For my mother's most recent birthday, I bought her Range of Ghosts, by Elizabeth Bear, mainly because I had heard good things of it, and partly because I knew I would be coming to visit her and would therefore get to read it too (just to show I'm not entirely selfish, I bought her another book present just for her). Sadly, when I arrived, I found that she had put aside Range of Ghosts (though not abandoned it) half read.
And when I started reading myself, I could see her point. The story takes place in a vast canvas of difficult to keep track of places (basically Asia, with Mongolia, China, India, and Persia equivalents represented). The author offers a the generous largesse of social and religious details; so generous in their variety that they are a bit daunting (for instance, the dieties of this world are so present that the land where each pantheon is worshipped has, literally, its own sky). But once I had read enough to know my way around a bit, I was able to enjoy the book lots!
I'm going to do something I almost never do, and use the blurb lifted straight from Amazon (I've frittered away my morning time weeding....sorry!):
"Temur, grandson of the Great Khan, is walking away from a battlefield where he was left for dead. All around lie the fallen armies of his cousin and his brother, who made war to rule the Khaganate. Temur is now the legitimate heir by blood to his grandfather’s throne, but he is not the strongest. Going into exile is the only way to survive his ruthless cousin.
Once-Princess Samarkar is climbing the thousand steps of the Citadel of the Wizards of Tsarepheth. She was heir to the Rasan Empire until her father got a son on a new wife. Then she was sent to be the wife of a Prince in Song, but that marriage ended in battle and blood. Now she has renounced her worldly power to seek the magical power of the wizards. These two will come together to stand against the hidden cult that has so carefully brought all the empires of the Celadon Highway to strife and civil war through guile and deceit and sorcerous power."
So basically there are these two main characters, and they become united in a common cause against a really nasty enemy, and there is just tons of intrigue, and courtly plotting, and journeying around a world where hungry ghosts can rip the flesh from the living, rocs fly overhead, and magic, and the gods, are very real. And there's love, and despair, and determination...and it's easy to hope for a happy ending, and one is left wanting the sequel rather a lot!
It reminded me to some extent of Guy Gavriel Kay's historical re-envisionings, although perhaps a bit more densely textured, more immediate in detail and intensity. My only substantive reservation is that the language occasionally bounces into Latinate stiffness in a noticeable way, and there's just a tad more verbiage than I though absolutely necessary--it's not always a smooth flow of plain prose. Here's an example that I hope gives some sense of what I mean:
"The words chilled her innards. If he meant to chew her out for some infraction, he would not hesitate to do so in front of witnesses. Which meant he had some news to impart that he did not wish to become public knowledge just yet." Page 172
Perhaps I noticed this because I so rarely read books for adults! Another, almost irrelevant, quibble I had also stems from the fact that I prefer children's books. Quite early on our hero, Temur, begins a lovely relationship with a lovely girl, and they have sex. Which is just fine. I am in favor of happy consensual sex! Except that at this point in the book I hardly knew her, and so was somewhat jarred when I found out exactly what her nipples look like. Actually, I don't think I ever really want to know what any fictional character's nipples look like.
But at any rate, Range of Ghosts is a grand tapestry of multi-cultural, magical, fun, and by the time I had finished it, I had convinced my mother to try it again....
I especially appreciated the multicultural part--it is so nice not to be in medieval Europe! However, I was disappointed by the cover. The dude on horseback is fine, but if you look closely at the upper left, you will see a woman's eyes. Here they are: In this Asian inspired world, why the heck are they blue?