Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear

Okay, waiting to get THE SHATTERED PILLARS, which will probably arrive while I’m gone for this weekend’s show, which means I won’t get to read it till Monday. Which is unfortunate! Because having finished RANGE OF GHOSTS, I can tell you that the first book does not stand alone. I don’t know that the second book will, either, but hey, I’ll chance it.

The carrion-king: creepy, isn’t he? I actually sort of like scorpions, but I’m not keen on how he’s set up poor Edene as part of his Scary Plan, whatever that turns out to be.

Love Temur. Love his magic horse, who is handled far, far better than most magic horses in fantasy. It’s only toward the end that we become pretty sure that yes, she is magic. She is clearly an Akhal Teke, btw. That is plainly the real-world breed on which the steppe ponies are based. They really do often have a metallic sheen to their coats, thus:

See the long flat muscles, the lean build? The metallic sheen is in fact created by the structure of the hair; the opaque part of each hair is reduced, the translucent part makes up more of each hair; thus the sheen. This is a fascinating breed and it is so cool that Elizabeth Bear did her research and made the horses fit the landscape.

The dogs, too. The working dogs she described are matted, which in fact was an asset because the heavy felted or corded mats protected them from wolves and weather, but here’s what those big sheep-guarding dogs look like in the real world:

These are Tibetan mastiffs. Again, Bear’s description is perfectly clear; if you know this breed exists, you can recognize her dogs right off.

Plus the food and the clothes and the attitudes created by the nomadic lifestyle and the societal attitudes toward women — the steppes are a good place to be a woman; other places not so much — and the landscape, of course. All very nicely drawn.

And have I mentioned the moons? You should read this series just for the creative astrology!

Okay, more extensive comments after I read the second book. But one more Akhal Teke picture to end, because it doesn’t show the metallic sheen so well, but it’s a GREAT picture:

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14 Comments Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear

  1. Pete Mack

    This series is as bad for cliff-hangers as “The Empire Strikes Back”!

    “Bone and Jewel Creatures” is a short story available as ebook in the same world, one of my favorites. You can read it while you wait for Monday.

  2. Kristen

    The second book doesn’t stand alone either. It’s setting up an exciting finale at the end. I actually loved the second book even more, even though it is very much a middle book that is setting up the conclusion.

    I love Bansh! And Samarkar. I really love wizardry in this world and how it requires knowledge and values those who sacrifice without gaining their power.

  3. Rachel

    Aargh! Well, okay, fine, I can stand it, I guess, but I can see I’ll be re-reading both the first and second books before the third.

    I definitely love Samarkar. She is a wonderful character, she would be wonderful even if wizardry was handled in a more cliched way in this book, but absolutely yes on how the wizardry is handled, too.

    Bansh may be my favorite magic horse in all of fiction!

  4. Kristina

    I’m going to have to check this one out – well-drawn animal characters are a big selling point for me. Could you recommend some more authors who handle them well? I’d put Robin McKinley on the list for sure (DEERSKIN set the standard for me), but who else should I look for? I’m pretty open-minded where my fictional critters are concerned – domestic, wild, and fantastical all appeal.

  5. Rachel

    Hi, Kristina — I know, Ash is fabulous, isn’t she? Not to mention that book is just dog-centered throughout.

    I’m sure I should instantly be able to think of a million SFF stories with great animal characters, but of course I’m drawing nearly a blank right now. Let’s see. I’m sure you’ve read the other books by McKinley, so naturally you’ve met the horses and dogs and cats in THE BLUE SWORD and THE HERO AND THE CROWN.

    DOGSBODY by Diana Wynne Jones springs to mind for me — even though this is a story where the dog is the protagonist, and in important ways not a dog at all, in other ways he IS a dog, and the whole thing is really well handled. Also, this is just a great story, overall one of my favorite of DWJ’s books.

    In the Beka Cooper series by Tamara Pierce, the cat is basically a god and not a cat at all — but the dog is a real dog and I like the way she is handled.

    I quite liked Copperhead, the horse in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Sharing Knife series.

    I’m SURE you have read WATERSHIP DOWN, right?

    Now I’m going to have to think about this tonight!

  6. Pete Mack

    @Kristina — well Griffins are magical animals, so you can try Rachel Neumeier’s first series. Or Just about anything in Tamora Pierce’s Tortall (Wildmage series has especially good wolves.)

  7. Kristina

    Thanks for all your suggestions! I’m actually here because of the Griffins. :) Yes to WATERSHIP DOWN, and to DOGSBODY as well, which was my introduction both to DWJ and the legend of the Wild Hunt. It sounds like I need to give Pierce a try…. Is there a particular title I should start with?

  8. elaine t

    The teenager in the house keeps informing me of ‘horse viewpoint’ as she rereads CJC’s Rusalka trilogy (Only the 2nd & 3rd books have the horses opining). They’re horsey, real horses, not fantasy horses. Which also brings me to CJC’s RIDER AT THE GATE, with the night horses: telepathic, aggressive, bacon-loving horse-like critters.

    I Love how GG Kay handles Cafall in FIONAVAR TAPESTRY (mostly books 2 & 3). Especially his reunion with his master. That was so man & dog.

    *I* love Michelle Sagara West’s HUNTER duo. As I recall our hostess here was less enthusiastic, but agrees West did the dogs really well.

    Just a note to say I disagree that the griffins are animals, BTW.

    Going back a long way and I haven’t reread them in years, Andre Norton did a bunch of ‘human & telepathically linked animal’ books: CATSEYE, BEASTMASTER, STORM OVER WARLOCK and others.

  9. Rachel

    Well, *I* liked Pierce’s The Protector of the Small series better than the Alana series, but not sure that’s typical. And I really loved the Beka Cooper series, but many people seem to feel the pacing is too slow. Even I thought a couple hundred pages could have been cut from the third book!

    I’m glad you enjoyed the griffins, but to me they’re not animals, but people — and rather alien people, too. But if you like griffins-as-people, you MUST try DWJ’s YEAR OF THE GRIFFIN, if you haven’t already read it.

    ALSO! Just remembered: much less well known, O’Donohoe’s Crossroads trilogy — great griffins, wonderful centaurs, really a must-read. I believe the first is THE HEALING OF CROSSROADS. My vet approves the vet student perspective in these books.

    Elaine’s right, I didn’t love the Hunter duology as much as she did — I think I went in unprepared for the scattered pov, which took me by surprise, and I didn’t really connect with too many of the pov characters. But yes, I did like the dogs. Also, yes, I really enjoyed Andre Norton’s books when I was a kid. I need to re-read a couple now and see how they have held up.

    BTW, I also just read Merrie Haskell’s HANDBOOK FOR DRAGON SLAYERS, which is good and has some very nice magical horses — and the Wild Hunt. I need to write a review for it one of these days (soon).

  10. Pete Mack

    Norton doesn’t really hold up–I got one or two back when Baen still had good book bundles. And yes, Protector of the Small is Pierce’s best series, by quite a lot. And it has excellent intelligent critters. Especially Peachblossom the Grumpy Horse.

  11. Pete Mack

    The multiple skies in Eternal Sky trilogy is a bit similar to Griffin Mage, isn’t it? They both have different suns in the land of Earth and the land of Air and Fire, although there are a lot more different skies in (not-so-)Eternal Sky.

  12. Kristina

    I’ve just started O’Donohoe’s THE MAGIC AND THE HEALING. :) I will admit I found the concept of permanent kittens with flowers in their hair a little cheesy, but once I got past the Prologue and into the nuts-and-bolts of the veterinary treatment of fantastical animals, I was sold. It looks like I’ll be adding Pierce’s PROTECTOR OF THE SMALL to my TBR list as well – thanks for the recommendation. And I do agree that the Griffins are their own race – an “other” with which humans must learn to interact, as in Robin McKinley’s DRAGONHAVEN or PEGASUS. But then I suppose all nonhuman minds are “alien” in some way….

  13. Rachel

    I think I blocked the kittens. Because yes, those would pretty much define twee. But I love the hands-on veterinary stuff!

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