mythology.

I have a soft spot in my heart for stories within stories, and I have nothing but good things to say about Eternal Night and the Carrion King. The mythology works both as a gorgeous backdrop to the action as well as an excellent world-building tool.

Several images, like fields of butterflies along the steeps, the swimming horses, the plane of skulls, or even the armies of ghosts, all of it deeply serves the story and it was all a delight.

It had so much, from the tiger peoples, part of the Chinese culture, all the way to germanic legends, but most importantly, this is a tale of the Kahns. Magic is everywhere. So much happens.

More than anything, this tale acts and feels legendary.

The characters never get so far away from us that we ever lose the sense of who and what they are, and I think the tale gets only better when everything finally interweaves. I'm glad I finally got around to reading this. I think I like Bear's fantasy a lot more than her SF. :)
Profile Image for Sarah.
Author 19 books431 followers
March 23, 2012
Dear Elizabeth Bear and Tor,

I’m suffering from an epic bout of nerd rage, at the moment, and I feel as though the responsible parties should know what a torment I am going through. You see, Range of Ghosts was an absolutely stunning read in ever aspect. It’s easily my favorite book of 2012 so far and now it’s over.

It’s OVER and I have NOTHING to turn to because it’s the FIRST BOOK in a TRILOGY and the next books haven’t been released yet! Oh, the tragedy!

That’s the cause of my nerd rage. I need more from this series to quench my thirst to find out what happens next and there’s nothing for me to turn to! So, this small letter is my plea for the release of book two as soon as possible. I’m going crazy over here. You can’t write a book THAT GOOD and not expect readers to want more now.

Oh, and before I forget, thank you for the cover art. It is absolutely beautiful.


Your nerd-raging fan/book reviewer,


Read my full review here:

Profile Image for Timothy Ward.
Author 14 books121 followers
April 30, 2014
Reviewed at Adventures in SciFi Publishing - Podcast and Giveaway of Eternal Sky Trilogy

I have heard for years that Elizabeth Bear is a rare talent, and I wish I hadn’t waited this long to read her. Her ability to mesmerize me with her prose reminds me of Mercedes Yardley, but with her own flair. I highlighted many passages from Range of Ghosts, but I’ll start with the first paragraph:

Ragged vultures spiraled up a cherry sky. Their sooty wings so thick against the sunset could have been the column of ash from a volcano, the pall of smoke from a tremendous fire. Except the fire was a day’s hard ride east—away over the flats of the steppe, a broad smudge fading into blue twilight as the sun descended in the west.

In a recent podcast with Elizabeth, she said that that first line just came to her and then she had to build the world and story from there. Range of Ghosts was a rare treat in fascination as I read line after line of worldbuilding and scenery that made me think, this is the kind of Fantasy world I want to discover. In the past few years, Michael J. Sullivan has been my only real Fantasy author I’ve been able to read. I struggle with the complexity of nations, factions, casts of characters and how they all must be memorized in order to follow the plot. Both Elizabeth and Michael excel at keeping me engaged and reminding me who is who so that I can follow along leisurely.

One way that Elizabeth kept me from feeling overwhelmed was that she grounded me immediately in her main character, Temur. She paints a realistic setting for him in the wake of a losing battle, but only so far as it supplements his feelings as a warrior without a clan. You sympathize with him in his sorrow that his battle was against cousins, where there can be no victory.

“Perhaps he was a ghost,”

she wrote, and you feel him in his cold sorrow, identifying what it must feel like to have your world flipped upside down, a wound to his neck that should have killed him, and being alive without any clear purpose. In our podcast, Elizabeth talked about how his journey is atypical of most Fantasy heroes. He isn’t necessarily in need of overcoming a character flaw as much as he needs to adapt to a new life. Range of Ghosts is the story of him finding allies within people of different cultures and powers and discovering the people behind a war that has just begun.

Yet, even her antagonists have a degree of sympathy:

It was a sad truth, Shahruz reflected, that the nature of war was such that not everyone could survive it.

I’ve seen a reviewer comment, “How can you not fall in love with a hero who names his horse, Dumpling?” The way he treats this horse and their camaraderie built through their common will to survive is a great picture of why we grow to root for Temur. He moves on from this new friendship to meet a girl, Edene, from a small tribe who is willing to befriend him even though he has no name to give her. Elizabeth’s scenes are subtle, but effective in building sympathy for these characters. Without ruining what happens, I read with eager anticipation to see how their lives would turn out. Elizabeth does a fine job dangling this carrot far enough away to promise an epic and realistically romantic adventure before we’re satisfied.

I’ve yet to mention another of our heroines, the female wizard, Samarkar, whom Elizabeth describes best in this intro:

When she woke—if she woke—she would no longer be the Once-Princess Samarkar. She would be the wizard Samarkar, and her training would begin in truth.
She had chosen to trade barrenness and the risk of death for the chance of strength. Real strength, her own. Not the mirror-caught power her father, his widow, her half brothers, or her dead husband might have happened to shine her way.
It seemed a small sacrifice.

All of the women in Range of Ghosts exhibit a unique display of power, which also endears us to them, their sacrifices and their journey.

In this story of strong female characters, we also have a wonderfully unique and hard-to-swallow magic system where women suffer for males to gain strength. There is a scene on page twenty that must be shown to evoke the true power it represents, both in Elizabeth’s worldbuilding skills and in the stakes through which this world and power will be won:

Twin girls no older than his youngest daughter lay on the table before him, bound face to face, their throats slit with one blow. It was their blood that flowed down the gutter in the table to fall across his hands and over the sawn halves of a quartz geode he cupped together, reddening them even more than the sun reddened his sand-colored robes.
He stayed there, hands outstretched, trembling slightly with the effort of a strenuous pose, until the blood dripped to a halt. He straightened with the stiffness of a man who feels his years in his knees and spine, and with sure hands broke the geode apart. Strings of half-clotted blood stretched between its parts.
[Al-Sepehr] was not alone… (ellipses mine)
Shahruz drew a naked hand from his sleeve and accepted the gory thing with no evidence of squeamishness. It was not yet dry. “How long will it last?”
“A little while,” he said. “Perhaps ten uses. Perhaps fifteen. It all depends on the strength of the vessels.” The girls, their bodies too warmed by the stone and the sun to be cooling yet. “When you use it, remember what was sacrificed.”

In this world, and branch of magic system, women sleep so that men like Shahruz may absorb their restfulness; women like the twins described above are killed so that stones may be used for communication, with the duration of usefulness tied to the strength of the vessels. The ramifications of this type of magic system on culture is just one example of how this world bleeds with creativity.

I only have one aspect of Range of Ghosts that I did not enjoy as much as the rest of its parts, and that is the section between the halfway point and about ninety percent, where the traveling from one place to the next did not interest me on a scene by scene basis as did the first half of the book. It felt like pieces on a chessboard shuffling around in anticipation of a greater battle to come, which is understandable, but I have to admit that I wanted to enjoy that section more than I did. It could be that I missed some aspects of tension, but that was my experience. I mentioned above that her scenes are subtle, so maybe I didn’t read carefully enough as I eagerly read toward the climax. The last ten percent had a magical, dragon-fighting battle that really excited me for battles to come. I left this book wanting more, but also hoping that the traveling type scenes will be more engaging as the story unfolds.
Profile Image for M.K.  Carroll.
64 reviews17 followers
April 27, 2013
I got up early so that I could finish reading this book while the house was quiet and I could be alone with it, and I'm glad I did. After reading the last page, I sat with my coffee and just sat and explored how deeply satisfying I found this story, and thinking about why.

There is a lot for me to love in this book - the worldbuilding is excellent, and the storyline is smoothly paced. What I love most about it, though, is that this is a well-written story in which I can picture myself as an ordinary person. This is the kind of book that I ached for as a kid, and while things have changed some in sci-fi fantasy writing and in me, that ache has lessened, but I hadn't realized how much of it was still there until it was eased a bit by Range of Ghosts.

For some thoughtful reading on Orientalism in fantasy:
It is known: Game of Thrones, the Orient, and Conventional Wisdom (Stokes, Overthinking It blog)
"Consider the the rival powers in Westeros. The Starks are fatalistic, duty-bound, honorable but kind of unsophisticated. The Lannisters are appetite-driven plutocrats. The Baratheons were markedly varied, but the surviving one is driven and joyless, having perhaps inherited the Stark “hat” now that there’s not a Stark head left to wear it. The Martells are given to plotting and sexual license. We know less about the Tyrells, but they seem to value chivalry and court culture: consider Loras’ prowess, consider the splendor of Margaery’s entourage and weddings, consider how much more talented the Tyrell fool Butterbumps is than any of the other fools we’ve met.

Now, consider the rival powers among the Dothraki. Was it Khal Jommo’s khalasar that valued chivalry? Were Khal Ogo’s people the least trustworthy? Did Khal Drogo’s have a unique worldview shaped from their long tradition of cultural exchange with the Free Cities? Or are all the khalasars exactly freaking the same, because that’s how it works when you��re an oriental other in speculative fiction?"

The Big Idea: Elizabeth Bear (part of The Big Idea series on John Scalzi's Whatever blog)
"There have always been exceptions, and this is changing, but too many fantasy worlds traditionally have not only failed to step outside of Tolkien’s worldbuilding, but don’t question the Eurocentric view of world history so many English speakers (I can’t say “the majority,” because I believe at last check India has more English speakers than most of the rest of the world) are given in grammar school. We speak of Alexander the Great, after all–and the terrifying Mongol Hordes. But the roles of Alexander and of Genghis Khan in history are not actually so very different."

On a less serious note: I described this novel to a friend as "what Dany would read to Drogo as a bedtime story." Khal Drogo would like to hear more about Bansh, please.
Profile Image for Mitch.
355 reviews605 followers
April 1, 2012
It should be a crime for a fantasy to be this good. Somehow, Elizabeth Bear has created a world so richly detailed, so gripping, that I couldn’t put this book down for three hours, not until I finally got to that last page. And even after that, I was still thinking about this book an hour later (and not just to write this review).

I’m not usually a fan of elaborate settings and descriptions, but Bear really makes it work here. Maybe it’s because reading the same kinds of descriptions in that twentieth medieval inspired fantasy novel gets kinda tiring, but Bear’s Central Asian inspired world is a breath of fresh air. There’s magic and mystery, gore and carnage, all in the right places to make this book feel epic.

And this book really is epic. It’s about a boy, Temur, trying to survive as the empire his grandfather built crumbles around him. There are a lot of impressive scenes that really build up his story: the aftermath of a huge battle, gory, vivid, raw, the sheer desperation of refugees fleeing the fighting. And Temur is awesome throughout, tough in the face of desperation but still human when confronted with the horrifying aftermath.

I really liked the supporting characters too. Edene, Temur’s fiancé I guess, is cool and resourceful, while Samarkar, the wizard who ends up helping him, has an awesome backstory of her own that really puts an interesting twist on her interactions with Temur. The villain, who I won’t spoil, has some really good scenes too showing just how ruthless and calculating he is.

The best part, though, is definitely the mythology. I would brush up on my Asian geography and history just to really see how rich it is, but I don’t think it’s required. In every kingdom the characters visit, there’s a unique sky and deities that really add flavor to the story. But best of all, they all have different versions of the same legends and it all plays into the plot, which is an excellent twist. I can’t wait to see which ones are true (or maybe they all are?) and how they’re incorporated into the sequel.

A new personal favorite.
Profile Image for Angela.
457 reviews9 followers
January 31, 2013
I really wanted to enjoy this book more than I actually did but, ultimately, it left me unfulfilled.

Bear’s world-building is, as always, superb. She has created a unique vision here, where the sky changes according to whose empire you’re in, and where moons wink out of existence as the human life they’re tied to is cut short. And Temur, Samarkar, Hrahina and their Nameless adversary are all intriguing characters who are worth getting to know.

The story itself, though, is where this one falters. I never really bought into Temur being willing to wage a hero’s epic quest for some girl he slept around with a few times but really barely knew. It becomes more improbable given how carefully his relationship with Samarkar is fleshed out by comparison.

In addition, Temur and his band of travelers come together a little too easily. Everyone clicks. Everyone, even the young, pregnant princess-in-peril is uncannily *capable.* Everyone gets along. And, even when they encounter difficulties, the truth is, things weren’t that difficult. I never felt a sense of peril for these characters. The action scenes are written rather hurriedly and, even if a life is in danger, it is suddenly not in the next paragraph. They read too quickly, never giving the reader a chance to lose themselves in battle and fear for their protagonists the way they are able to get lost in Bear’s descriptions of the world itself.

And, though the book mercifully waits almost until its close to give us our prophecies (I’ve ranted on my particular dislike of prophecy as a storytelling device in several reviews of different authors now), a majority of said prophecy comes true in the very next chapter. So, instead of giving the reader something to wonder about, it just seems like a really unnecessary form of foreshadowing at a time (the climax of the novel) when the element of surprise may have worked better.

I’m not sure if I will pick up the second installment or not. Though I would like to know how this journey ultimately ends, I’m not yet convinced the voyage will be worth the payoff. Even with the twist in the novel’s final page.

Profile Image for The Captain.
1,073 reviews373 followers
February 25, 2019
Ahoy there me mateys! This here be book one of the Eternal Sky fantasy series. I am slowly making me way through this author’s backlog while waiting for the red-stained wings to come out in May 2019. And this was such a fantastic read.

This story be inspired by 12th and 13th century Asia. Ye follow the tales of Temur, the grandson of the Great Khan and the former Princess Samarkar who gave up her title to become a wizard. Temur was mistaken for dead after a losing battle and struggles to find new purpose in exile. Samarkar is dealing with the loss of having children and trying to earn and use her magic. A hidden cult is sowing strife between various nations and these two disparate people are pulled into the disarray.

But the book is so much more than that. Elizabeth Bear gives the reader stunning mythology, characters, world building, and a captivating plot. One of the secondary characters is a talking Tiger hybrid (love it!). In each region, the sky changes depending on which culture lives there. For example, Temur’s sky shows one star for each of the Khan’s sons and grandsons. With each death, the star winks out. There are angry corpse spirits, butterflies, cool magic, an awesome horse, and fun politics. While I thought the set-up for both characters was fantastic, it did take a longer while to get the action moving in comparison to other series. The plot seemed to have little direction for the first half of the book. I was okay with that.

Time flew by when reading this novel and I am so very glad that I read it. The good news is the rest of the trilogy be out so I won’t have to wait years for them. The bad news . . . making time to fit them in me schedule. But I shall mateys, I shall. Arrrr!

Check out me other reviews at https://thecaptainsquartersblog.wordp...
Profile Image for Megan Baxter.
985 reviews656 followers
June 9, 2014
Almost the only thing I don't like about this book is the title. It's just too nondescript, and I kept forgetting what it was. I kept telling my husband about this great Elizabeth Bear book I was reading....uh...what's-it's-title. I can remember the titles for the next two in the series much more easily, for some reason. But this one kept escaping my brain.

Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decision here.

In the meantime, you can read the entire review at Smorgasbook
Profile Image for Joel.
554 reviews1,622 followers
May 2, 2014
Really good except for the parts where I have no idea what is going on. She might as well just write "Blah blah blah politics."

Still planning on going on to book two, because magical ponies and giant cat people.
Profile Image for Rob.
848 reviews535 followers
August 1, 2016
Executive Summary: I enjoyed the last 25% or so, but that's just not enough for me to continue on in the series. 2.5 stars rounded up for a strong finish.

Audio book: I wasn't terribly impressed by Celeste Ciulla. I have a hard time deciding if some of the dialogue was bad, or if it was simply the inflections with with Ms. Ciulla read it. Overall she wasn't bad, but there were parts that made me cringe a bit/pulled me out of the story.

Full Review
I had been wanting to try Ms. Bear for about a year or so. Someone must have recommended this book/series to me at some point because it was already on my list when it was brought up to be read by my side reads group.

Then just before the read a few people either disappeared or backed out of the read, including the guy who suggested we read it. Maybe I should have taken that as a sign.

I think if I had read this book a few years ago I might have liked it more. As it was, I've read just too much fantasy that I like better.

The characters were interesting enough, but there just didn't feel like there was much plot. I was intrigued by how a person could be converted into a wizard, but very little was explained. Maybe both of these things won't be an issue in the later books. It's hard to say at this point.

The writing was decent, but not great. As I mentioned above, I'm not sure if some of the dialogue made me cringe, or if it was simply the inflection it was read. I'd say the best thing about this book was the protagonist's horse.

Overall I'd be willing to give Ms. Bear another chance, but not with the next book in this series.
Profile Image for Peter Tillman.
3,634 reviews329 followers
June 2, 2021
I've been reading this one in fits and starts. It's an early Bear, but still very well-written. My problem is, heroic fantasy is pretty low on my scale 0f interests. So I read a couple of chapters, put it down .... And there it sits for a week or two. Recommended by a GR friend as one of her favorite Bear books. I like Bear's SF a *lot*. And some of her fantasy, too. But this one is WAY overdue, so likely headed for a DNF. Sigh.

Maybe come back to it sometime? Probably not. Read over half, 2.5 stars or better, but it never "clicked" for me. Too bad.
Profile Image for Claudia.
954 reviews535 followers
Shelved as 'dnf-not-my-cup-of-coffee'
August 28, 2020
Way too repetitive with too many gory details right from the beginning. And too many details about horses (and I love horses). From other reviews seems to be a good one but I wasn't curious enough to pass beyond 8% to see, at least, what happens to the main character.
Profile Image for Jim.
Author 93 books2,269 followers
May 15, 2012
After I finished reading this book, I spent several weeks trying to figure out how best to review it. I kept coming back to the word “thoughtful.” Everything from the worldbuilding and mythology to character to sentence and word choice.

The book opens to Temur, heir to the Khaganate, stumbling through a battlefield. His hand has gone numb from clasping the bloody gash along the side of his neck– You know what? Let me just give you a few paragraphs from the first page.

Beyond the horizon, a city lay burning.

Having once turned his back on smoke and sunset alike, Temur kept walking. Or lurching. His bowlegged gait bore witness to more hours of his life spent astride than afoot, but no lean, long-necked pony bore him now. His good dun mare, with her coat that gleamed like gold-backed mirrors in the sun, had been cut from under him…

He walked because he could not bear to fall. Not here, not on this red earth. Not here among so many he had fought with and fought against.

And then you have Samarkar, who fled her home and gave up her title for the hope of becoming a wizard.

When the news of the fall of Qarash reached Tsarepheth, the Once-Princess Samarkar did not even know that a woman in red and saffron robes sat alongside her, because on that day Samarkar lay drowsy with poppy among rugs and bolsters in her room high up in the Citadel of wizards. Silk wraps wadded absorbent lint against a seeping wound low in her abdomen. When she woke–if she woke–she would no longer be the Once-Princess Samarkar. She would be the wizard Samarkar, and her training would begin in truth.

She had chosen to trade barrenness and the risk of death for the chance of strength.

One thing I think both of these introductions capture is the complexity of Bear’s writing. Wizardry isn’t a simple thing; you pay a price, and there’s no guarantee you’ll gain the power you hope for. We meet Temur as his dreams of battle and glory have been shattered by reality. In many stories, we see characters who change by the end of the tale. In this book, we meet characters already in flux, scared and confused and struggling.

I should mention the plot too, right? Okay, let’s see … we’ve got warring kingdoms and dark magic and gods and armies of ghosts and tiger warriors and kidnapped lovers and a journey over a fascinating world.

The world is one of my favorite parts of the books. This is a world where the sky literally changes depending on the nature of the kingdom below. In Temur’s land, there are moons for every heir, including himself. He looks up at the night sky to see which of his cousins have died based on how many of those moons have vanished. And then, later, he crosses into another land, and his family’s moons are nowhere to be seen. I love it.

Bear also does a wonderful job on her horses. I’m no expert, so I can’t say if she got every detail right, but she certainly avoided the “Horses = medieval motorcycles” mistake some epic fantasies fall into, and Temur’s new mare Bansh is one of the best characters in the book.

I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone looking for a quick read. Thoughtful writing requires thoughtful reading, and I couldn’t zip through this one the way I do some books. But if you’re looking for more complex, non-Western epic fantasy, I’d definitely suggest checking it out.

I will note that this is book one of a series, so you shouldn’t go in expecting things to be all wrapped up by the end.
Profile Image for Cendaquenta.
327 reviews118 followers
August 13, 2022
I'm a little tired, so not especially eloquent. I'll just give the bullet points.
Are you interested in:
- epic fantasy with a unique setting, rather than medieval-Europe-with-magic
- lots of really cool female characters
- one of whom is a wizard
- another of whom is A TIGER
- Extremely Good Horses (one of which may be more than she appears...)
- beautiful beautiful covers, like really, just go to the series page and look at them

And, last but not least, speaking of series:
- an actually completed trilogy

The correct answer to all of the above questions is YES YES YES, by the way. And if that be the case, I thoroughly recommend this book. 😁
Profile Image for Robyn.
827 reviews132 followers
March 4, 2015
I thought this was a beautifully written beginning to the series; Bear deftly weaves together Central Asian history and mythos and adds her own imaginings to it. I love the two main characters, and the wonderful details that Bear adds - she has an ethnographer's eye when describing the peoples of her world. Really, 4.5 stars.
Profile Image for Phil.
48 reviews9 followers
July 25, 2012
Here's a extract from my review, full link: http://afantasyreader.blogspot.ca/2012/07/range-of-ghosts-review.html

Elizabeth Bear is a renowned author but Range of Ghosts is her first work that I picked up. After a few chapters, I realized one of the reasons for her success; a smooth and imaginative writing style, not poetic but still, with a rhythm that make the prose feels personal, even passionate. Even with High Fantasy involved, the prose is taken up-close and feels a bit confining. However, the pace of her story is slightly too slow and the protagonists seems to be living in a black and white world, at least so far, and I think the so far is important.

Aside from her writing, Bear's dedication toward world building is clear enough right from the first moments of the book. Temur is part of a society reminiscent of the Mongolian steppe emperor. The novel is actually dedicated to some great-(...)-great grandsons of Genghis Khan. Curiously, this element is present mostly by reference since Temur's spending much time getting away from his homeland. Speaking of which, the sky he lives under and the one in each "region" visited or viewed by the characters are different. That's an interesting concept.

The author doesn't stop there. Religion and gods, myths, history, middle-eastern or oriental inspired societies and naming schemes, everything has been worked on laboriously and it transpire throughout all the story and characters. I admit that I had some problem with some names but eventually got over it. They may also have been too much references to different races, society or people in too short a span, more so since they were not all explored or important.

Then, there is the actual plot of Range of Ghost. That's where some problems emerged for me with Bear's novel. First, Temur's relationship with someone he encounters early on his exile (I will try not to give stuff away) has to be considered strong enough to become a life-threatening situation for him as he starts his travels. For me, that wasn't the case. I didn't feel the bond between the two to be substantial enough for him to give up, even if it's temporary, on his Khagnate heritage for that person's sake.

Eventually, he meets with Samarkar who has a more interesting and better-detailed background. Even if her reality is not the same as Temur's, the oriental influence is still present. Her motivations to become a wizard are well rooted and her storyline evolves through one of her assignment. With that, her meeting with Temur feels like a satisfying happening that will lead her into a strange journey where she will find more than danger. There's some romance in the air. So even if she's ultimately forced, or I should say dragged into this by necessity, at least she has some goal ahead of her. Her dedication is remarkable.

Going back to Temur, even after his party is assembled, with the addition of a Cho-tse, a tiger-shaped humanoid, his motive still seems intangible. At this point, I felt that the meta-story or the main arc of the book would remain unclear or would be barely explored in this first book. It felt awkward for me. Moreover, there are the mountains behind the name of the book. Let's just say that the crossing of the Range of Ghosts from one side, which seems like a hefty hardship is a walk in the park in the way back. Anyways, that's not in these small details that you can judge a book, but when they become too many, they tend to drag things down.

On the other side, there's Al-Sepehr, a priest of the Scholar-God. He's the usual power hungry incarnation but he's not working only on his master's behalf. He's helping Qori Buqa, Temur's uncle, in his move for the Khaganate. His thread brings to life the more intriguing aspects of the book and some interesting concepts for Bear's magic system. We discover more about magic from his use of it and the interactions he has with his agents and even a Djinn. When he is involved, you realize that this particular world is full of surprising elements.

As you can see, Range of Ghosts was a somewhat flawed book for me, not a bad novel but not the work I expected from the reviews I read and the status of Elizabeth Bear. I never felt compelled by the purpose driving the characters, which include the protagonists themselves at times and in the end, I never felt they were really in danger. Death seems to be reserved to the faceless minions of the villains. It may be that what the author wanted to achieve was to establish the foundations for her characters and her world but sadly, at least for me, that ought to come with a more engaging plot and at least some kind of closure at the end of the first book.

Even though there's some action and humour incorporated into Bear's novel, if you're a fan of the new popular trends in Fantasy like Abercombie's grittiness, that book is not for you. If you are more into elaborate but not complex tales, sometimes romantic or emotional, full of fantastic elements and slow going Fantasy, then, Range is right up your alley. It's the start of something but quite a "complete start".
Profile Image for Bryn Hammond.
Author 12 books350 followers
July 1, 2013
For me this book went by thirds: I loved the first third, slumped in the middle, then found the last very strong. That might be me: I noticed I liked it when they were on journeys, not in the palace and temple. The first third was most Mongolian, with a steppe journey and most attention paid to the horses (I missed them later); the last third had writing that wowed me and I was caught up in the climatic action. Had my interest been equal throughout, or had the scenes seemed to me more even, it’d be a five.

Most importantly, the characters are people I can like, unstereotyped, in fact it’s clear she’s been consciously anti-stereotype. Temur, a steppe prince, is a fine young lad, likeable; Samarkar who becomes his journey-partner is significantly older. She’s still learning her strength after humiliations in the past; she’s turned late to wizardry to escape the palace.

I haven’t read fantasy for years (used to) but I’m into steppe history, that’s why I came. A steppe-set fantasy? Great. From time to time I was impatient with the fantasy elements – I found the evil wizard tired, but I guess that’s why I don’t go for fantasy now.

There was heaps in here that was genuinely Mongolian or with other authentic input from historic societies – enough to keep me fascinated. For a start, the individualised horses, given the detail they are in steppe epic (and those epical flying horses, too). The idea that wizards have to be neutered: I’ve seen the logic of this with shamans who need to be infertile to practice. Even the moons in the sky, for the clan members of the Great Khan Temusan (hi Temujin) reminded me of the Mongolian fancy that we each have a star that blinks out when we die. I can on like this – I don’t know whether I’m stretching. We meet a woman-king – not a queen – and I think of a couple of woman khans who existed in the 12th century on the west steppe.

That brings me to why this book got on the James Tiptree Award honours list. I’m a fan of James Tiptree and that’s one award I care about. This book absolutely rids itself of sex stereotypes. Which isn’t easy to do – it’s rarely done. The different societies of the novel have different attitudes to women – you can see the feeds from around the medieval east – but what you won’t find is an assumption stood on sex. I love it.
Profile Image for Erica.
1,331 reviews435 followers
September 5, 2012
I actually liked the book about 4.5 star's-worth but I found that I kept thinking about the story long after I'd finished it, so I give it a full five stars because it's stuck with me.
This is probably the most difficult book I've ever read for my own pleasure. It was like an intense hike, grueling and painful, but when you reach the vista, it was all worth it, even if you're thoroughly exhausted.
The author loves words and it shows but her writing style is tweaked just enough that I couldn't get through a full sentence without having to ponder just what the sentence was supposed to mean. It's not that her style is wrong or overly formal, it's just different and it didn't flow well in my head. I love chewing words and I read slowly so I can suck every bit up with my eyes but this was too much even for me. It took me 200 pages to find my rhythm and learn to read her writing in a fashion that wasn't a hindrance to the story. And then it ended and I have to wait for the next book and by the time it gets here, I'll have to re-learn to read her all over again.
However, like I said, I felt it was worth the effort. I liked that the story was not Anglo-centric. I liked the characters, even those that were stock, two-dimensional stand-in people. I liked the different-but-interrelated stories that were happening. I liked the idea of gods having different areas of the world and those areas reflecting the differences between the gods; the skies in each region are different because of the god who rules the area. I liked the mythology behind the regions. To me, the world was fascinating, the people and stories compelling, and I enjoyed the imagery.
I look forward to the second book though maybe not so much the process of reading the story.
Profile Image for Joseph.
682 reviews86 followers
August 28, 2013
There is so very, very much to love about this book. To begin, it's the start of an epic fantasy trilogy, but given that the first two volumes are in the 300-350 page range, I suspect the entire trilogy will be shorter than a single installment of [insert your own example here]. The setting is wonderful and well-realized -- an imaginary world, but instead of being modeled on quasipseudomedieval Europe it's modeled on 15th century(?) Central Asia, with room for all manner of different nations & cultures to come together. The characters, Temur and Samarkar, are well-drawn and distinct. The villain is suitably menacing and, at least in the course of the first book, hasn't revealed his ultimate plans. And the writing is lovely, graceful and fluid. In some ways I was reminded at various points of Guy Gavriel Kay and Jacqueline Carey. I'm really looking forward to seeing how the story continues, and how it ultimately concludes.
Profile Image for Maggie K.
471 reviews120 followers
January 9, 2014
I truly love Elizabeth Bear's writing, and was not disappointed. She builds a beautiful and mystical universe, where Gods share the sky and the pantheons manipulate and cajole the lowly humans to keep chaos working in their favor.

Temur, the most likely heir to one of these kingdoms, is manipulated by honor into a quest to save his mate. Temur is a little difficult being so young, and is not defined very well other than the typical warrior type things, but that seems mostly because he hasn't defined who he is yet....he is a work in progress.

Some of the other characters seem a little more well rounded, and this book is overall a fantastic set up for the next book in the series, but I have high hopes.
Profile Image for Tudor Ciocarlie.
457 reviews215 followers
April 8, 2012
The best fantasy novel I've read since Guy Gavriel Kay's Under Heaven with extraordinary characters, fabulous settings and interesting mythology.

I have read about many strange skies, but until Range of Ghosts I've never thought about what impact our sky had on our minds and souls. We are like this today because when humans first looked up they saw a blue sky and one sun in the day; we feel and think like this because they saw a black sky and one moon in the night.
Profile Image for Brian Staveley.
Author 24 books3,978 followers
August 11, 2016
Bear looks east for inspiration in this book - to Tibet and Mongolia (and more peripherally, China) -- with amazing results. The societies involved are richly imagined and powerfully evoked. I found the novel so compelling I was convinced she had spent time in that part of the world researching. As it turns out, she just has a computer and a staggeringly good imagination. The plot is complex and convincing. Top notch.
Profile Image for Anya.
763 reviews168 followers
April 3, 2016
The audio is excellent, the world is so cool and unique, the characters diverse and strong. There is just the right of romance brewing, the friendships are great, the writing is gorgeous. Why didn't I read this trilogy sooner??
Profile Image for Sara.
364 reviews161 followers
April 15, 2015
Liked this a lot, very different than what I've read and the world building was pretty great!
Profile Image for Tim Martin.
713 reviews43 followers
August 11, 2013
I love non-European settings for fantasy novels! There are simply not enough of them out there. Nothing against Tolkien, noting against a setting based on medieval France or Britain or Germany, or the Vikings, or even ancient Greece or Rome…but I adore well written fiction based in southern, central, and eastern Asia (or other areas for that matter outside of Europe). Here the setting has a very clear basis in the Arabian Middle East, China, Tibet, Mongolia, and the lands of the Silk Road, with author Elizabeth Bear doing a good job of capturing some of the flavors and atmosphere of such lands, be it in the form of cultural mannerisms, dress, architecture, politics, land, or wildlife.

The plot is easy to get into and the main characters likable. The two principal characters, whose plotlines intersect fairly early on, are Temur (or Re-Temur) and Samarkar. Temur is from a Mongolian setting, the only surviving legitimate blood heir to his grandfather’s Khaganate, a vast empire that has recently broken up in bloody civil war. A marked man as his ruthless cousin cannot consolidate his hold on the Khagate’s lands (not to mention rebuild it) while Temur still lives, he decides that his only hope is a self imposed exile. Samarkar is also an heir, though to different civilization, the mountains Rasan Empire. Or was an heir; once her father got a son on a new wife, in order to protect herself and her freedom she renounced all worldly powers to become a wizard (an organization called the Wizards of Tsarepheth), hoping to steer clear of deadly family politics.

Though the stories of Temur and Samarkar seem quite unrelated at first, they both become intertwined due to the machinations of the evil sorcerer Mukhtar ai-Idoj, al-Sephr of the Nameless Sect of the Rahazeen. On the surface perhaps seemingly a man with some admirable traits; educated, intelligent, resourceful, he plots and schemes throughout the book (with chapters detailing his actions) to bring the world under the control of his Scholar-God, using mortal and non-human allies and powerful spells and magic items. We see him use agents in other empires, assassins, ghosts, djinn, rukhs, and all manner of tools at his disposal to essentially conquer the world.

There were many things to like about this book. One of my favorites was how the sky varied in each land, with the color of the sky itself, how bright or dim the sun is, where it rises and sets, and what the night sky looks like (even how many moons there are) reflecting that land’s political and religious makeup. Another idea I really liked was the concept that wizards – at least those in Rasan – have to in order to create magic, give up the ability to create life (i.e. the ability to procreate). Other things I liked were the cool monsters (the ghosts were pretty creepy), their skillful inclusion in the life and landscape of the novel, and an interesting thought, one I had not previously encountered, of making Temur’s horses such unique individuals, which each horse not only having a name but have a distinct appearance and personality, in essence becoming a valued memory of the group as well as a real character rather than just some “vehicle.”

There were some slow parts of the book in the middle section but the last third or so had a great pace, with a Central Asian version of the Fellowship of the Ring (of sorts) forming, with in addition to Temur and Samarkar other individuals joining it, including a Chinese-style monk who had taken a vow of silence and a member of a powerful, sentient bipedal tiger race known as the Cho-tse (reminding me a little of the pardines of Jay Lake’s Green trilogy, right down to the different view of gods and destiny than the humans in the setting, though the similarity does not run that deep). The group clicks very nicely and is fun to read about.

I also admire the idea of including a Mongol type empire not at its early stages or at its height (and especially as mere bad guys) but exploring its aftermath after it had broken apart and also the complicated, multifaceted way it was viewed by neighboring cultures and empires.

There were a few things I had some problems with. There were a few coincidences in the book, of people (or horses!) being in just the right place at just the right time. This is even commented upon by characters in the book. All I can for now is that in a land where gods and monsters play such a huge role, maybe this is just how this world works. I hope though it is not done too much though. The action scenes were good but could have been a tiny bit better described. Not to give too much away, but Temur falls in love with a woman in the book (or does he?) – one that is not Samarkar – and as a result of their rather brief relationship gets involved in an epic quest (or at least that is one of the reasons). All well and good, but I don’t know that they were together long enough to merit such a heroic effort on his part, though again, maybe it could be a cultural thing (that was “his” woman, or he felt duty or honor bound to act in a way that perhaps someone from another culture would not).

All in all though an enjoyable epic fantasy, one I am continuing with, having already started the second volume in the series.
Profile Image for Lata.
3,599 reviews192 followers
February 10, 2021
Elizabeth Bear drops us right into the aftermath of a bloody battle, with Re Temur gravely injured. Danger and death stalk him, and those around him, as Temur's uncle Qori Buca wants to eliminate all possible contenders for Khan. After escaping, Temur falls in with refugees, and eventually starts a relationship with Edene. An attack of blood ghosts, sent by a society of assassins employed by Qori Buca, ends with Edene captured, and Temur on their heels for her.
Elsewhere, former princess and now wizard Samarkar is on a mission when she meets Temur;
their paths and lives become intertwined, as more attempts are made against Temur and anyone with him. The pair also meet a tiger warrior-priestess, Hramina, who falls in with them.

The description above fails to convey just how detailed and interesting Elizabeth Bear's world is, which is centred on the Asiatic steppes, bordered by empires reminiscent of China and Persia, with the Celadon Highway running between them. This world is full of tensions, with civil war on the steppes, an unknown and unstoppable plague destroying whole towns, political intrigue causing chaos in the various kingdoms making up this world, and at the centre of all the events is a society of assassins, intent on starting war and recapturing their dominance and rule of all the kingdoms.

There is such a wealth of cultures and religions and species (Hrahima, tiger warrior is the best!!), and while the worldbuilding is stellar, it's the characters that had me reading as fast as I could to find out what would happen to them next. And the women!! Such a wealth of different kinds of women, such as wizard Samarkal, Princess Payma, ferocious Edene, or amazing Hrahima, and even the wonderful Bansh the steppe horse, seemingly picked by Temur as he left the battlefield on which he nearly died at the book's open.

I am totally reading the rest of this series.
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