BRIEF SYNOPSIS:: Explores the present and past of the Indigo Cloud Court with stories that look into the past history of characters.
PROS:: Detailed and vivid worldbuilding; intriguing non-human politics and character interactions; welcome return of favorite characters.
CONS: Worldbuilding and explanation inserted to allow new readers to catch up sometimes drags a bit on story flow.
BOTTOM LINE: A set of novellas that introduce and extend the Three Worlds to new and returning readers.
Martha Wells’ The Cloud Roads introduced a new fantasy universe to her readers. Set in the “Three Worlds”, The Cloud Roads started the story of Moon, an orphaned humanoid with a secret (and terrifying) ability to shapechange into a monstrous flying form. Discovered by a tribe of creatures similar to himself, Moon learned who and what he really is, even as the court of Raksura was under threat by their mortal enemies, the Fell. The subsequent novels (The Serpent Sea and The Siren Depths) continued the story of Moon and Indigo Cloud as they return to their ancestral homeland, only to be immersed into adventure and old rivalries with other Raksura as they seek to reestablish themselves in the Reaches.
Now, in Stories of the Raksura, Wells returns to the Three Worlds with more stories of Indigo Cloud and its members. Intriguingly, the stories are not a simple follow-on to the events of The Siren Depths, but are rather set in several different points in the timeline. The stories, too, especially “The Falling World,” have been written with new readers in mind. Wells has taken great pains in the novel to do some first-novel worldbuilding here, introducing characters and even basic concepts to readers, bringing readers up to speed on who and what the Raksura are.
The stories in the book are:
- “The Falling World” – Set after The Siren Depths, a trading expedition to the nearby court of Ocean Winter apparently never arrived. Emissaries from the Court profess innocence, and Moon must balance his fears and feelings for his missing mate, the politics between Courts, and solve the mystery of the disappearance of her and her party. This is a straight-up adventure and mystery story that shows off the wondrous worldbuilding of Wells’ world.
- “The Tale of Indigo and Cloud” – Set some generations before The Cloud Roads, when the court of Indigo Cloud was called Umber Shadow, this novella tells of the events around a brash young queen named Indigo, and her impulsive theft of a young consort from the powerful court of Emerald Twilight. His name, of course, is Cloud. This offers an excellent view into the early history of the Court and how disputes are resolved between Courts.
- “The Forest Boy” – Set a few years before The Cloud Roads, this story serves as an excellent introduction to Moon as he, unaware of who and what he really is, is found in a trap by a small settlement of humanoids. This is a potent story of friendship, and prejudice.
- “Adaptation” – Set in Indigo Cloud not long before the discovery of Moon, “Adaptation” focuses on one of my favorite characters: Chime. Chime is/was a mentor, a healer with divination powers…until, one day, he changed into a warrior.
The book ends, as all of the previous volumes of the Three Worlds, with appendices of essays and information from Delin-Evran-Lindel (a minor character who shows up in the novels) which explores some of the biology and sociology of the Raksura and the Fell from an outsider non-Raksuran perspective.
The worldbuilding and characters in these stories are asw wonderful as the novels and I had no difficulty immersing myself into Wells’ world and societies again. The Three Worlds is a world rich with sentient humanoid and semi-humanoid species. While a D&D or Pathfinder world has humans, elves, dwarves, and others, sometimes in a vibrant mix, the Three Worlds has dozens, perhaps hundreds of species and races, both present and past. Walk along the Long Road from Kish to the Gulf of Abascene, and one will meet communities of all sorts of beings on the way. These species often have mistrust and conflicts, but the rich diversity allows Wells to explore psychology and social structures among very different races. And I haven’t even mentioned the astonishing non-sentient biodiversity found in her world.
While I think The Cloud Roads is a better place to start the story of the Raksura, The Stories of the Raksura is tailor-made for new readers to discover the wonder and adventure of her world and characters. Happily, there is a second volume of stories forthcoming, and I look forward to reading it with great interest.