Stories of the Raksura: Volume 1, by Martha Wells

Buy from Amazon.com, B&N, or IndieBound

Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – September 2, 2014

Summary: In “The Falling World,” Jade, sister queen of the Indigo Cloud Court, has traveled with Chime and Balm to another Raksuran court. When she fails to return, her consort, Moon, along with Stone and a party of warriors and hunters, must track them down. Finding them turns out to be the easy part; freeing them from an ancient trap hidden in the depths of the Reaches is much more difficult.

“The Tale of Indigo and Cloud” explores the history of the Indigo Cloud Court, long before Moon was born. In the distant past, Indigo stole Cloud from Emerald Twilight. But in doing so, the reigning Queen Cerise and Indigo are now poised for a conflict that could spark war throughout all the courts of the Reaches.

Stories of Moon and the shape changers of Raksura have delighted readers for years. This world is a dangerous place full of strange mysteries, where the future can never be taken for granted and must always be fought for with wits and ingenuity, and often tooth and claw. With two brand-new novellas, Martha Wells shows that the world of the Raksura has many more stories to tell…

Review: It took me a little while to fall in love with the world of the Raksura, but when I finally fell, I fell hard. The main trilogy has become a favourite of mine, one that fills me with comfort and happiness when I read it. Extra stories that take place both before and after? Sign me up!

The book advertises that it’s two novellas, but there are also an additional two short stories thrown in, so you get more bang for your buck, so to speak. The first novella, The Falling World, involves Moon (and others) hunting for Jade and Chime (and others, but admit it, we’re all mostly concerned about those three) after they go missing, and the strange fallen city they discover along the way. There’s something I really like about seeing Moon be protective toward those he cares for, so the way he gets frantic and irritable when trails run cold and mysteries keep leading them onward really appeals to me. Possibly because it’s in tandem with nobody letting him let his possessive tendencies get out of control. The mystery of how the city fell and what happened to the people who lived there was a fascinating one, and I won’t give away anything major in case people have yet to read this collection, but suffice it to say that Wells does a good job dealing out pieces of the mystery little by little, leading readers onward and making us guess pretty much right until the end.

The Tale of Indigo and Cloud was quite possibly my favourite piece in the collection, since it delved into the very origins of the Indigo Cloud court, when Indigo stole Cloud from another court and everybody had to deal with the ensuing political chaos. The whole situation was a great one to read about; the way Cloud manipulated Indigo, the way Indigo tried to proclaim and them deny her feelings for Cloud, the way Argent was more concerned with her pride than justice. It was a great story, full of nuance and with more to it than it seemed in the beginning, and it was fantastic to not only see the origins of the court that’s central to the other books, but also to take a jump to Moon’s time and see everyone’s reactions to uncovering the whole story in the first place.

Also, to see a young Stone who giggles. That image made me grin!

The two included short stories were both heartbreaking to read. The first involved Moon’s childhood, after he had lost his family and while living with a group of groundlings, the struggle of trying to fit in with them even when he’s so different, and the jealousy that eventually causes him to leave. Knowing that was only the first of many similar situations was what made this such a sad story, though. Out of context, it was just a story of children overreacting and not understanding the subtleties of emotion and relationships. In context, you know it’s just the first note in a long song for Moon.

The second piece of broken-heart came in the last short story, which dealt with Chime’s transformation from mentor to warrior, and his difficult adjustment to a life lost and an unfamiliar and unwanted gain. In the main trilogy you see Chime’s bitterness over what happened to him, and his attempts to leave behind what he lost, but only here do you get to see it happen, to see that pain when it’s new and fresh, and to see him struggle with an unfamiliar body and a new way of living. In many ways, it mirrors sudden disability, and the adjustment period. You lose familiar aspects of yourself, have to find a new sense of self in new circumstances, people don’t know how to treat you and some react with hostility, and even if you have a community of support, everything’s so new to you that it’s difficult to see it because you’re in mourning for something you may not be able to get back. It’s the early stages of grief, and even though there are probably hundreds who would love to suddenly gain the power of flight the way Chime did, it can’t be denied that he lost much of how he once defined himself in the process.

Stories of the Raksura: volume 1 is an excellent set of stories that are perfect for fans of the main series who can’t stop asking about what happened off the page. The collection gives you more: more stories, more insight, more entertainment, with Wells’s signature flare and a wonderful cast of characters that I’ve come to know and love. I can’t wait to dive into the second collection in the future!

(Received for review from the publisher.)

The Siren Depths, by Martha Wells

Buy from Amazon.com, B&N, or IndieBound

Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – December 4, 2012

Summary: All his life, Moon roamed the Three Worlds, a solitary wanderer forced to hide his true nature — until he was reunited with his own kind, the Raksura, and found a new life as consort to Jade, sister queen of the Indigo Cloud court. But now a rival court has laid claim to him, and Jade may or may not be willing to fight for him. Beset by doubts, Moon must travel in the company of strangers to a distant realm where he will finally face the forgotten secrets of his past, even as an old enemy returns with a vengeance. The Fell, a vicious race of shape-shifting predators, menaces groundlings and Raksura alike. Determined to crossbreed with the Raksura for arcane purposes, they are driven by an ancient voice that cries out from… The siren depths.

Review: Moon is finally settling into his role as Jade’s consort, and while life isn’t perfect for him, it’s better than it’s been in a long while. His place at court may still be contested by some, but he does still have a place, especially after being so involved in saving the colony tree in the last novel.

But because good luck never stays with Moon for long, his tenuous peace comes crashing down when he learns that not only is his birth court still around when he believed it destroyed for so long, but they’ve heard of him and want him back, claiming that Jade had no right to take him as her consort without their permission.

And worse, he’s seeing signs that suggest Jade may not be as happy with Moon as her consort as she claims.

Where previous books in the trilogy throw you into Raksuran society at an almost breakneck pace, leaving the reader floundering at times as much as Moon himself is, The Siren Depths takes a little while to step back and make more aspects of their daily lives and culture clear. It was nice to save some things explicitly explained instead of just having people shush Moon’s questions and concerns because more important things were going on, and for those who felt they had a decent grasp on Raksuran culture before, what’s presented in this novel really just works to solidify everything. I found myself enjoying the slower scenes as much as the more tense action-packed ones, purely for the culture-building.

As far as explorations of culture go, I really do like how it’s all handled in this entire series. Moon isn’t a blank slate character, not by a long shot, but he starts out wholly unfamiliar with Raksuran culture, and has to learn consciously what most people pick up by observation and imitation through their whole lives. And much like with any newcomer to a culture, sometimes people can’t always explain the why and the how to full satisfaction, leaving a gap between, in this case, Moon and just about everybody else. But Moon isn’t one to stop asking questions, either for clarification or as push-back against something he sees as unfair or ridiculous. It’s a fine balance to strike when writing fiction, really, straddling that line between criticizing an unfamiliar culture and just seeking to understanding it. Sometimes both are needed.

Also, serious bonus points for establishing in no uncertain terms that Raksura are generally cool with same-sex couplings. (And there I was, spending so long thinking that when it was mentioned that Moon and Chime sometimes slept together, it was meant as them literally just sleeping in the same bed. Colour me innocent, I guess.)

And happily, at no point does Moon ever pull an, “I know better than you,” bit and start preaching that his way of thinking is superior to a way he just doesn’t understand or appreciate. Undoubtedly a side-effect of having spent so much time among various cultures in his life. You may question but you may not seek to change, just because it doesn’t suit you.

But aside from the phenomenal culture-building (which is evident all through the rest of the trilogy, not just this book), there is plenty of action to keep pulses pounding and pages turning. As Moon learns more about his past, a traitor within his birth court seeks to eliminate him. The Fell once again make an appearance and are the main antagonists, once again bringing the focus back to their plot to return to former glory and regain their connection to the Raksura. The first half of the book may take it slow, but the second half is almost entirely non-stop action, with Moon and his companions — both new and old — trying to stop the Fell from doing untold damage and releasing something lurking beneath the waves that’s better left imprisoned.

I remember when I first started reading this series. It struck me as pretty original, but I couldn’t quite see why so many people raved about it the way they did. It was notable for not having any human characters, and of course for being well-written, and I could see those things, but it didn’t really hit me the way it hit some. Then I reread the first two books, and finally finished this one, and my opinions upon rereading have shifted. There were nuances I hadn’t noticed before, levels and layers that made everything feel more complex and complete. The whole trilogy is now firmly listed as comfort reading for me, as the world and the people and the story feel like sinking into a warm bath. Jumping into that world is a bit like coming home, like visiting old friends, like somewhere I’ll always be able to enjoy. It’s an experience to be savoured, satisfying and rich, and well worth reading if you haven’t already done so.

(Received for review from the publisher.)

February Wrap-Up

For such a short month, February sure seems to have dragged on. Somehow. I blame the 2 large storms in a single week, followed by a week of mild weather that resulted in all that snow melting and leaking into my basement.

Fun times.

Plus convenient things to blame for time wonkiness.

Anyway, down to what you actually came here to see.

Other Stuff

Super Sekrit Project is a bit delayed, but I figure eh, I may as well stop making it so Super Sekrit. I’m starting up a series of video game review videos.

Yes, yes, I know that by this point, everyone and their dog has a YouTube channel talking about video games. This is hardly the most original idea I’ve ever had. I’m aware that whatever I do isn’t going to get big and be game-changing. But that’s not why I want to do it. Much like with books, I play a fair number of video games, and I have opinions about them, and I figure there’s no reason why I shouldn’t talk about those opinions.

And with video, I can show footage of the game to better illustrate points, rather than relying solely on text.

Plus sometimes I come across games that are just really bad, and there’s something fun about highlighting that every now and then.

I’m not 100% sure when it’ll go live. I’m thinking maybe the middle or March, or maybe a bit more toward the end of the month. Recording games and editing videos is surprisingly time-consuming, even while I enjoy it. So while I can’t say for certain that yes, everything will go live on a certain date, it shouldn’t be too much longer. I’ll make a post here when it does, in case anyone’s curious and fancies taking a look.

The Books

The Cloud Roads, by Martha Wells
Buy from Amazon.com or B&N

Summary: Moon has spent his life hiding what he is – a shape-shifter able to transform himself into a winged creature of flight. An orphan with only vague memories of his own kind, Moon tries to fit in among the tribes of his river valley, with mixed success. Just as Moon is once again cast out by his adopted tribe, he discovers a shape-shifter like himself… someone who seems to know exactly what he is, who promises that Moon will be welcomed into his community. What this stranger doesn’t tell Moon is that his presence will tip the balance of power… that his extraordinary lineage is crucial to the colony’s survival… and that his people face extinction at the hands of the dreaded Fell Now Moon must overcome a lifetime of conditioning in order to save and himself… and his newfound kin.

Review: Reread; full review here.

The Serpent Sea, by Martha Wells
Buy from Amazon.com or B&N

Summary: Moon, once a solitary wanderer, has become consort to Jade, sister queen of the Indigo Cloud court. Together, they travel with their people on a pair of flying ships in hopes of finding a new home for their colony. Moon finally feels like he’s found a tribe where he belongs. But when the travelers reach the ancestral home of Indigo Cloud, shrouded within the trunk of a mountain-sized tree, they discover a blight infecting its core. Nearby they find the remains of the invaders who may be responsible, as well as evidence of a devastating theft. This discovery sends Moon and the hunters of Indigo Cloud on a quest for the heartstone of the tree — a quest that will lead them far away, across the Serpent Sea.

Review: Reread; full review here.

The Siren Depths, by Martha Wells
Buy from Amazon.com or B&N

Summary: All his life, Moon roamed the Three Worlds, a solitary wanderer forced to hide his true nature — until he was reunited with his own kind, the Raksura, and found a new life as consort to Jade, sister queen of the Indigo Cloud court. But now a rival court has laid claim to him, and Jade may or may not be willing to fight for him. Beset by doubts, Moon must travel in the company of strangers to a distant realm where he will finally face the forgotten secrets of his past, even as an old enemy returns with a vengeance. The Fell, a vicious race of shape-shifting predators, menaces groundlings and Raksura alike. Determined to crossbreed with the Raksura for arcane purposes, they are driven by an ancient voice that cries out from . . . .The siren depths.

Review: Review forthcoming.

The Alchemy of Chaos, by Marshall Ryan Maresca
Buy from Amazon.com or B&N

Summary: Veranix Calbert is The Thorn—the street vigilante-turned-legend—and a danger to Willem Fenmere, the drug kingpin of Dentonhill. Veranix is determined to stop Fenmere and the effitte drug trade, especially when he discovers that Fenmere is planning on using the Red Rabbits gang in his neighborhood. But Veranix is also a magic student at the University of Maradaine, and it’s exam week. With his academic career riding on his performance, there’s no time to go after Fenmere or the Red Rabbits. But when a series of pranks on campus grow deadly, it’s clear that someone has a vendetta against the university, and Veranix may be the only one who can stop them…

Review: Having read and enjoyed the other two Maradaine novels that Maresca has written, it was no surprise to me that I similarly enjoyed this one. The story returns to Veranix, still attempting to get through his classes at the university while maintaining his secret life as a vigilante bent on bringing down a druglord. The pressure rises as attacks on the University and its residents disrupt life and make it more difficult for Veranix to sneak out and live his alternate life, and at the same time a group of assassins have been hired to take down the Thorn once and for all.

Maresca has a gift for writing action and intrigue, both of which shine in The Alchemy of Chaos. There’s a mystery afoot, and while some hints are dropped along the way, there’s also enough misdirection to keep the reader turning pages, looking for more information about who’s attacking the University and who’s prodding the Red Rabbits along. First you think you know, then you don’t. It’s a great tense mystery, and it was a lot of fun to read through. That’s really what these novels come down to, in a nutshell. They’re fun. They’re fast and witty and like any good action story, they keep you hanging on and wanting more because you don’t want the adventure to end. That’s why I enjoy this series so much. It doesn’t pretend to be deep and dark and serious and some epic world-changing piece of fantasy. It excels at being what it is, and that is pure enjoyment.

I do have a minor nitpick, and your mileage may vary on this one, but the the ending of the novel seem too… neat for my taste. Specifically, a chance accident early on in the book leads to things being set up in what is stated as literally the only way for the culprit’s plan to be foiled and everyone to be saved. I admit that in a novel that is basically about a secondary-world superhero, you have to allow for some suspension of disbelief, but this too-convenient setup stretched that to its limits. It didn’t ruin anything, but it did have me raising an eyebrow.

Still, The Alchemy of Chaos was a good trip back into a fun fantasy world, and I’m keeping my eyes open for future installments. This is the kind of series that you keep coming back to for low-commitment low-stress light reading, and I like this ideas that Maresca plays with here, from retribution to the effects of the past to just plain knowing the difference between friends and enemies. Worth taking a chance on, and if you already liked the other 2 books he wrote, then chances are you’ll like this one too.

The Paper Menagerie, and Other Stories, by Ken Liu
Buy from Amazon.com or B&N

Summary: With his debut novel, The Grace of Kings, taking the literary world by storm, Ken Liu now shares his finest short fiction in The Paper Menagerie. This mesmerizing collection features all of Ken’s award-winning and award-finalist stories, including: “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary” (Finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, and Theodore Sturgeon Awards), “Mono No Aware” (Hugo Award winner), “The Waves” (Nebula Award finalist), “The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species” (Nebula and Sturgeon award finalists), “All the Flavors” (Nebula award finalist), “The Litigation Master and the Monkey King” (Nebula Award finalist), and the most awarded story in the genre’s history, “The Paper Menagerie” (The only story to win the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards).

A must-have for every science fiction and fantasy fan, this beautiful book is an anthology to savor.

Review: Review forthcoming.

The Serpent Sea, by Martha Wells

  Buy from Amazon.ca, Amazon.com, or IndieBound

Author’s website
Publication date – January 3, 2012

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Moon, once a solitary wanderer, has become consort to Jade, sister queen of the Indigo Cloud court. Together, they travel with their people on a pair of flying ships in hopes of finding a new home for their colony. Moon finally feels like he’s found a tribe where he belongs. But when the travelers reach the ancestral home of Indigo Cloud, shrouded within the trunk of a mountain-sized tree, they discover a blight infecting its core. Nearby they find the remains of the invaders who may be responsible, as well as evidence of a devastating theft. This discovery sends Moon and the hunters of Indigo Cloud on a quest for the heartstone of the tree — a quest that will lead them far away, across the Serpent Sea.

Thoughts: Martha Wells gives us a strong follow-up to her earlier novel, The Cloud Roads (review here), one that is just as engrossing and richly-detailed as I’d come to expect after reading the previous book of the series.

Whereas before we see the protagonist, Moon, really coming to know himself and being the perfect blank-slate character to introduce us to a world unlike the vast majority of fantasy on the shelves today, here we see Moon as someone who has accepted his place and his role, embraces it, and moves forward. No longer are we as readers simply learning about the world and theRaksura through him, but we’re alongside him as he goes through this book’s adventure, which is world-spanning without being world-changing. Wells has expected that her readers understand the backstory and doesn’t hold your hand as she continues telling the tale.

Moon’s court has left their previous home to forge a new one, or rather returning to an old one that hadn’t been used in generations. After a difficult journey, they finally arrive, only to discover that the seed that keeps the gigantic tree that is their new home alive has been stolen, and the tree will soon die unless it is recovered. A small group of them set off on a new journey to relocate the seed and save their new home.

Put that way, The Serpent Sea sounds rather boring, like a fetch-quest from a video game, and one that is better suited to a short story than a full-length novel. Thankfully, the story itself reads as the exact opposite. What seems like a simple premise gets wonderfully complex, and we get to see more glimpses into the vast and varied world and sets of cultures that Wells has done no small amount of work to properly develop here.

It’s been said by many that these books are notable for the fact that humanity as we know it simply doesn’t exist. There are humanoid races, certainly, but they are not the dominant race. They are just one part of many, much like the Raksura themselves. It’s very refreshing to take a break from humanity now and again and throw yourself into a world that has touches of the strange and the familiar all rolled into one, and this is precisely what Wells delivers.

The writing style continues to be smooth and fluid, with a bright feel to it that one mostly finds in YA fantasy. it made the book easy to fall into and get lost in, though the style occasionally felt a bit at odds with characters discussing sex and being horny. This doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it makes me do a bit of a double-take. But aside from those brief scenes, the writing is even, well-paced, and a delight to read. Wells conveys a good story with plenty of action and intrigue without getting bogged down in darkness and grit.

Ultimately, this is a wonderful follow-up to an already strong previous novel, and it’s one that I recommend to any fans of classic fantasy. It’s a fun read with a great story in a fantastic world. Wells has really got something good going here, and I eagerly await any continuation that she writes in this series.

(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)