skygiants: Kyoko from Skip Beat! making a mad flaily dive (oh flaily flaily)
I enjoyed Martha Wells' Wheel of the Infinite but I am also pretty sure that my reading experience was devised in exactly the wrong way to allow me to appreciate the plot as a coherent narrative.

I read the first half of the book on the plane between San Francisco and Chicago, which meant I got all the fantastic initial setup: a long-suffering middle-aged heroine, exiled from her home city for accidentally getting three husbands killed while following the wrong prophetic vision, accidentally rescues a cute swordsman in a brief break from protecting a plucky theater troupe from a cursed stage puppet!

Then the cute young swordsman immediately decides to be her joint boyfriend and bodyguard because he has nothing else to do with his life, and she's like "he followed me home, can I keep him? ...wait I'm an exiled superpowered divine avatar, I literally don't have to ask anyone else, I CAN JUST KEEP HIM :D" and then he and she and the theater troupe all go back to her home city to sort out a potentially apocalyptic problem in the annual setting-the-world-in-order religious ritual and also, very importantly, get the theater puppet un-cursed, and at about this point I got to Chicago and although I was enjoying myself immensely I didn't really have time to read another word until I was on a flight back to Boston.

So at this point I opened my Kobo again and spoilers! )
skygiants: cute blue muppet worm from Labyrinth (just a worm)
So now that I have read basically everything that there is to read in Martha Wells' Raksura universe about sentient shapeshifting dragons with complex sociobiological family structures. In addition to The Cloud Roads, about which more at that link, this includes:

The Serpent Sea, in which protagonist Moon and his new dragon family travel to their ancestral home, find that their ancestral home is kind of screwed because somebody stole an important magical MacGuffin out of it, and promptly head out to a mysterious island in the middle of the ocean on a MacGuffin quest to get in trouble with weird magic worldbuilding

The Siren Depths, in which Moon's long-lost birth family finds out about him and yoinks him home and he has to deal with six different kinds of complicated abandonment issues, plus the fact that the family has a kind-of-Dark Secret (of course this one is my favorite, INTERESTING FAMILY ISSUES UP THE WAZOO), plus some more trouble with weird magic worldbuilding

Stories of the Raksura, Volume 1: The Falling World & The Tale of Indigo and Cloud, which contains two novellas, one where The Gang Gets In Trouble With Yet More Weird Magic Worldbuilding and one fantastic backstory one that's 100% Difficult Dragon Diplomatic Relations

Stories of the Raksura, Volume 2: The Dead City & The Dark Earth Below, which contains several interesting worldbuilding stories about various species in this universe, plus some babyfic

I liked these books more and more the more I went on. I think it helps that I got all my mildly cranky issues about biological determinism out of the way with the first books. By the time I hit the later ones I had already come to terms with the setup and was ready to roll with the fact that, yes, OK, half the point of Moon is to completely embody the Feisty Tomboy Princess archetype with a pronoun reversal:

MOON: I'm going on this dangerous quest!
EVERYONE ELSE: But consorts don't go on dangerous quests, consorts stay home and look pretty and watch the children!
MOON: I know I'm not how a consort should be! I know I should be beautiful and gentle and sweet, and -- and I'm just not! I'm sorry! I can't help it! I wasn't socialized that way!
JADE: It's OK, honey. It's true that most queen dragons Raksura prefer demure consorts, but I like a boy with spirit.

This aside, I generally really appreciate how much time it takes for Moon to adjust to being part of a community, and to generally trust the people around him, after decades spent as a semi-feral wanderer. I loved him projecting his issues all over the other Raksura in Serpent Sea, and, as aforementioned, I ate the whole complicated family plot in Siren Depths up like candy.

I am also really into Martha Wells' endlessly inventive Weird Magical Worldbuilding and FIVE BAJILLION sentient species, most of which are not at all human. "Ah, OK, a species of sentient stick insects! Are they friendly sentient stick insects? SURE, GREAT, let's sort out our diplomatic relationship then."

(Though I did laugh at the hilariously sledgehammery bit in -- I think it's Serpent Sea? -- where Moon tries to explain this one weird civilization he encountered once that didn't believe in sex outside of monogamous marrige and everybody's like '?? how BIZARRE.')
skygiants: cute blue muppet worm from Labyrinth (just a worm)
I think my favorite thing about Martha Wells' The Cloud Roads is how it's basically just Anne McCaffrey's Dragonflight if you cut out the humans and had all the emotional drama focused on the dragons instead?

I mean, the protagonists are not called dragons, they're called Raksura. But they're basically dragons. Were-dragons? Shapeshifters who have one vaguely two-legged form and one flying lizard form that is pretty much dragon. (Some of the lizards are non-flying, we'll get to that.) And the dragons come in different cool colors, and some colors are fertile so they get to be queens (female) and consorts (male) and be in charge, and some colors aren't. In Pern the dragons, while intelligent, never really have any issues about this, because having issues about biology is a job for human protagonists. But the dragons in Cloud Roads don't really care about humans and therefore get to have all their issues themselves. "I mean, I get that it's a problem that your community doesn't have any consorts right now but it's still a BIT WEIRD how the queens suddenly started dumping presents on my doorstep as soon as I showed up? PERHAPS WE SHOULD TAKE IT SLOW."

Moon, our protagonist, gets to have the most issues because his family was tragically killed when he was a kid and far away from any other Raksura, and he's been wandering around for years with no idea of what species that he actually is, other than it's shapeshifting and has a dragon form that vaguely resembles the dragon form of another EVIL species that's flying around and therefore people tend to freak out when they see it. The EVIL species is also interested in Moon, for reasons. Anyway, despite his deep-rooted conviction that he will be FOREVER ALONE!!!, Moon then encounters a Raksura colony and gets to be our audience viewpoint character for finding out all about the Raksura and being moderately uncomfortable with his new role and the societal and reproductive expectations thereof. And also with not being FOREVER ALONE!!!, since this is sort of a dramatic circumstantial shift. (Just like Lessa in Dragonflight! No, Martha Wells is certainly a better writer than McCaffrey and I'm maligning her unfairly. But the parallels are there.)

The setup flirts with some reversals of gendered expectations -- consorts are expected to be delicate and high-strung! queens fight over them and then they go with the victor! and Moon is used to being ALONE and he's not LIKE the HIGH-STRUNG PRINCESS CONSORTS that the queens were EXPECTING, excuse YOU -- but Wells is not super invested in exploring biological determinism. The evil species is pretty much EVIL, and some early dropped hints about class and role-related complications in Raksura society don't really get picked up in this book. There are two sequels, though, so maybe then? And, I mean, it's all very entertaining, I will totally read the sequels. I am very happy to read about dragons negotiating awkward social dynamics for a couple hundred pages.

(Although, honestly, my favorite characters were the two plot-relevant cranky humanoids. I would apologize for being human-centric but I'm probably just contrariness-centric.)


skygiants: Princess Tutu, facing darkness with a green light in the distance (Default)

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