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Stories of the Raksura: Volume Two: The Dead City & the Dark Earth Below

By Martha Wells 

13 Nov, 2019

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Stories of the Raksura: Volume Two1 is the second volume of short works set in Marth Wells’ Raksura fantasy world. 


The Dead City • (2015) • novella 

Orphaned Moon, still ignorant of what species he might be (although he is sure he is not one of the chaotic evil Fell he so closely resembles) finds temporary shelter in a caravanserai. His timing is poor. Mysterious miners have taken possession of nearby hills. Precisely what species the miners might be and why they’re so interested in the hills is unclear. What is clear is that the miners’ hostility towards visitors is driving trade away from the region and the caravanserai. 

A party of Cedar-rin, eusocial groundlings, demand to see the miners. The Cedar-rin are heavily armed, hostile, and inclined to interpret anything short of immediate cooperation as hostility. The miners don’t appear to communicate at all, if one assumes that violence doesn’t count as communication. The caravanserai is trapped between the two hostile parties. 

Moon could intervene to save his hosts but to do so would be to reveal his hidden nature. That would end the conflict but not in any way Moon would like. His shapeshifter form would be taken for Fell; everyone would turn on him. But to do nothing might doom his hosts.

Mimesis” • (2013) • short fiction

A rescue attempt brings Jade face to face with an unfamiliar but obviously deadly predator.

Trading Lesson” • (2015) • short fiction 

Moon demonstrates a rarely used skill when a trader visits his community.

The Almost Last Voyage of the Wind-Ship Escarpment” • (2015) • short fiction

A merchant hires Captain Jainin dan Ethana of the ship Escarpment to deliver a ransom for a captured trading ship. Jainin discovers almost too late that she has misunderstood the nature of her commission.

Comments

Jainin’s navigator Flaren happens to be the estranged son of the merchant in question, which gives the merchant ample scope to demonstrate what a terrible person he is and how superior Flaren’s found-family is to his blood kin. 

The Dark Earth Below •(2015) • novella

When a search party of Kek groundlings goes missing, the herbivores turn to the Court of Indigo Cloud for assistance. Raksura are robust, and more likely to survive whatever is behind the search party’s disappearance than are the fragile Kek. The Raksura are too late to save the search party. They do find some badly wounded strangers and some mysteries:

  • Who or what killed the Kek?
  • Who attacked the unfamiliar groundlings?
  • What followed the Raksura back to the Kek community?
  • Most important, can Moon and his friends find the answers to the above before a self-styled god kills them all?

Appendices • (2014)

Self-descriptive. These seem to be generic appendices for the setting rather than appendices specific to this collection.

General comments

I would call this secondary-world fantasy, but it could just as easily be classed as SF with Sufficiently Advanced Technology. This is what a planet like Earth looks like after a few million years of occupancy by a succession of highly-creative and consequently very short-lived civilizations. 

There are several world building decisions Wells has made that shape this world: intelligent tool-users have been around for a long time, there are many species of intelligent tool-users, and no state, empire, trade network, or scholarly organization has ever managed to document the Three Worlds in any sort of comprehensive detail (or if they have, the Raksura have never encountered their records). As a result, an awful lot of the stories have the same general shape; the characters encounter something unfamiliar to them, a new kind of predator, antisocial neighbours, crafty traders, or long forgotten but still functional relics of ancient civilizations [2]. They have to work out what it is they are facing before their ignorance kills them.

The writing is fine, the characters engaging, but the repetitive plot lines (with the exception of Last Voyage” and Trading Lesson”) made the collection less exciting. The collection is worth your time, but you would do well to avoid my error and do not read it all in one go. 

Stories of the Raksura: Volume Two is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), and here (Chapters-Indigo).

1: Which some sources insist is called Stories of the Raksura: The Dead City & the Dark Earth Below: Volume Two: The Dead City & the Dark Earth Below, which is both redundant and inaccurate. It is possible the title is actually The Dead City & The Dark Earth Below and Stories of the Raksura: Volume Two is the subtitle. The cover and title page of the ebook do not cast much light on this mystery.

2: Dealing with insufficiently documented long-lived artifacts of tremendous power is even more hazardous than storing highly radioactive reactor waste, but it gets a lot less attention. If nothing else, the frequency with which Three Worlds characters dig up extremely dangerous and still functional relics is a powerful argument in favour of planned obsolescence. Mid-1970s Toyota Corollas might dissolve like sugar cubes when faced with snow and winter salt, but at least nobody in the year one million will have to worry about accidentally freeing a Corolla to rampage through crowds of unwary bystanders.