Published in 2013, the first three stories in the Raksura series are found in a trilogy called “The Books of the Raksura“. After reading a review that had me doubting my previous reading experience, I re-read “The Cloud Road”, “The Serpent Sea” and “The Siren Depths”. I’m glad I did.
A few outsiders lived with the Cordans, but Moon tended to stand out. A good head taller than most of them, he was lean and rawboned where they were heavyset. He had dark bronze skin that never burned no matter how bright the sun, dark hair. The only thing green about him was his eyes.
The Cordans on the other hand were “short and stocky, with pale gray-green skin and dull green hair” and “patches of small glittering scales on their faces or arms”. And, of course, they thought Moon was butt-ugly.
Our introduction to the main character, Moon, reveals some of the themes of all three stories. Resiliency is a trait that grows with practice. When he was around 7 years old, Moon’s family was killed and eaten. Fortunately, his mother had taught him basic survival skills and somehow he managed to live through the next 35 years of being thrown out of communities, towns and camps. One of the first things Moon discovered was that his life depended on his ability to hide his second form (the aeriat one). Most people thought his ariat shape was that of their worst enemy (i.e. Fell, antagonists). When the Cordans discovered he was something more than a groundling, they staked Moon as food for one of the many predator animals of The Three Worlds. That is when Stone changes his life.
It looked bigger from this angle, more than three times his size, but it was hard to focus on. He got an impression of sinuous movement from a long tail, spines or tentacles bristling around its head, a long narrow body standing upright, with a broad chest to support the giant wings…..
…. the dark form was suddenly made of mist and smoke. Then it was gone and a man stood in its place, a tall, lean man with gray hair and strong features, his face lined and weathered.
Shocked, Moon realizes that he is looking at another shapeshifter. One that speaks the language he knew as a child. One that says “I’m a Raksura. So are you.” With that meeting Moon’s understanding of his place in the world is completely turned around. He goes from not belonging anywhere to belonging with strangers. Strangers who find him crazy for not understanding anything about what and who he is supposed to be.
Because Moon is an outsider to his Raksura culture, we get to learn alongside him. Growing up with a specific cultural mind-set brings with it potential benefits and deficits. Some benefits may be having an implicit understanding of ones position in society vis a vis other people along with a necessary knowledge of historical codes. Deficits might include not accepting that people who look like you do not behave according to your understanding of the world. Such is the case in interactions between Moon and his new family.
“Glower said deliberately, “Stone went to look for a consort.” ………… Confused and wary, Moon asked, “What’s a consort?”
Now everybody was looking at him as if he had said something crazy. …..”
“… He didn’t want to explain himself of prove that he wasn’t a crazy solitary every time they met someone new.” ……….
Some of the people of Indigo Cloud are suspicious of Moon’ solitary life. According to them, only Raksura forced into exile live alone. Other Raksura have impossible expectations surrounding his role as a Consort. Suspicions regarding motivations go both ways. One of the many coping strategies Moon had learned during his 35 years alone was to be careful with his trust. His expulsion from the Cordans are a great example of how trust was once again broken. Long-term trauma also brings with it long-term consequences that are difficult to heal. Even for a person as resilient as Moon is. It doesn’t help that his new clan, Indigo Cloud, go through many crises in these three novels. Not only the Fell strike at Indigo Cloud. Ambitions from the leviathan people work against them in “The Serpent Road” and internal conflicts also hinder healing.
Letting their protagonist learn how to live in a new culture gives an author plenty of opportunities for humorous situations. I love Moon experience with dancing:
“Dancing was another groundling thing that left Moon cold. The quick movements were often distracting and made him twitchy with the urge to hunt, and the slow movements were just boring. It was more fun to watch grasseaters graze.”
Wells understands how to weave those into the story without breaking with tension or flow. Through his mistakes, personality and courage Moon’s character progresses. Since his is our only window to The Three Worlds, we do not get to know other characters as well as we might like. However, Chime and Jade progress with him. When it comes to Stone, I find it difficult to know whether he has progression or whether it is Moon’s growing understanding of Stone that makes me think there is some.
As far as I can tell, there are no humans on The Three Worlds. That is not to say that we aren’t represented. Leaving us out of it would be impossible. An anthropological background gives Wells an excellent playground. Fortunately, her world-building is great. The Fell play their part as antagonists well. Their understanding of themselves gives Wells an excellent opportunity to shine a light on the darker sides of humanity. As stated above, I’m glad I re-read “The Cloud Road”, “The Serpent Sea” and “The Siren Depths”. I spent as much time as possible on this enjoyable task that ended all too soon. Definitely recommended.