Speculating on SpecFic

Fantastic Literature: From epic fantasy to fairytales to myth-making

The Cloud Roads

The Cloud Roads - Martha Wells An exotic world, inhabited by the bizarre and otherworldly, forms the setting for this fantastic adventure that challenges the tropes of the genre. Its familiar - a story about an orphan finally reunited with his kind and forced to quickly learn their way and save them from an ancient foe - and yet not - the world is decidedly foreign and keeps readers off-balance.Martha Wells has created a fantasy world I fell in love with the moment I read the worlds floating island. There are deserts and rolling plains and forests, and every now and again a floating island will appear in the sky. Its called The Three Worlds, because it's populated by creatures of the land, sea and air. There are lots of species - we only meet a handful in The Cloud Roads, and most of them very briefly - and surprisingly, none of them are humans. The races frequently make homes in ancient ruins left behind by long forgotten peoples, about whom I am insanely curious. They are terrorized by an aerial race called Fell, who basically steal everything they need and kill wantonly.The protagonist, Moon, knows he's never met another creature like himself, and has spent his life hiding amongst the ground-dwelling species that inhabit the land. Eventually the truth comes out and he is driven out and attacked, and when yet another community abandons him (this time they stake him to the ground hoping wild animals finish him off), Moon is rescued by someone who tells him what he is - Raksura - and invites him to join a community of people like him.The biggest surprise about the book are the Raksura. Sporting wings, claws and scales in one form but humanoid in another, they are a curious blend of avian and reptilian in looks and have a distinctly bee/wasp/ant-like social structure. Moon struggles to adapt to their way of life because they are so community minded, and readers will also experience discomfort trying to understand them. Martha Wells has done a great job in explaining their complex social hierarchy and the ways in which each caste is different from the others, and once readers have the Raksura all figured out, there are the Fell to contend with, who have an equally challenging society.The Cloud Roads is stand-off-ish - it's difficult to sympathise with the characters or establish a connection with them, and everything is so alien that one spends half the book playing catch up. This is part because it follows creatures that aren't human by any stretch of imagination, but still hunt, read, write, and have a strong sense of community. I think it's also because of the intelligent story-telling device the author uses - there are no information dumps, and the world building (history, culture, lore and mythology) is told slowly. I like it because it feels more natural to tell a story this way, but it means that readers are just as clueless as Moon, and he's in so deep over his head it takes him several chapters to realise it.Moon is an extremely likeable character, naturally suspicious and shy but quick to anger. Although plagued with the fear that he won't fit in amongst his own kind, he makes an honest go at eking out a life among them, which I find admirable. I think it would have been easy for Moon to be self-pitying and prone to whining, but Wells has made him determined to succeed while keeping his insecurities intact. All of the secondary characters in the book ring true and defy stereotypes, although I would have liked Jade to have something going for her other than 'strong, young, beautiful Queen-in-Waiting trying to prove her worth'.The Cloud Roads deserves every word of praise it gets, and will be enjoyed by fans of high fantasy. I have enjoyed reading it and am looking forward to reading the rest of the series, The Serpent Sea and The Siren Depths.You can read more of my reviews at Speculating on SpecFic.