The Cloud Roads


Martha Wells


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

February 18, 2012

his is a terrific work of imagination, I really enjoyed reading this book, and I am pleased to see that Wells has just released a sequel: The Serpent Sea. I definitely want to read that book.

The Cloud Roads is the story of Moon. He is a solitary shapeshifting creature living in "The Three Worlds" - the worlds of Air, Earth and Sea. Moon's mother and siblings were slaughtered when he was a youngster, since that time he has never met another of his shapeshifting kind. Moon is a Raksura - a species that can switch between two shapes. In his ground form, Moon looks like a normal human. In his winged form, Moon has a tail, talons and armored scales and a huge set of wings that allow him to soar over the landscape as a proficient hunter. Unfortunately, the Three Worlds landscape is plagued by a ferocious species called the Fell. The Fell violently and brutally destroy everything they can. The Fell are also winged beings, and Moon wonders if he is somehow related to those vicious killers. Throughout his young life, Moon has survived by moving from tribe to colony to caravan - trying to keep to his human form so that he can belong to civilization. If anyone spots Moon in his winged form, they fear he is Fell, and his driven out - so Moon must disguise his dual nature as he wanders the world.

I really admire the world building that Wells describes in The Cloud Roads. Each place is fascinating and unique - there is a ruined cultures with giant sculpted heads populating a valley. There is a huge mountain city that sits upon a gigantic rotating disk. There is a strange Yellow Sea that stains the people and animals near it. There is a huge structure built by the Hive-like Dwei, and there are warrens of the Raksura. I loved Moon's travels in this world because Wells does such an excellent job describing exotic yet plausible sounding cultures. Everything fits together as a plausible seeming world with diverse cultures and landscapes.

The Cloud Roads has flying airships. I have loved flying airships ever since I read A Princess of Mars way back in high school. Although the flying airships are not central to the story, they added to the exotic flavor of the world Wells describes for us. I also like the trader culture that drives these airships and hope they play a more significant role in the next book.

Well's characters are as well constructed as her environment. Moon is a likable figure. He faces danger and mystery - there is a lot that he learns about the Fell and their plans for more destruction. Pearl, Stone, Jade are also believable characters as they work together and sometimes against each other to thwart the cunning Fell. Overall I thought this book was a well executed fantasy novel.