Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear

As part of World’s Without End WoGF reading challenge for July I read Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear.  I must say that I’ve been enjoying myself with this challenge.  It’s given me the incentive to pick up authors that I haven’t previously read and it’s introduced me to some amazing books that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading.   So I expected much the same with Range of Ghosts – after all this book has received a lot of glowing reviews and the author is very well respected (not to mention can I just bring your attention to that gorgeous cover).  Anyhow, I won’t say that there was an immediate feeling of love for this and I certainly didn’t feel it started off easily but, after my initial hesitancy, the story did win me over and I will definitely pick up the next book.

The story starts with the aftermath of a fearsome battle.  A lone survivor makes his way through the dead bodies.  Temur.  Injured on the battlefield and suspected dead, he now makes his way South to the mountains to hopefully live out a quiet life in exile. We then skip to a different storyline.  To the once Princess Samarkar.  Originally heir to an empire her claim ended when her father’s new wife bore him a son and she became a bartering tool, sent to a marriage that ended in failure and bloodshed.  Samarkar has renounced her royalty to become a wizard. In doing so she not only renounces all her worldly status but also her ability to bear children.

Temur and Samarkar’s destinies are inextricably linked.  They will come together with a small band of travellers in a stance against the evil that is bringing about destruction across their world.

So, I must confess that I found this book a little difficult to get along with to start with – in fact for almost 50% of the journey.  Which is a bit of a surprise for me because the world building is thorough and the build up of the two main characters Temur and Samarkar is excellent.  On top of that we have ghosts, massive birds of prey, assassins, battles and other weird and wonderful things.  I enjoyed reading about both the main characters so it is a bit of a mystery for me as to why I felt the first half of the story dragged.  After all, I don’t need my stories to be action packed or to rush along at breakneck pace.  I suppose if I look at this seriously the first 100 or so pages are primarily about world building and really very little else happens other than an introduction to the two main and a couple of periphery characters.  Personally I think well rounded characters are a must to make a story compelling.  if I don’t particularly care about the characters then it all becomes a little bit meaningless and it took me a little longer than I would otherwise have liked to really start feeling for these two.  However, I did form an attachment, just not immediately and I think that may well be where my main issue was.

Another niggle for me about the story is that put in black and white it’s basically a rescue mission.  And yet, I felt that there’s only a very tenuous connection between Edene and Temur – in fact I thought he had a much stronger connection to Samarkar – I guess we’ll see what happens in the next instalment.  It’s probably simply that we didn’t spend much time with Edene so I haven’t really got a feel for her and yet alternately Samarkar has really come into her own and is an interesting and strong character to read about.

The second half of the book however I felt things really came together a lot more.  The travellers group expanded and became very interesting in nature.  They travelled to new places where they were out of their element and met new people, they also came much more under threat with sneaky assassins dogging their movements.  I particularly enjoyed one of the characters – Hrahima –  I won’t really expand too much on her because it will spoil it for others but I do think she’s great to read about.  I also love Temur’s horse – Bansh – and if you’ve already read this then you’ll know why and I suspect will probably feel the same way!

Now, in spite of my initial criticisms the author turned me round with this.  Yes, it was a bit slow to start off with, whether that was because of the names or maybe it just felt like a lot to take on board at the beginning I don’t know, I’m sure it’s got a lot more to do with the way I initially approached the story rather than any fault in the telling.  I just think I went into this with an unrealistically high level of expectation which is always a lot for any novel to live up to.  However I do know that I now feel keen to pick up No.2 and see where this goes next and fortunately I don’t have to wait for the next instalment which is always a bonus!

 

Image taken from Goodreads

Image taken from Goodreads