Anthology Review: Stories of the Raksura by Martha Wells
Genre: Fantasy, Anthology
Series: Books of the Raksura
Publisher: Night Shade (September 2, 2014)
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Stories of the Raksura is a delightful romp into Martha Wells’ world of the Raksura – even if you have not read the main series. I have been meaning to get to her Books of the Raksura for a long time now but still haven’t found the opportunity yet, so I was very happy to get my hands on this collection.
Of course, I had the usual concerns: How much do I need to know before jumping in? Am I going to be able to follow along with the short stories in here without getting lost? I shouldn’t have worried. As it turns out, this collection actually serves pretty well as an introduction to Wells’ wildly imaginative universe and the fantastical beings that live in it.
The Falling World
“The Falling World” is the first novella found in this anthology. For those like me who were unfamiliar with the race of fantasy creatures called the Raksura, you get a quick and intense crash course in this tale. Raksura are shapeshifters that look a bit to me like a form of bird-people, though their societies more closely resemble those of hive insects. A ruling queen is at the top, followed by lesser queens. Queens mate with fertile males called Consorts to produce royal clutches composed of Queens, Consorts and Warriors (infertile males and females that defend the colony). Together, these three types make up the Aeriat. They are winged and capable of flight.
Then there are the Arbora, who have no wings but are capable climbers. They are made up of Teachers that oversee the nurseries and train the young, Hunters who provide food for the colony, Soldiers who guard the colony, and Mentors who are seers with magical abilities enabling them to perform tasks such as foreseeing the future or healing the sick and wounded.
It can be a bit daunting at first, but all this information is adequately provided and easy to pick up as the story progresses. In “The Falling World”, a sister Queen called Jade travels with her entourage to another colony to negotiate trade, leaving her consort Moon behind at court. But then the diplomatic convoy fails to reach their destination, and an expedition is launched by Moon along with a party of warriors and hunters to try to discover what happened to them. However, what the rescuers find in the end might prove too dangerous and difficult for them to handle.
The story is simple and straightforward: one group sets out to find another. What amazed me though, was the amount of lore and world building Wells managed to inject into this novella. I was blown away by the information here about Raksuran culture, physiology, and social hierarchy. And the great thing is, none of it was really forced. I never once felt like I was taken aside and given and info dump; instead, all the information flowed naturally just from the normal course of storytelling. I’m sure as a new reader there’s lots I’m missing still, but the amount of knowledge I gleaned here of the Raksura and their world was just superb.
Perhaps it is also a good thing that the story itself is not overly complicated. On top of the information about Raksuran culture, there are a lot of characters to meet, many names to learn. The naming convention might take some getting used to, and you probably won’t remember who’s who all the time, but this particular story for me was mostly about getting to know this fantasy world and the Raksura, and I had a good time with it.
The Tale of Indigo and Cloud
“The Tale of Indigo and Cloud” is the second novella found in this collection. It is more of a historical narrative, exploring the legend behind the origins of Indigo Cloud court. A long time ago, a sister Queen called Indigo stole a consort named Cloud away from another Raksuran court, angering the hot-tempered queen who was Cloud’s mate, leading to a conflict that could mean all-out war between the two colonies.
This was an interesting story, which read a bit like a mythological scenario. That’s not too surprising, given its unique nature. It is a tale about the Indigo Cloud court’s queens of old, long before the key character Moon joined the colony’s ranks. It reveals more information about the way Raksuran society works, or rather how easily it could also fall apart. There’s a bit of politics and a bit of romance, the kind of perfect mix you’d want to find in an ancient legend.
There’s not much else I can think to say about this novella, but it’s probably my favorite of the two in this book. I really enjoyed the story and the lesson it imparted, as well as the overall vibe.
The Forest Boy
Next comes this short story, which tells of Moon as an injured fledgling taken in by a kind-hearted family in a nearby village, who are all unaware of his Raksuran background and shapeshifting abilities.
“The Forest Boy” is a nice bonus, giving the reader more insight into this central character.
The final short story tells of Chime, one of the warriors who accompanied Jade on her diplomatic mission back in the first novella in this collection, “The Falling World”. Chime’s situation is interesting in that he didn’t actually start off as a warrior. He was born a mentor, who then changed forms. That’s huge.
A switch from mentor to warrior, as you recall, also means a switch from Arbora to Aeriat. Wingless to winged. Fertile to infertile. Quite the life-changing event. “Adaptation” is exactly what it sounds like: Chime’s struggle to come to terms with this drastic transformation.
Despite being so short, this is probably my second favorite piece in this collection. It’s a powerful tale in its own right, not only because of the emotional and physical obstacles that Chime has to overcome, but also because of what his transformation might ultimately mean for the colony. It’s a great read, and in the end I am left to wonder what fate might hold in store for the entire Indigo Cloud court. It’s a bit ominous and unsettling.
The Raksura are one of the most original fantasy races I’ve ever encountered in fantasy fiction. I was genuinely compelled by everything about them. Despite them being so different biologically and culturally, the depth of their personalities and motivations make them feel very human. The novellas and short stories in this collection show that they have to deal with the same complex emotions we do, such as love, hate, guilt, etc. Their issues and conflicts like politics, gender and societal roles are also realistic and relatable.
All told, this is a great collection filled with all kinds of goodness like magic, rich worlds, and fascinating characters. I can’t believe how invested I am, as someone who hasn’t even read the Books of the Raksura main series. After reading this, I’m going to have to try hitting them sooner rather than later. Hopefully there will also be more of these short tales collected in future anthologies, because I would definitely be interested in reading them.
A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. My thanks to Night Shade Books!