The Serpent Sea Paperback – Jan 25 2012
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Top Customer Reviews
I hope Wells keeps writing about Indigo Cloud after Harbour of the Sun comes out as I could happily read these books for decades.
I must be on my 6th time rereading this series and I love it every time.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
One reviewer described the plot of THE CLOUD ROADS as Moon discovering that he's been "Cursed by Awesome," and, at the time, I agreed. Poor baby discovers he's been born into a high caste, what's to complain about, right? But in THE SERPENT SEA I began to see what a perfect choice Moon's position as a consort really is.
Raksura consorts are basically trophy wives. As a consort, Moon has status but no real power. But Moon isn't content to be pampered and impotent, which means he's not content to fill the traditional role of consort. He likes to keep busy and he's a natural authority figure. So, yes, he's got enough rank to rub elbows with the movers and shakers but he has to earn every bit of authority that comes his way and constantly defend his choice to step outside of his allotted role.
The plot has the Indigo Cloud court on a mission to recover the stolen seed of their mountain-tree. They encounter obstacles on the way to completing their quest, as on the way Moon finds himself trying to play the part of a perfect consort at a foreign court, dealing with a solitary Raksura that reminds him all too much of himself, and battling a power-hungry magician.
As in THE CLOUD ROADS, Wells' descriptions of the Three Realms' landscapes kept me enthralled. It's just such a pleasure to imagine all the little details, from the mountain-tree where the Indigo Cloud court hopes to settle, with its glowing shells and fantastical carvings, to the floating city where most of the novel takes place.
I read THE SERPENT SEA in one sitting, and loved every page. It's more relaxing than heart-pounding, but I found that I relished every minute I spent with in Wells' marvelous landscapes among the Raksura. Four very enthusiastic stars.
Because the Books of the Raksura contain some of the most original, exotic, and beautiful fantasy worldbuilding I've ever seen. Those of you who complain that there's nothing new in fantasy, read these. Here is plausible ecology and biology mingled with magic in a way that feels almost science fictional. Here are created, magical races drawn with believable complexity -- none of that essentialist "always chaotic evil" crap we're so used to seeing in fantasy, and plenty of diversity and history and mystery. That the Raksura resemble shapeshifting dragons is irrelevant; they're people, human without being human, and Wells does a marvelous job of treating these people as well-rounded and flawed characters whose struggles you can't help but care about.
In this outing, Moon -- recently and uneasily accepted into the Indigo Cloud court -- travels with the group to their ancestral home, where they mean to make a new start after nearly being destroyed by the Fell in the last book. They find a paradise of giant mountain-trees and forests that stretch for miles, waterfalls and plentiful game, and unearthly beauty. However, the seed which keeps their mountain-tree alive has been stolen, and Moon -- as the member of the group with the most experience at dealing with other races -- must help his new tribe track it down before the tree dies.
If there's any critique I have for these books, it's that the characters are sometimes sketched a little thinly -- but given how much time and attention has been given to the setting, I'm not sure that's really a flaw. My sense is that some of the thinness I feel is actually Wells trying to convey that the characters really aren't human. For example, Pearl's behavior frequently makes no sense (the other characters comment on it) until you realize that this is how queens are supposed to act; it's one of the ways they maintain dominance over others. The only reason we don't understand it is because Moon, a stranger to his own people, doesn't understand it. As he gains understanding, it all fits together.
Spoiler: I especially liked those chapters wherein Moon and Jade visit the Emerald Twilight court, and Moon must find a way to master consort etiquette -- when a just few months before he didn't even know the name of his own species. I also loved that we get to know more about characters who intrigued me in the first book: Flower the acerbic and grandmotherly mentor, Stone -- snarkier than ever in this outing -- and Moon himself. I love that we get to see a "real" solitary, and gain more understanding of why the Raksura are so suspicious of them. And holy crap, Jade. I love watching her play diplomat and maneuver her way through various politically-delicate scenarios, but there's a chapter near the end of the book in which she basically cries havoc and lets slip the claws of war, and it's beautifully bloody. I've always loved the treatment of gender in this series: women who are stronger than men and the men who love them for it; gender roles that are neither stereotypical nor simple reversals. All Raksura are formidable, but it's made very clear in this book that the role of a queen is to be the baddest mf on the planet. I see now why Moon loves her.
So read this book. And go tell your friends to read it, because I want it to sell well so we can get a third visit to the Three Realms.
I also really liked that this book explored a lot more of Raksura culture, and the chance to look at another Raksura court. The idea of Moon as an outsider comes more strongly into play in this novel than the first novel, and I really enjoyed reading about how he struggled to come to terms with his status.
Otherwise, I did not like this novel as much as the first. I still stayed up all night reading it, but I didn't feel like all the story strings were as neatly woven and snipped off as in the first novel. Honestly, I finished it feeling only partially fulfilled, because (while we do get resolution as to the major plot points) I don't feel like I got resolution as to the characters and their development/interactions. Without giving too much away, I felt like the characters were on the verge of discovering things about themselves and never quite crossed that point. They seemed to sort of back off from embracing the dramatic emotional/character changes that an epic journey would have made, and almost reverting back to their pre-Serpent Sea selves.
It made we wonder if, perhaps, a third novel is in the works?
Well, despite that, I definitely would not hesitate to buy another Raksura novel, and highly recommend this one.
UPDATE: Rumor has it there IS in fact a book 3, but it has not been purchased by a publisher yet. So, please purchase a copy of the Serpent Sea. I'd really like to see a book 3 :)
UPDATE 2: Thank you fellow purchasers, we're getting a book 3 (and thank you Anthrophile for letting me know)!!!!!!!!!!!! According to Anthrophile, the book will be called The Siren Depths and will hopefully still be out in January or February of 2013. If you liked this book, look forward to it!
If you haven't yet read The Cloud Roads, I'd recommend starting there. You'll be missing a lot of the fun if you don't know the backstory as you begin this book. There are clues and reminders of past history, so I think it's probably possible to start here, but I don't know why'd you'd deprive yourself to do so.
In this book, I enjoyed seeing Moon develop his relationship with Jade and the others of Indigo Cloud. I loved the new locations they visited, especially the Indigo Court old home location and the new city. (Trying to avoid spoilers here.) I enjoyed the humor, which isn't "jokes" and usually not even witty banter, but humor that groups naturally out of the interaction between characters.
I'm usually not a big visual imagery person, but I'd love to see this series made into a movie.
In the Cloud Roads, drifter & shape shifter & loner-not-by-choice Moon is reunited with his species/people The Raksura, even if the Indigo Cloud Court were not his home court (who he thinks were all murdered when he was very young). He learns that he is a Consort of his species, destined to be the mate of a Queen. Jade, sister queen of Indigo Court, woos and wins him despite his trust issues. The Indigo Cloud Court has been apparently cursed with mysterious deaths & declining numbers and a strong faction including Jade want the colony to return to its roots in the Western Reaches. Moon is instrumental in making that happen, playing a particularly significant role in the rescue of members of his new colony who were kidnapped by the dreaded Fell/Raksura hybrid queen and her minions. The Cloud Roads ends with the entire Court's successful return to their original home place, a huge tree in the Western Reaches.
In the Serpent Sea, Moon becomes part of the investigative team sent out to replace/find the missing heart stone/seed/nut of the home tree that is dying. He is still insecure about his place in the colony and his relationship with Jade and he is painfully aware that he doesn't react or behave the way a proper Queen's consort is supposed to react or behave. But Moon's seeming mis-steps give the investigative team & the Court the advantage in eventually achieving its aims.
What I really like about Martha Wells writing in general and The Raksura series in particular is her sheer imaginative world-building genius. I've been reading fantasy for more than 5 decades now and it was so overwelmingly refreshing for me to find a 'new to me author' whose work was well, so completely fresh and new. Moon and the Raksura are shape shifters, yes, but that is the first & last resemblance between The Raksura and the masses of shape shifter dreck that is published on the fantasy market today.
Second, I found the characterizations to be 3 dimensional, with fully developed primary and secondary characters. No Raksura is portrayed as 1 dimension stick figure. Even Moon's non-fans in the Indigo Cloud community, such as River, are provided depth and motivations and character growth. And while the evil Fell in the Cloud Roads may at first seem to be only stereotypical ultimately evil bad guys (and a bit over the top); upon reflection, I consider they are hugely innovative stereotypical bad guys (an oxymoron, yes, but it works). The bad guys in The Serpent Sea are wizard types and I was a little disappointed with them, but again the world building & characterizations lift them out of the ordinary at the same time that the wizards' "island" world had me thinking of Terry Pratchett's universe (that's the only spoiler hint I'll give). And anyway, I have never been a member of the bad guy fan club that demands the author to ratchet up the badness & evilness with every series installment until finally one is reading farce and not fantasy.
Since reading The Cloud Roads and The Serpent Sea, I've gone on to read Wells' earlier novels, The City of Bones and The Wheel of the Infinite. I give them both 5 stars. I am currently reading her 1st novel The Element of Fire and I've just ordered her novel The Death of the Necromancer. It's been a wonderful few weeks of reading and I will be sorry when I've exhausted her back list. I am eagerly looking forward to a new entry in the Raksura series and wish there was also a new entry in the City of Bones universe (that leaves the reader with a strong sense that more is in the offing).
The Serpent Sea - Highly recommended fantasy, 5 stars.
And THANK YOU to the internet & Amazon that Wells and/or her publishers are able to e-publish her backlist. I missed her when she started writing in the 90s and I am so pleased to have this opportunity to make up for the error of my reading ways :-).