Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear – Book Review

Book Cover for Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear

Range of Ghosts
Elizabeth Bear

Range of Ghosts is epic fantasy that’s refreshingly different from just about everything out there.

It delivers vast scale, fascinating cultures, and rich mythologies that will keep any epic fantasy junkie happy. The characters are fantastic, with complex emotions and subtle interactions. The story is strong, and as the first book in a trilogy, there’s still much more to come.

But what makes Range of Ghosts special is what it does differently.

My result: Recommended
4 Stars - Recommended

The Eternal Sky trilogy is inspired by Central Asia and the Silk Road, and draws from the cultures of that area. Gone is the generic medieval feel of Tolkien’s descendants. Range of Ghosts begins with the endless plains of the Mongolian steppes, and takes you to mountain monasteries and dynastic strongholds. Future volumes will extend the story map into cultures based on China and Iran.

Range of Ghosts is its own kind of fantasy, rich and mythic. Here, myths shape the world. The sky changes as characters pass between regions, reflecting the beliefs and cosmology of the dominant culture. There’s a whole planet of diverse cultures, and a vast range of human history for inspiration. This trilogy will remind you of that richness, and reward you for not settling for just another medieval Europe clone.

The cast of characters is diverse and empowering. As you might expect from the historical setting, white is decidedly NOT the default, and it’s refreshing to find such a range of different cultures represented. But even beyond that, it’s the simple beauty of how characters interact with each other, of how cultures and people shift and adapt as they come into contact. Each character has a strong voice, and culture is expressed through sharply honed description and subtle characterizations. Their attitudes towards each other shift as they interact, and gain understanding over time. As characters from different backgrounds interact, their perceptions shift. Every character is fully developed and layered, even the villains, and it’s a joy to watch their reactions to each other shift over time.
 
The well-balanced cast also includes excellent gender representation. There are many strong women in a variety of roles, and the positions of power are split between both genders. But Range of Ghosts does not ignore history or the challenges these women would have faced. Each culture has different attitudes towards gender roles. Some are quite restrictive, but the characters are too fully drawn to feel weak. Instead, you see women finding a way to thrive, no matter their circumstances.

If anything, this book may go slightly too far towards the opposite extreme. Men are in the minority here. The male lead spends enough time in the company of women that he rarely converses with another man. (When another man does join their party, it’s a monk under a vow of silence, which doesn’t help on the conversational front.) But it’s a refreshing change to have ‘not enough male characters’ as a concern, and the men we do meet are strong enough to hold their own.

Range of Ghosts is feel-good fantasy. Not in the escapist way it’s usually meant, but because it feels good to know that fantasy can actually be this. These are the kind of strong capable characters I want to see. It’s a well told story in a world I want to explore. Characters are survivors and everyday heroes, not bitter, broken shells. Enough of the grimdark, bring me more like this!

If you like Range of Ghosts, try these titles...

You might also enjoy:

  • Three Parts Dead – Urban fantasy where the gods are real, with a non-white female lead who defies stereotypes.
  • The Killing Moon – Epic fantasy based on Ancient Egyptian cultures, with multi-layered characters.
  • Under Heaven – Fantasy based on 8th century China, this time more to the historical fiction side.
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