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WesternSFA
Range of Ghosts
by Elizabeth Bear
Tor, $15.99, 348pp
Release Date: January 29, 2013
This was a very interesting tale. It takes place in a landscape reminiscent of the Mongol steppes. It is not Earth; this is a fascinating world where the skies change from empire to empire, reflective of the respective gods.

Temur is an heir to an empire which is being torn apart by civil war as two of his relatives battle it out. He is left for dead on a battlefield but when the surviving king-to-be discovers Temur is less than dead, hunters are sent to find him. Princess Samarkar was also in line for a throne until her father got himself a new son. With that turn of events, she decided that she would renounce all her worldly power in a bid for wizardly power. By giving up the ability to bear children – surgically – she hopes to win true power. Not every woman who goes through the procedure succeeds. Fortunately, she does. She is then sent on a fact-finding mission to a city rumored to be attacked.

Temur falls in with refugees and develops an attraction to a young woman. The caravan is attacked by ghosts and the young woman kidnapped. Temur vows to rescue her.

At the city, Samarkar and her companion discover an empty, dead city. They also discover a half-dead soldier – Temur. Temur has been doing his best to avoid the deadly ghosts hunting him at his uncle’s behest. Samarkar risks her life to penetrate the city and discover the secret of its destruction. The three then journey to the dubious safety of another relative of Temur’s while trying to divine what or who is behind all the attacks which seem to be an effort to destabilize the region.

This is a pretty good tale with lots of travel, interesting companions, great evil, sacrifice, political intrigue and, of course, love. It is also the first of a series so the story doesn’t end here; in fact, it pretty much ends with a couple of cliff-hangers.

The characters are good; we get a lot of perspective from both Temur and Samarkar, less from their companions but maybe they’re being saved for the next book. The world-building is actually rather sparse. The wizards enclave is well-drawn, as is the bad guy’s fortress and some of the landscapes through which they travel; but we don’t learn much about the empires or how ordinary people live in this world. The skies change color and character from one land to another but with no explanation of the how and why. It made me start wondering if the world was a patchwork of different dimensions.

The pace was a little slow but the plot is interesting and I will be looking for the sequel. Ms. Bear is a very competent writer and plotter. ~~ Catherine Book

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