Enjoyment: 4.25 (more than 4?)
(As always, light spoilers ahead)
[b:The Cloud Roads|9461562|The Cloud Roads (Books of the Raksura, #1)|Martha Wells|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1317017378s/9461562.jpg|14346450] is my first introduction to Martha Wells, who, as I've gathered, is a fairly well-established and well thought of fantasy author. Honestly, I've picked up numerous of Night Shade's more 'well known' authors of late and have been really, really impressed with all of them (albeit less so with the publisher, after all I've heard). That said, Martha's book did not disappoint - it was a wonderful journey into her world, a quick story progression, and ended on a very satisfactory bang
The story follows Moon, a solitary man living in partial deception amongst a group of humans. What sets Moon apart is that he can shapeshift into an intimidating flying creature that is big and strong and capable of all kinds of assorted feats. He is forced to travel from human settlement to settlement, posing as a normal human until they discover what he is and run him off. Eventually, one of his wives sees him shapeshift, and doses him with a poison that keeps him from shifting and alerts the males and elders of the settlement to his condition. They assume that he is part of a race called the Fell, a flying creature that terrorizes humanoid "groundlings" and kills them, so they tie him up to be eaten by a large land monster. He is rescued by Stone, a large version of the same race as Moon, who steals him away and eventually informs Moon of his actual race, a group of flying shapeshifters called the Raksura. He explains they are not like the Fell, are intelligent and peaceful, and are also mortal enemies of the Fell.
Stone convinces Moon to follow him back to their village. On the way, they come across another Raksura settlement, one Stone had intended to visit, and found the settlement decimated and full of Fell, whom Stone and Moon fight off before escpaing. Upon arrival, Moon is overwhelmed by the number of his type, after living with none since his youth when his mother and siblings died, and is inundated with history and lore of their people, explanations of what they are, and general hostility and unwelcoming nature from his new clan. They then reveal that the Fell have been meeting with their queen to try and negotiate an intermingling of their species, to join together, which the queen is resisting. The clan has fundamental differences in how they want to approach this problem but finally come to some agreements.
Moon leads a party to go to a groundling village to borrow some steampunkesque flying airships to help transport the non-flying members of their clan, in an effort to flee the area and hopefully flee the Fell. Upon returning with the ships, they find that they'd been ambushed by the Fell while the group was away and a large portion of the clan was captured by the Fell. They form a plan to escape with the group they have, which include most of the powerful members of the clan, both queens, and a number of warriors. They devise a plan finally to go back to Moon's previous village and steal the poison used on Moon to poison the Fell. This is successful, and they're able to break back into their own village with the group of Fell weakened, and save many of their clan who were trapped there, while killing a large number of the Fell. Some Fell escape, taking some more of the Raksura with them, so they pursue, Moon leading the charge as the fastest flyer. They arrive at the Fell settlement, where Moon discovers that the Fell have been stealing Raksura, mating with them and making cross-breeds in an effort to further their power and domination. With some improbable timing and help from his clan, Moon is able to defeat the dominant queen of the group, and kill many more of the Fell, with only a few major members escaping, with their elderly dying queen in tow.
Wells created a vivid world full of interesting races that were different and radical, while not feeling forced or cheesy. Both the Fell and the Raksura had very distinctive classes and traits, social structures and histories, albeit the histories were not delved into particularly hard. The world itself is explored largely through the characters, and the landscapes and fauna of the planet are not explored at length. The book is rather short, just under 300 pages, though they are larger pages packed with text. The length is an asset and a curse - an asset because it means the story keeps moving, and a LOT happens in those pages. A lot of character development, character conflict, very real and relatable emotions and feelings and events and tragedies. The downside is that the world is not explored at length - it's revealed that there are floating islands that make up parts of the world, however these islands are barely explored, if at all, and there is hints to the magic that help these islands exist (it's revealed that the flying ships are powered by small pieces of the core of these islands, that cause the whole ship to float), but very little more is explained. The countries have no names, the cities have little or none, the land barely explored. I won't say this is necessarily a bad thing, as a book doesn't need to have Tolkienesque maps, variety of species, and crazy hundred page long descriptions of places to be good - in the same way a first-person book lacks perspectives a third person book would have, but has it's own merits.
Wells has a very pleasing prose; she does a lot without a lot of words, kind of reminiscent of Ursula K Leguin. She gets a lot done in a relatively small book, and is able to explore a wide range of emotions and desires, explore a lot of the hierarchy of the Raksura, and portray the real dilemmas and inter-group conflicts the group faces.
In the end, I found the book very enjoyable. The ending had a great build up to it and was satisfying. The end was left open but the book had enough of a hard stop to walk away feeling happy with it. I would definitely say I am on board to read the rest of the books in this series.