I finished reading this book several weeks ago, and I’ve been trying to figure out how best to review it. I keep coming back to “thoughtful.” Everything from the worldbuilding and mythology to character to sentence and word choice.
The book opens to Temur, heir to the Khaganate, stumbling through a battlefield. His hand has gone numb from clasping the bloody gash along the side of his neck– You know what? Let me just give you a few paragraphs from the first page.
Beyond the horizon, a city lay burning.
Having once turned his back on smoke and sunset alike, Temur kept walking. Or lurching. His bowlegged gait bore witness to more hours of his life spent astride than afoot, but no lean, long-necked pony bore him now. His good dun mare, with her coat that gleamed like gold-backed mirrors in the sun, had been cut from under him…
He walked because he could not bear to fall. Not here, not on this red earth. Not here among so many he had fought with and fought against.
And then you have Samarkar, who fled her home and gave up her title for the hope of becoming a wizard.
When the news of the fall of Qarash reached Tsarepheth, the Once-Princess Samarkar did not even know that a woman in red and saffron robes sat alongside her, because on that day Samarkar lay drowsy with poppy among rugs and bolsters in her room high up in the Citadel of wizards. Silk wraps wadded absorbent lint against a seeping wound low in her abdomen. When she woke–if she woke–she would no longer be the Once-Princess Samarkar. She would be the wizard Samarkar, and her training would begin in truth.
She had chosen to trade barrenness and the risk of death for the chance of strength.
One thing I think both of these introductions capture is the complexity of Bear’s writing. Wizardry isn’t a simple thing; you pay a price, and there’s no guarantee you’ll gain the power you hope for. We meet Temur as his dreams of battle and glory have been shattered by reality. In many stories, we see characters who change by the end of the tale. In this book, we meet characters already in flux, scared and confused and struggling.
I should mention the plot too, right? Okay, let’s see … we’ve got warring kingdoms and dark magic and gods and armies of ghosts and tiger warriors and kidnapped lovers and a journey over a fascinating world.
The world is one of my favorite parts of the books. This is a world where the sky literally changes depending on the nature of the kingdom below. In Temur’s land, there are moons for every heir, including himself. He looks up at the night sky to see which of his cousins have died based on how many of those moons have vanished. And then, later, he crosses into another land, and his family’s moons are nowhere to be seen. I love it.
Bear also does a wonderful job on her horses. I’m no expert, so I can’t say if she got every detail right, but she certainly avoided the “Horses = medieval motorcycles” mistake some epic fantasies fall into, and Temur’s new mare Bansh is one of the best characters in the book.
I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone looking for a quick read. Thoughtful writing requires thoughtful reading, and I couldn’t zip through this one the way I do some books. But if you’re looking for more complex, non-Western epic fantasy, I’d definitely suggest checking it out.
I will note that this is book one of a series, so you shouldn’t go in expecting things to be all wrapped up by the end.
You can read an excerpt at Tor.
Range of Ghosts comes out on March 27.
Welcome to First Book Friday.
Elizabeth Bear (matociquala on LJ) has won the Campbell award for best new writer, the Hugo award (twice), the Locus award for best first novel, and the Sturgeon award. If my math is right, she’s put out about sixteen books since 2005, not counting several short fiction collections. Plus she’s been quoted on Criminal Minds.
Personally, I’m waiting for her to write a book about a Giant Ridiculous Weredog.
Jenny Casey is somebody who has lived in my head for a long time. Wounded, courageous, charismatic, with a take-no-prisoners sensibility and a voice that never hesitates to relate the truth she sees, be it breathtaking or horrible.
I suspect every writer has a few of these–the characters you can slip in to as easily as you slip into your favorite sweater. The ones whose rough patches and worn places just make them more comfortable. The ones whose voices wake you up at night with clever comments.
The ones who will not shut up and give you any peace at all.
I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was six years old, and I figured out stories came from someplace. I had stories in my head; it just took close to twenty-five years to learn the skills necessary to get them out and onto paper in a form other people are actually going to want to read.
Jenny first came to me in 1995 sometime, and among the first words she ever said to me were I never sleep if I can help it. I wrote a bad action novella about her, and a much better short story (“Gone to Flowers”) which has since seen print, and reams and reams of backstory vignettes.
She seemed to want to tell me about her life, and I was eager to hear it. But I wasn’t yet the writer I needed to be to pull it off. And I had no idea how to learn to be that writer. So the pile of notes and unpublishable fiction remained just that–a pile, even though I went back and worked on it periodically. I was writing, but I wasn’t progressing.
In 2001, though, I lost my job, and in the wake of 9/11 could not find another. So I wrote. It was a coping strategy. In that same time, I fell in with a group of writers at the Online Writing Workshop For Science Fiction and Fantasy (in a bit of sweet irony, I am now a Resident Editor there) and they taught me all the skills I needed–the most important of which was learning how to learn.
I wrote five novels in two years. And the fourth of those was Hammered [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy], which was based on some of those early notes, was good enough to impress Jenn Jackson, who agreed to become my agent. She sent me some rewrite notes, by means of which I tuned up the manuscript, and we started submitting it. I’d already finished Scardown by then–publishing is slow!–and while I was waiting, I went back to writing … I think it was Blood and Iron, at that point.
Jenn called one night and told me she had good news: Anne Groell at Spectra had made an offer on Hammered and its two sequels. I almost dropped the phone.
And then I went and started work on Worldwired.
Anne has since told me that at the time, the Jenny books were Bantam Spectra’s fastest turnaround from acquisition to publication. (The record’s since been beaten–I think by Kelley Armstrong.) She bought the series in November of 2003, and they were all in print by December of 2005. They made my name as a writer, quite frankly, and I am eternally grateful to Anne and Jenn for that … and also, it must be said, to Jenny.
Jenny’s still got that voice: straightforward, brittle, brutally honest, a little jagged-feeling. The difference is, now other people can read it too. By the timeline in the books, she’s going to be born on September 30, 2012.
I think I need to throw her a party.
I’m very fortunate. I’ve got a lot of very nifty friends and acquaintances, both the real-world and the online variety, and sometimes I’ve just got to show them off.
To that end, I’m declaring this an open “Promote Your Friends” thread. Please feel free to post whatever cool projects or accomplishments your own friends have been up to lately. (If you’re on my jimchines.com blog and your comment doesn’t show up, let me know and I’ll rescue it from moderation.)
Let the promo begin!
Finally, my author friends have some new books out.
Your turn. What nifty things have your friends been doing?
I picked up a copy of Kelly McCullough‘s Cybermancy [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy], in the dealer’s room this weekend and read it on the plane ride home. I reviewed WebMage [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy], earlier this year, and Cybermancy was even better (which is how it should be).
Basically, if you liked the first book, you should definitely pick up the second. Cybermancy brings back magical hacker Raven/Ravirn and his webgoblin companion and throws them into even more trouble than last time. It’s got the same fast pacing, the same humor, but McCullough also shows a more serious side, taking an unflinching look at the story of Persephone. I really appreciated his take on that one. Ravirn’s relationship angst felt a little too predictable, but nowhere near as bad as your average sitcom, and overall I really liked this one. Book three is already on my wish list
Other new books to check out:
So, anyone have any thoughts or comments on these? If not, what else is out there that we should all be reading?