Audiobook Review: Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear

26 04 2013

Range of Ghost by Elizabeth Bear (The Eternal Sky, Bk. 1)

Read by Celeste Ciulla

Recorded Books

Length: 12 Hrs 32 Min

Genre: Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: Range of Ghost is a beautiful sprawling epic fantasy, full of deep mysteries, wonderful imagery and truly engaging characters. Bear twists and turns your expectations of what fantasy should be, combining myth and fables with an intricate history that is reminiscent of the vast dynasties and mongrol hordes of Asia in the 12th century.

Grade: B

I hate reviewing Fantasy. I can never seem to manage to get my feelings about a Fantasy novel to flow from my brain to my fingers then onto my blog. I will often sit down and read some of my favorite bloggers discussing the latest in Fantasy novel with an eloquence I just can’t manage. They know the lexicon, they can analyze the trends and tropes, and deftly describe what they love and hate about a fantasy novel with a poetic flair that also manages to be accessible to everyday fantasy fans like me. Yet, when I sit down and try to write about a Fantasy novel that I recently read, I feel like an 80 year old man trying to figure out The Google. Specifically, where I have trouble is in second world fantasy. In fact, I only recently learned  that what I typically would refer to as epic, or Tolkieneque fantasy that takes place in a separate world totally apart from our plane of existence is called Second World Fantasy. Give me some portal fantasy or urban fantasy, and I’m cool. Part of my problem is I often have trouble with the worlds in general. I’m not sure if it’s due to a lack of imagination or that fact that I grew up in a home that looked at Fantasy novels as the gateway drug to Satanism, it just takes me awhile to buy into the world. At least with Portal Fantasy, I have characters who share some similar experience, or with Post Apocalyptic Fantasy, the world can be an extrapolation of our own. Yet, with Second World Fantasy, I am always looking for a tether. I am trying to find a link that can be a reference point. Typically, I can do this using history, for example, once I figured out that A Song of Ice and Fire was in part inspired by The War of the Roses, I was all good. Yet, I often times try figure out what settings are supposed to represent, or which Earth bound society a race or ethnic group within a Fantasy novel are inspired by. Often, without this tether, I feel like I’m visiting a stranger’s house and I never truly feel comfortable.

After a devastating war of succession amongst the Plain people, Temur, grandson of the Great Khagan, is now without family or tribe, lost among a flood of refugees. Yet, his star still burns in the Eternal Sky and his enemies would love to put it out. Samarakar was once a princess and heir to the Rasa dynasty, until her brother supplanted her and married her off to a political ally. Now, widowed, she has become a wizard, required to sacrifice her ability to reproduce to ensure her safety from her brother’s machinations. With an evil force unleashing disease and death, these two once heirs must join up to set right the course of history for their world. Range of Ghost is a beautiful sprawling epic fantasy, full of deep mysteries, wonderful imagery and truly engaging characters. Bear twists and turns your expectations of what fantasy should be, combining myth and fables with an intricate history that is reminiscent of the vast dynasties and mongrol hordes of Asia in the 12th century. Range of Ghosts wasn’t always an easy read for me. As I mentioned, I often struggle with second world fantasy and I never quite fully immersed me in Bear’s world. I felt like an outsider, trying to understand it, and every time I think I got a grasp on something Bear would introduce a new element that had me reevaluating things. This was both disconcerting and exciting. What I really loved was the characters. Relatively early on I felt invested in what was happening to them, fascinated with their journeys, and intrigued by what was to come. I loved that Bear’s magical system was more practical, a welcome change to the often flamboyant magic that seems to serve as the end all answer to all of the character’s problems. Here, the magic was a tool, and not their savior. I really liked the balance between the two main characters, the younger, more rash Temur, and the more experienced Samarakar, whose inner strength often masked her own insecurities and naiveté. Bear has a real knack for writing wide open battle scenes, yet giving them an intimate feel. I found her action quite descriptive, and her pacing crisp. I did begin to feel a bit fatigued with the non stop pace of the second half, and was wavering on whether I would want to continue the series, but Bear wrapped it up nicely, leaving me quite intrigued about where these characters will be heading next. Range of Ghost deserves all the accolades it has received. It’s a beautiful conceived fantasy novel and most of my issues with it are more due more to my limitations as a fantasy reader than any deficiency of the author.

This is my first experience with Celeste Ciulla as a narrator and overall my feelings were mixed. She definitely has a beautiful voice and I felt the majority of the characters, particularly the female characters, were well done. There were moments where her reading of the exotic names of characters and settings had an almost musical feel, rolling her tongue and emphasizing disparate syllables capturing the poetic feel of the world Bear created. Yet, I also had some issues. Her pacing was sometimes stiff, full of harsh diction that, at times, sucked some of the beauty from the prose. It was unbalanced, she would read a line, almost harsh and flat, over enunciating words, then end it with a place name or character name and give that an exotic flair. I felt her voice for Temur was a bit too soft, and uncertain. There were moments where the shock of his experiences could lead to this, but I feel at some point he should have seemed harder, more wary, yet Ciulla’s interpretation seemed to lack any of the pivotal character development that Bear was utilizing. Overall, it wasn’t a bad performance. The pacing issues were problematic at times, but it was balanced by the beauty of her voice and exotic flair she gave to much of the production.

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5 responses

26 04 2013
nrlymrtl

Bear is one of my favorite fantasy writers, tho it has been 2-3 years since I last read a book of hers. Time to dive back in and this looks like a great book to do it with. Great review. I hadn’t heard the term Second World fantasy. Makes it sound like alternate reality – kind of scifi-y.

26 04 2013
theguildedearlobe

This is my first experience with Bear outside of her short story in METAtropolis. I want to go an check out some of her short stories and her scifi stuff, since it seems a bit more suited to my tastes.

27 04 2013
nrlymrtl

My man read METAtropolis and really enjoyed it. Lots of great authors contributed to it. Like GRRMartin’s Wild Card series in concept.

26 04 2013
montsamu

This is one I have wanted to pick up but haven’t gotten to it yet. On the topic of portal fantasy, have I ever tried to press Joel Rosenberg’s Guardians of the Flame series upon you? Starts with The Sleeping Dragon, and it’s been coming to audio this year.

26 04 2013
theguildedearlobe

You should try it, i think you would like it. I’m going to try to listen to as many of the Nebula and Hugo nominees as possible this summer. Strange thing, every time I hear Rosenberg’s name mentioned, i have mistaken him for the Political Thriller author Joel C. Rosenberg, I hadn’t realized they were separate people. I will try and check him out. I also want to finish GGK’s Fionavar series, i read the first two, but never the third.

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