Oh dear… I’ve just spent a relaxing weekend away at Lorne, and got quite a bit of Hugo reading done, and now I’ve come back to discover that Twitter is on fire because WorldCon seems to be on fire, having self-immolated in a fit of extreme stupidity.
(Honestly, while pretty much everything I’ve read about the latest news sounds pretty depressing and mean-spirited, my inner event manager is also appalled and confused on a purely practical level. I mean, event programming is annoying and time consuming, so if you have a bunch of shortlisted authors who are likely to be at your convention, why on earth would you *not* put them all on your program, and then dust your hands happily at knowing that you have THOSE slots filled? Surely laziness alone should be leading to a more diverse WorldCon program than this, and laziness is a powerful force. It seems that the Committee has put actual effort into being idiots, which boggles my mind.)
Never mind. I’m not going to stop my reading project now just because WorldCon is apparently being run by nitwits. On to the next series, which is the Raksura series by Martha Wells.
I went into this with very high hopes, having enjoyed her Murderbot novella so much. And… look, it’s pretty good. I read the first book in this series, The Cloud Roads, which centres on Moon, a young shapeshifter who has grown up alone, trying to ‘pass’ among groundlings (who are not shapeshifters, but not humans either), after his mother and siblings were killed when he was a child. He is an appealing character, and the worldbuilding is certainly very thorough.
I would actually describe the main part of Well’s worldbuilding in this book as ‘species-building’. Moon turns out to be a Raksura, a species of shapeshifter which itself is divided into two halves, the winged Aeriat, consisting of fertile Queens and Consorts and infertile Warriors, and the wingless Arbora, who are soldiers, teachers, hunters, of Mentors. Mentors have arcane powers of various kinds, particularly augury and healing. The Arbora do still shapeshift, though, and I get the impression that their form must be somewhat lizard-like, since scales and claws are mentioned, and they are clearly fierce and vicious fighters when necessary.
(Ooh, maybe they are crocodiles! Maybe Wells has invented an ENTIRE WORLD full of multicoloured, winged crocodile shapeshifters! This is now my headcanon.)
But there are other intelligent species in this world, too, who are equally complex. The main ones we see are the Fell, who are fairly similar to the Raksura in appearance and structure, but who are predators who prey on intelligent species. We also get a glimpse of the Dwei, but we don’t see much of them.
This story is partly a fish out of water / coming of age story for Moon, who is found by Stone, a Raksura consort, and introduced to his Court, Indigo Cloud. It’s also a story about how Raksura court politics work, and about trying to rescue a colony from peril. I liked Moon and the other Raksura. I also liked, very much, his cranky groundling wife, and was glad to see her later in the story. I did kind of keep tripping over what everyone looked like, which was odd, because I’m not great at visualising characters at the best of time. But apparently, I do like to know what general shape they are, and this is relevant in fight scenes. And there were many, many, fight scenes.
(Now I know they are winged crocodiles, of course, everything makes sense.)
(Oh! Wait! Maybe they are pterodactyls! And the wingless ones are… velociraptors! This all makes sense now!)
All in all, it’s a good introduction to the world of the Raksura, and I’d happily read more, but I’m probably not going to. This is going to wind up fifth on my ballot – not because it isn’t good, but because it’s competing against a very strong field this year. It deserves to be nominated, but I don’t think it deserves to win.