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Goat Heads and Sand Burrs, P. Kirby's Reading Blog

The good, bad, and fugly books I've read.
The Cloud Roads (Books of the Raksura, #1) - Martha Wells What distinguishes The Cloud Roads from a lot of fantasy is its entirely non-human cast. And the fact that there's no magical McGuffin, per say.

Moon is a shape shifter. Nope, not the romance land/urban fantasy variety--sexy man beast, growly alpha, bleh. Moon has a "groundling" form that is humanoid, but with touches of reptile and bird. His shifted form resembles a gargoyle. A pretty gargoyle with neck frills and shiny black scales.

His earliest memories are of life in a tree nest with his mother and siblings. Besides Moon, his mother was the only one who could shift to the flighted form. So when predators attacked the tree, his mother told him to fly away while she stayed to defend the nest.

That's the last he ever saw of his family or his kind for decades....

At about thirty years old, Moon lives by trying to blend into the various groundling (non-shifter) communities that populate the world. Because his shifted form closely resembles a Fell, a demon-like race that preys on all sentient beings in this world, he is careful to hide his true form.

As you'd expect, someone eventually sees him in shifted mode. And here come the angry villagers, pitchforks waving, torches a-blazing. Moon is rescued by a huge flying predator, who, it turns out, is actually one of his kind. A Raksura. Stone, his rescuer, is on a quest to find help (warriors) for Indigo Cloud, his tribe.

Moon learns that he is not only a Raksura, but a special variety of breeder male (whoo-hoo) called a consort. Unfortunately, this doesn't mean the girls are flinging themselves at him, since on arriving at Indigo Cloud, he is greeted by a less-than-warm welcome. The current Queen, Pearl, seems to have lost her mind, and hates Moon on sight. Jade, her heir, appears interested in Moon, but is distracted by the impeding menace of the Fell.

The storyline, predictably, follows Moon's eventual integration into Indigo Cloud and back into Raksura society, and the tribe's battle against the Fell hordes.

Moon is my kind of protagonist. Prickly, difficult, but eminently lovable. His story arc is driven by his conflicted feeling regarding the other Raksura. On one hand, he doesn't want to be alone and treasures the ability to finally be himself, no longer hiding his true nature. On the other, he knows he is unwanted (by the Queen and her sycophants), and doesn't believe he'll ever be anything more than an interloper. He operates in a "Okay, I'll help out for now...but then I'm leaving" mode throughout most of the story.

The secondary characters don't overwhelm the story, but are well-drawn and likable.

The world building is sufficient to create a believable backdrop, but it doesn't descend into endless tedious descriptions of history, culture, etc. All that stuff is integrated nicely into the main story without bogging down the plot. (There is an appendix section at the end of the novel for those interested in knowing more about the Raksura and Fell.)

The only thing that keeps this from getting the full five-stars is that I just didn't fall in love with Moon and the other characters. I liked him. But, as I write this several weeks after actually reading the story, I find I don't have a tremendous drive to read the sequels. (OTOH, if I happen upon it on sale, cheap....)

Nevertheless, this was fresh, original fantasy fiction and a quick, enjoyable read.