Well’s 2014 collection Stories of the Raksura: Volume One: The Falling World & The Tale of Indigo and Cloud shares a setting, the Three Worlds, with some of Wells’ previous works: The Cloud Roads, The Serpent Sea, and The Siren Depths.
I should admit, up front, that this review isn’t really a Tuesday Rediscovery so much as it is a review of a book I had intended to review long before now. I am using my Rediscovery slot to highlight a book that, IMHO, deserves highlighting.
I do have an excuse or at least an explanation, for the delay. When I began a review of this book, some time ago, I realized that I needed to read The Cloud Roads, at the very least, before reviewing this collection of shorter works set in the same world. Having reviewed The Cloud Roads, it then took me an inexcusably long time to get around to writing this review — long enough that I needed to reread this collection. So here we are, at last.
The Falling World (novella)
An embassy from the Ocean Winter Court arrives at the Indigo Cloud Court and triggers alarm and consternation because the newly arrived embassy has no knowledge whatsoever of a trade embassy that the Indigo Cloud sent to Ocean Winter some time ago. Enough time has passed that Indigo Cloud’s party should have reached Ocean Winter long ago.
Something has gone wrong. Either something happened to Indigo Cloud expedition en route to Ocean Winter OR Ocean Winter is playing some dark game of its own … which is not out of the question for the competitive Raksura courts.
The expedition dispatched to uncover the truth never gets the chance to look for evidence of betrayal at Ocean Winter; ambush by predators along the road to Ocean Winter is ruled out. They discover a far stranger explanation: a catastrophe ancient beyond memory still lurking to entangle the unwary. Not only was the original Indigo Court unprepared to encounter the remnants of this catastrophe — even the rescue party’s knowledge that something went wrong may not be enough to save them.
The Three Worlds is a fairly undomesticated world. It’s also a world whose average encephalization quotient, the measure of brain size to body size, is higher than Earth. I think those two facts are related. There are a lot of human-smart species in this world, and many of them use their big brains to prey on other smart species. Add magic and a long, poorly documented history to that fact, and you end up with a world divided into many small, competing fiefdoms, a world where venturing out of well-mapped, well-defended territory is very risky.
Even staying inside palisades isn’t necessarily safe; as the novel The Cloud Roads showed. Even if you avoid danger, danger in the form of the Fell (or worse) may come looking for you.
The Tale of Indigo and Cloud (novella)
Long ago, Umber Shadow’s young queen, Indigo, took Cloud as her consort. This would have been splendid had Cloud not already been consort to Argent, a queen of the Emerald Twilight. While Indigo is innocent of the kidnapping of which her rival accuses her, the fact that Cloud willingly abandoned Argent for Indigo is an affront that the touchy Raksura of Emerald Twilight are unlikely to overlook or forgive.
Indigo has put herself in jeopardy (her neck is literally on the line) for a consort whose affection for her appears tepid at best. Indigo has little support at home: Indigo’s mother Cerise disapproves of Indigo’s naïve antics and has the power to depose and execute her. She is threatened from outside: the powerful Emerald Twilight demands recompense for the egregious behavior of queen and consort. She cannot even depend on Cloud, who admits that he didn’t leave with Indigo because he found her irresistible. She was just the first chance to escape a court he found distasteful.
As one would guess from the names Indigo and Cloud, this is an origin story for the Indigo Cloud Court. Knowing that the court survives doesn’t tell the reader just how Indigo manages to avoid being executed by her mother or killed by her rival Argent, or how she avoids the war that Cloud’s betrayal could very well have begun. Single combat between Indigo and Argent offers a chance to avoid war but even if Indigo wins, her victory would have disastrous long-term consequences for Umber Shadow. Based on what the reader knows of the culture and the circumstances, there are no winning scenarios for poor Indigo.
But the reader also knows that her court survived at least to the time of Cloud Road. It is clear that Indigo saw something that the other Raksura overlooked.
“The Forest Boy” (short story)
Moon is a feral orphan living in the forest, an orphan with odd powers he does not fully understand. He is trapped, then rescued from the trap by some well-meaning groundling villagers. Aware that life in a village is far safer than life in the forest, he does his best to make himself useful to the villagers. He is always careful to hide his powers, as he fears the consequences should the villagers learn his true nature.
Having first read this story before I read Cloud Roads, I can tell you it reads very differently without the context the novel offers. Rereading it after having read Cloud Roads, I had an entirely different perspective on events. Not really sure which approach is better, to be honest, but they are certainly different.
“Adaptation” (short story)
The Raksura are a people divided by biology into castes. Caste, being innate, is a life sentence. Chime was therefore considerably surprised when he went to sleep a mentor and woke up as a warrior. Although other courts told stories about transformations like his, all such stories were second-hand at best. Chime is eager to seize any new source of information about his strange transformation. Unfortunately for Cloud, illumination does not mean comfort.
Exactly what it says on the tin. There are two appendices, the first is basically a list of members of the various Raksura courts, the second contains excerpts from an encyclopedia.
This is a short but solid little collection, well worth your time. One caveat: having read it without the context supplied by Cloud Road and later, with such context, I think it reads best if one has read at least one of the Raksura novels. But however you decide to approach it, do consider reading it.