Moon thinks of himself as a “shifter”, but why he can change from a wingless to a winged form is a mystery to him, along with why those are the only two forms in his repertory. There are lots of different intelligent species in the Three Worlds, enough that not every variety is known to every person, and since his family died when he was young, Moon never learned what kind of person he is.
Unfortunately for Moon, his winged form bears a passing resemblance to a Fell and everyone in this region is all too familiar with the aggressive, murderous Fell since the castes of the Fell have been infiltrating, invading and annihilating communities all across the region for a very long time. The Fell are the most common cause of sudden violent civilization collapse syndrome, being moving appetites with no interest or capacity for moderation. While Moon knows he is not a Fell, others could forgiven for making that mistake since what he is is distantly related to the Fell.
When we meet him, Moon has been living with “Cordans”, refugees whose civilization was destroyed by the Fell. They do not react well when Moon’s lover exposes his binary nature and probably if Moon was not the protagonist this is where his story would end. Since he is the protagonist, he manages to survive the attempted execution thanks to the intervention of a man named Stone.
Stone is not being charitable – this isn’t a world that leans towards altruism – and his interest in Moon is defined by what he thinks Moon can do for Stone and Stone’s people, who as it turns out are the same order of being as Moon is, Raksura. Like the Fell, Raksura are born into castes and Moon belongs to the caste who can become consorts of Raksura queens. Indigo Cloud Court, Stone’s home court, is the victim of a long series of unexplained set-backs and a consorts like Moon are in terribly short supply.
Moon soon discovers the Indigo Cloud Court is divided, that his position there is in no way secure, and that his arrival has coincided with a push from the Fell into the Indigo Court’s territory. Worse, where the Fell are content to torture, murder and eat other beings, they have quite different and much worse plans for the Raksura of the Indigo Court.
While I did understand Moon’s desire to have a place where he did not need to conceal his nature, the structure of Raksura society is such that I half-expected him to pull a We Who Are About To… and wing it for the nearest large cosmopolitan civilization. Indigo Court is lucky this is in a period when there are not a lot of cosmopolitan civilizations around and that Moon is willing to put up with a surprising amount to earn a secure niche. In the Raksura’s defense, their way of doing things may be highly constrained by biology but it is positively lovable compared to the Fell, who seem to be Lawful Evil to each other and Chaotic Evil to everyone else. That’s … convenient but I would have preferred antagonists where it isn’t immediately obvious that the only right solution to them is a final one. Perhaps a later work gives the Fell a greater context; what we are shown makes them seem like the sort of entity some dark wizard would create only to lose control of1.
I was going to review the new Raksura collection but it turned out to be a bad place to begin with the Raksura books. This was a much better starting place, not least because since Moon himself has no idea what is going on, the reader can discover the world of the Raksura alongside him or at least some of it; the Three Worlds appear to have had a long, complicated history and the Raksura only know small parts of it.
My reservations about the world-building aside, I enjoyed this. There are enough hints about the history of the Three Worlds that I was left convinced there really is a more complex world just offstage and while Raksura society may be problematic in ways that ‑alas- trigger my personal obsessions individual Raksura, Moon in particular, are sympathetic figures; it’s not the Raksura’s fault who they are allowed to be defined for them by genetics and other external factors. Watching Moon struggle to come to terms with with what he is while trying to keep his new-found family from falling victim to the Fell was engaging enough that I read this book in one long read.
I can see The Cloud Roads appealing to teens in particular, although depending on what their parents are like the teenagers might want to not mention the sexy parts to their parents. Wait, no, I will go out and come back in: teenagers, the adult themes in this work are all way too mature for you and you most certainly should not be seen buying the book, certainly not from here.
- Or maybe a Raksura Queen looked around and decided they could dial their gifts up a few notches.