In The Cloud Roads, the first book of Martha Wells’s Books of the Raksura series, Moon is searching for a community where he can live without fear of being kicked out when his shapechanging abilities are discovered. As The Serpent Sea opens, he’s beginning to find his place in the Raksura court of Indigo Cloud. But while he now has what one might call a spiritual home, his physical home—and that of the whole court—is in a more precarious position. The Raksura live inside trees that are magically shaped and grown to accommodate them. The artifact that permits this alteration, known as a seed, has been stolen, and if it isn’t returned, their tree will die.
The Cloud Roads gave the sense of taking place in a very large world, but The Serpent Sea expands the world even further. The search for the seed brings the main characters to the coast, and we see communities that live on islands or across the sea. We also catch a few glimpses of “waterlings”—beings who live in the water. One of the things I loved about the first book was the wide variety of species and cultures, so being introduced to more in this new installment made me happy. However, it makes me wonder how much room is left to introduce new people in the remaining three books of the series.
The Serpent Sea also continues the story of Moon’s personal growth. Having joined the Indigo Cloud Court as Jade’s consort, he now has to adjust to the position of leadership that comes with that. I particularly liked the nuanced portrayal of his previous status as a wanderer: it makes it harder for him to integrate into the court but gives him a broader knowledge of other cultures that comes in handy when the Raksura need to interact with them. We also see the ongoing tension between Jade and Pearl’s factions of the court, as well as further development of Chime’s mysterious transition from mentor to warrior.
As usual, some of the imagery here is gorgeous. Majestic trees big enough to house dozens of people, steampunk-ish ships, and at least one grand surprise I won’t spoil all play a role here. All of this leaves me looking forward to the next installment.