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“The Cloud Roads” by Martha Wells

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Martha Wells has received a lot of attention lately for her Murderbot sci-fi series but has also written some notable works of fantasy. The Cloud Roads, written in 2011, is the first in a five-book series focusing on the Raksura, a reptilian species in a world inhabited by a wide variety of sapients.

One of the most noteworthy aspects of the Books of the Raksura series is the complete absence of humans. Some species look reasonably human-like. For example, the islanders from whom the Raksura seek to hire an airship are hominids with gold-tinted skin and eyes (I imagined them looking a bit like the Sovereign from Guardians of the Galaxy). But we also see an insectoid species and are told of merfolk-like peoples living in the ocean. And then there are the Raksura themselves—shapeshifting beings with scales and prehensile tails, some of whom are capable of flight.

There’s also a lot of gorgeous imagery in the book: islands that float in midair, a city built atop a giant revolving wheel, sprawling landscapes. The vivid descriptions help to make the setting feel more like a living, complete world.

When the story first begins, the main character, Moon, doesn’t even know what species he is. He remembers his mother and siblings but doesn’t know why they lived apart from a community of people like themselves. The mystery of his origins is only partly solved in The Cloud Roads, and while he helps his newfound friends to defeat a powerful enemy, a larger threat still looms. I’m interested to explore the setting and these plot threads further in the rest of the series.

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