The Serpent Sea
The Siren Depths
by Martha Wells
I just finished the third book in this series and loved it all so much I've started reading the first book all over again, taking time to savor it now that I know so much more about the Raksura.
One of the things I've enjoyed was the rich exploration of what it's like to encounter a new culture as an outsider, as Moon does, even though he is a member of the same species. His own psychology, affected by being an outsider in every culture he had lived in, is deeply explored and not just a passing thought by the author. As an anthropology-oriented reader I am often tired of cultural differences being represented in broad strokes without any depth and I was pleased to discover that Wells' degree is in anthropology so she has given us cultures that are well thought out and realistically portrayed.
The story is compelling in all three books with an overall arc connecting them and I hope there are more because I am fascinated by this world and its many sentient races. We speculate that a sentient species serves a particular ecological niche and that it is unlikely there would be more than one per planet unless there were long periods of geographic isolation. So many on one planet seems like an artificially contrived situation, such as an advanced species dropping some of them off just to see what would happen as they interact. Anther possibility is (as Jim Butcher posited in one of his series) a wormhole that connects more than one planet and leads to accidental trips that only go one way. Perhaps there is something very different about this planet. I look forward to finding out.
Moon, Jade, Chime, Stone and Flower are compelling characters and we gradually get to know their supporting cast better as well. It's a tough job to introduce the main character to an entire society without getting somewhat lost in new names and descriptions, so I think Wells can be forgiven a bit of initial confusion. I think we are getting a glimpse of Moon's own confusion at trying to learn about so many new people at once as he adjusts to yet another new culture with higher stakes than ever before. The villains, a mysterious race called the Fell, are fascinating in their own right and their apparent genetic connection to the Raksura is a compelling mystery that I hope we continue to learn more about. With the many races on this planet one wonders again whether some advanced race engaged in genetic manipulation or these divergences in species occurred naturally. I'd love to learn more about how the flying islands were made, too, since it seems unlikely that they are natural.
Wells has created a very rich world with many possible stories and I hope we get to learn more about it and follow Moon's story to the next generation. The Cloud Roads was the first book by Martha Wells I had read and I look forward to reading many more. (my Amazon review)