Range of Ghosts is the start of a fantasy epic set in another world modeled after the central asian steppes. You follow Temur, member of the ruling family of a nation very much like the Mongols, as he tries to pull his life back together after nearly dying in a giant battle between warring factions of his own extended family.
Along the way he is joined by a newly minted wizard, a warrior monk, a magical horse and an anthropomorphic tiger. There are big things happening in the local political landscape, driven by an evil magician and they’re going to put things right.
“You’re the Great Khagan’s grandson?”
“One of.” Temur snorted. “There were hundreds. Qori Buqa has been killing his way through every one of us that he can find. But I am the one he should not have hammered on the anvil until I was forged into an enemy.”
While it’s based loosely on central Asia, this really isn’t Earth. The world is a series of steppes and mountains, and each kingdom has quite literally its own sky. The world-building is lush and very thorough. It’s rare that an author gets this creative with a setting, and I like it.
You get varied geography, all sorts of megafauna, quick introductions to different cultures and multiple magic systems. This makes the world of the Wheel of Time or the Belgariad look over-simplified. Where other series will frequently reveal one culture or region per book, Bear takes us to one fascinating place after another before she finishes the first one. While I could enjoy an entire book learning about the rock herding miners, she helped keep the pace up by not spending too long on any one area.
I do have one nit, and that’s that Bear falls into the trap of tweaking names. I can understand that she didn’t want to say ‘Russian’ or ‘Kievan’, but the rukh might better have been a roc. There were some other fantastical beasts that I just never could figure out. I don’t know what they were supposed to be and I didn’t get a solid enough description to picture them and figure it out that way.
Range of Ghosts is in multiple third person limited point of view (traditional for epic fantasy). This means that you follow along and see events from the viewpoint of multiple characters, but you never end up truly inside their heads. You do get some of their thoughts, but it isn’t as personal as first person. Given that it looks like we’re going to have quite the cast of characters, first person would have probably been too confusing.
No naive farmboys. Bear promised this, and she delivered. I love that no one is doing the traditional “dammit, why me?” whining. That’s probably because they’re all adults. Every viewpoint character is experienced and capable in their own way. They’re also all drawn along by different motivations. This isn’t a group of religious zealots all trying to save the world. Temur’s out for revenge, Edene wants to escape, Samarkar-la wants to save her people from both her brother and outside threats, and Hrahima is just plain inscrutible.
You get the sense that Temur might have done some of the whining, if he’d been a different sort of man. Instead we meet him as the world has just knocked him down. He takes a moment to shake it off, gets up and starts walking again.
Most epic fantasies start out with a great big quest plot. Throw the ring into the pit of Dhoom. Fulfill your magical destiny to become king. You find out about it pretty early in the first book.
I think Temur committed to a particular quest in the latter half of the book, but that might just be a temporary thing. It’s a big world, people have complicated motivations, and no wise old man is handing out maps and explaining things. This is grown up fantasy, and I love it.
This is an epic fantasy. It lets you know fairly early on that it’s not going to be sprinting towards an ending. Rather, this is more like a brisk walk down the greenbelt. Every few minutes you have to pause or slow down a little to look at something cool.
I really liked this book. It called out to be slowly savored, but I’m afraid I couldn’t resist plowing through it more quickly than it deserved. I never managed the whole slow food thing, either. While it’s definitely part of a longer series, this first book was enjoyable all by itself. Hopefully, there will be sequels soon.