Saturday, October 22, 2016

Range of Ghosts (Elizabeth Bear)

Range of Ghosts
(The Eternal Sky series, Book 1)
Elizabeth Bear
Fiction, Fantasy
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: In the wake of the Great Khan's death, warring brothers destroy the vast Qersnyk empire he built until the steppe grasses turn red with blood and the sky black with vultures, as the moons that mark the Khan's heirs vanish from the night skies. When Temur, son of the rightful heir, wakes alone on a battlefield, he turns his back on war and power struggles, hoping for a simpler life as he joins refugees fleeing the embattled realm... but after ghostly attacks steal his new lover, Temur must brave sorcery and hardship to rescue her - and may be riding straight into a trap.
Samarkar-la was once a princess, but her marriage ended in humiliation and disaster. Rather than be another pawn in her brother's quest for power, she instead goes to the Citadel to undertake training as a wizard. Even if she never finds her power, the training process leaves her barren, never to bear a child who might be used to threaten the Ragan crown. It's a better life than she might have hoped to live - but not without dangers, as she discovers when she is sent to investigate the fate of a fallen city and discovers instead a sorcerous taint and an unspeakable atrocity.
As Temur and Samarkar soon discover, dark forces lurk behind the unrest spreading across the land, forces bound to an ancient enemy known as the Sorcerer-Prince or Carrion-King, who rose from the mortal plane to challenge the very gods in the heavens in a conflict that nearly destroyed the world.

REVIEW: I've been meaning to try Elizabeth Bear's work, so when this title came up in Tor's eBook-of-the-month club, I figured I'd give it a try. She bases this world on Asian mythology, centered around steppelands and a nomadic race of conquerors in the vein of Genghis Khan and his Mongols. It lends the work a nicely exotic flavor, albeit one that took a while for my American mind to adapt to, with some interesting mind's-eye-candy. The skies of a realm change depending on whose culture (and gods) are ascendant, while exotic creatures like the giant rukh bird, living stone talus beasts, and humanoid tigerlike Cho-tse populate the land. Bear takes her time establishing this new world and its quirks, positioning her characters slowly and carefully before finally bringing them together and getting the main plot going, a slow-burn opening that might've frustrated me more if there hadn't been so many neat things to learn and see along the way, and decently-drawn characters to experience them with. Some few plot elements felt a little weak, and I admit I couldn't keep track of all the various realms and some of the peripheral players, but overall I found it a refreshing change of pace from the many pseudo-European fantasies I've read. I expect I'll track down the second volume soon, even if it's not a free download.

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