Wheel of the Infinite by Martha Wells

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½
Date Read: December 26, 2016 to January 12, 2017
Recommended by:
Recommended to:

Ever have a moment or several when you’re looking for something new to read and all you see are the same old stories and arcs being retold in marginally barely noticeable slightly different ways? That all you’re seeing is just the same stuff over and over again? I’ve been feeling that way for some time now, and I admit I’m more than fed up with fantasy’s preference for young protagonists and their foolhardy ways–not referring to just YA, I mean the majority of genre fiction. Every time I visit a bookstore, there’s a ton of coming of age stories, new and old, starring a special teenager or twenty-something or a group of them, and they’re always varying shades of stupid foolish, and it gets to a point where I’m like… get the hell off my lawn. Seriously. All of you. Gtfo.

Then this book came along at the right time and reminded me that, if I wanted to find books that actually interest me, that mean something to me, I had to look harder and dig deeper. The kind of stories I’m looking for are out there, they’re just buried under piles and piles of sh–stuff I can’t stand. And they’re most likely out of print or have been for decades now. So now, I’m gonna make an effort to look harder for lesser known genre fiction and dig ’em out.

Another thing that made this book the perfect read at the time I picked it up was its unconventional setting–reminiscent of ancient South Asia, most likely India–and its unconventional cast of characters–all of them older and world-weary and all have lived experience and sketchy pasts. It was refreshing to read about characters that have lived and lost and lived on to fight another day. And it was good to see that world-altering stories and callings don’t just happen to the young and “special.”

Maskelle used to be a priestess of the highest order in the city of Duvalpore, but then she had a falling out with the royal family and was banished from the city. It’s been years since her exile, and at the start of the book, she’s making her way back as a favor to an elderly priest to help solve a problem with an ancient rite/ritual that the city performs every century. Unsure of her welcome and the new political leanings within the city, she arrives quietly, meaning to stay out of people’s way, but then she finds evidence of sabotage that could ruin the ancient rite and destroy the world. Figuring out who or what is behind it takes up the rest of the book.

It’s an interesting mystery and I’m in awe of Martha Wells’ world building and plotting prowess, particularly how much she achieves in so few words. Her sense of world building is unique and succinct, and her prose concise. All scenes and dialogue are necessary and have purpose. I never get the sense I’m reading a meandering plot or pointless characterization or manufactured drama.

Although the stakes are high for Maskelle, there’s an unexpected humorous undertone running through the story that I really like. It keeps it from being completely downtrodden. And while there are serious moments, like the ending serving as a moment of reckoning no one saw coming, much of the story is wry, funny, and easy to read. Maskelle and her endearing ragtag companions run into and/or trip over trouble wherever they go. I would have liked to read more about their time on the road and in the city because it’s just shy of slapstick comedy.

Overall, this was a satisfying read and a good mix of fantasy and otherworldliness, but I already knew that going in because it’s by Martha Wells.

The reaction was more violent than she had anticipated. The counterweight smashed right through the floorboards, knocking her backwards. The arm swung and toppled, taking the railing, part of the gallery, and a dozen yelling rivermen with it.

“I meant to do that,” Maskelle muttered to herself, stumbling to her feet.

[…]

“So, there’s no chance of just stopping and drowning here, say?”

“No, I think we’ll keep moving for now and drown a little further up the road.”

[…]

“I suppose attempts on the Throne happen more often in the Sintane?”

“The Holder Lord executed two brothers, a sister, and a cousin for trying to take the Markand Hold, just in the time I was there, and that was a slow year.”

[…]

Maybe I’m too told for this, she thought. Too old for war, too mean-tempered for peace.

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Author you’ve read the most

In terms of number of pages, it’s Charles Dickens since I’ve read most of his books and each must be somewhere 700 to 900 pages (MMPB editions).

But in terms of number of works (including short stories, novellas, and sometimes essays), it’s Brandon Sanderson.

Though neither are authors I read anymore these days. I think after surpassing the 10,000-page mark I just got sick and tired of both authors, and it didn’t help that both are/were formulaic writers who have/had a tendency to rehash the same kinds of characters and problems. After a couple of books, starting a new one by either was like reading the previous one over again. The writing got too repetitive and predictable for me.

Best sequel

It’s a tie between Adulthood Rites by Octavia Butler and Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon. If I finish both authors’ body of work, Butler would become my most-read author in terms of number of works and Gabaldon in terms of number of pages.

Best cover art

Another tie, this time between Liz Williams’ Detective Inspector Chen series (original hardcover editions) and Martha Wells’ Books of the Raksura series.

 

Currently reading:

Three great books

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The Reapers are the Angels (Reapers #1) by Alden Bell
Somber, eloquent, and quite beautiful. The writing style reminds me of early contemporary American. “Faulkner-esque” is what some reviewers call it. This book definitely rivals The Girl with All the Gifts in execution and could very well be the best post-apocalyptic book I’ve read this year.

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Three Parts Dead (Craft Sequence #1) by Max Gladstone
A surprise, a pleasant surprise. I was lured in by the urban-fantasy-ness and blown away by the setting and world building. As a rule, I have low expectations for all urban fantasies, regardless of hype. So I went into this book expecting it to be average at best, but the depth and scope of Gladstone’s world building won me over. Looking forward to continuing this series.

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Stories of the Raksura, Volume II by Martha Wells
What else is there left to say about this series that I haven’t said in my last two posts? When an author hits her stride, it shows in the strength of the narrative and the writing is simply wonderful. Wells just gets better and better with every new Raksura installment. I’d prefer a full-length novel because I just love the Three Worlds and every single character in it, but the short stories and novellas are just as great and fulfilling in their own way. The ones in this second volume fill in the gap between the previous books and from past events before Moon’s time, but these are more than just fillers because each story adds something new to the continuous arc and expand on wonders of the Three Worlds.

 

Lately I’ve been on a roll with my book choices and have come across a bunch of great ones these past few weeks, and I’d like to tell everyone about them, but there hasn’t been enough time to write. When I do have time, writing and reviewing just seem like too much work. And it doesn’t help that I’ve been writing a lot for work. Not fun things like books and new releases, but reports and proposals and answering dumb questions that anyone could find the answers to on google. *internally eye-rolling forever*. So the inclination to sit down and type out a post, no matter how short and to the point, makes me want to take a nap instead, even if it’s a post about books I actually enjoy.

And besides, it’s summer. There’s always something to do and dogs to walk and backyard gatherings to attend, if only for the free booze. Someone I know always wants to break out the grill and torch a few burgers every weekend that it’s not raining, and someone else always wants to have “a few people over” or go out and “try this new place,” and at least one other person always invite me to their kids’ birthdays–like why? I didn’t even know you had kids… but that’s beside the point.

The point is it’s summer and I have a short attention span. My reading list has been great and I want to let everyone know about all these awesome books I’m breezing through, but writing complete reviews isn’t something I can accomplish. So posts from now on will most likely be a mash-up of updates, short reviews, memes, and a few other things.

Review: Stories of the Raksura, Volume 1 by Martha Wells

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½
Date Read: February 9 to 11, 2015
Read Count: 1
Recommended by:
Recommended for:

The cover artwork for this series is just stunning. I love them all.

We return to the Three Worlds with this volume of four adventure-filled short stories (actually two novellas and two short stories) featuring characters from all three previous books and with special guest appearances by Indigo and Cloud.

 

“The Falling World” takes place after The Siren Depths, and it’s about Moon coming to Jade’s rescue. Now with powerful alliances like Opal Night and Emerald Twilight, the Indigo Cloud court is moving up the Raksura social ladder, with many other courts around the Reaches vying for their attention.

On a mission to visit a smaller court, Jade takes five of her warriors to discuss a trade deal, but on the day she’s due back, a young queen from that court comes to Indigo Cloud asking to speak with her. This causes a stir among the Arbora and Aeriat, and since no one has heard from Jade or the warriors since they left, Moon, Stone, and Pearl suspect she must have ran into trouble on the way there. Moon and Stone, along with a group of Arbora hunters, set out to find her and the others.

 

“Tale of Indigo and Cloud” goes back to a time before Indigo Cloud got its name and the colony tree was filled to capacity, with Aeriat and Arbora all over the place.

According to rumors, Indigo “stole” Cloud from a young queen at the Emerald Twilight court. But according to historical accounts, she did not. This story is about what really happened and how two courts almost went to war if not for some clever maneuvering on the part of a reigning queen. Since the courts came close to going to war, we get to see how courts prepare for or initiate war, and as usual, it’s a whole production, complete with nuances and posturing.

Best part though is seeing Stone as a little fledgling.

 

“The Forest Boy” is about Moon as a child. He had just lost Sorrow and his Arbora siblings to a Taft attack, and had been hiding out in the forest near the edge of town when two orphaned children found and brought him back to their foster parents’ house. The family was poor, but they took him in anyway and he lived with them for awhile. But he could not stay when one of the orphans saw him in his Raksura form.

A bittersweet story, told from the POV of an orphan boy. Makes you wonder how Moon’s life would turn out if he’d been raised in a stable home with decent people who cared for him, instead of bouncing from village to village.

 

“Adaptation” takes place shortly before Moon’s arrival, and it’s about Chime’s transition from Arbora mentor to Aeriat warrior. Life with wings is a challenge, both physically and mentally. For Chime specifically, though, becoming an Aeriat means losing his mentor and reproduction abilities, as all warriors are sterile and have no magic. It takes him a long time to adjust to the transition–and even now he’s still struggling with it–but with Balm’s help, he’s able to fly and the experience is unlike anything he’d ever imagined.

 

These stories are great, but too short. I need more. Good thing the second volume of short stories is coming out in a few days!

 

Just thought this is really cute.

Jade & Moon by Pentapus
(Jade & Moon by Pentapus)

Review: the Books of Raksura by Martha Wells

I’ve been sitting on this review for the past couple of months, not because I don’t have anything to say but because all I have to say is how much I love this series (I love it so very much). I went into the first book The Cloud Roads expecting to like it, but I wasn’t prepared for how much I enjoyed it. All three books are simply amazing, and they remind me of the fantasies I loved when I was younger, particularly the Earthsea Chronicles and the early Pern books.

Simply put, the Books of Raksura are such satisfying reads and so satisfyingly different from what you’d expect of high fantasy. It doesn’t take long for you to be fully immersed in the setting and adventures. It took me only a few pages to fall into the Three Worlds completely. I mean, how could anyone resist? There are flying islands, many of them now in ruins used to belong to long dead civilizations. The more you learn more about the Three Worlds, the more you want to live there, and I didn’t want to leave. I mean I literally could not put The Cloud Roads down and ended up breezing through the whole series, short stories and all, in a matter of days. It was a whirlwind experience, and it’s been a long time since a series sucked me in so completely that way. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise though. Martha Wells is an amazing storyteller.

Now onto the best part of the Three Worlds: Raksura. These are shapeshifters who have two forms: groundling, which is a humanoid form and the one they’re often in, and Raksura, which is a winged or wingless reptilian gargoyle-like form and the one they take when they fight or hunt. Winged Raksura, called Aeriats, are divided into three castes: queen, consort, and warrior. Wingless Raksura, called Arbora, are divided into four castes: mentor, teacher, hunter, and soldier. More about each individual caste here. Their functions and distinctions in Raksura court and society are a big part of the story, and I find their dynamic fascinating, so different from the usual Medieval European-like court politics of most high fantasies. And just their day to day lives are a treat to read about.

Raksura by Jessica Peffer
(Raksura by Jessica Peffer)

The antagonists of the Three Worlds are the Fell who are also shapeshifters, but they’re more like warped perverse versions of the Raksura. The Fell are also divided into castes and have some kind of society and pecking order, but they’re altogether much more medieval and bloodthirstier than the Raksura. They feed on other groundlings, are responsible for destroying civilizations all across the Three Worlds, and brutalize their own. Even Raksura fear them. But the interesting thing is it’s believed by some Raksura scholars that the Fell and Raksura once shared a common ancestor. When you look at the two races with that in mind, it adds more depth to the story and you begin to see their innate hatred of each other more clearly. Later books and stories expand more on this idea, but only a little bit at a time.

Fell by JessicaPeffer
(The Fell by Jessica Peffer)

Beautiful fan art. I had a hard time picture the line grandfather and major kethel until I saw Jessica Peffer’s versions.

 

Basic premise (and some spoilers)

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date Read
: January 30 to February 2, 2015

The Cloud Roads begins with a solitary Raksura named Moon, who had been living among various groups of groundlings for most of his life. He’s never been able to fit in anywhere and doesn’t even know what he is. At the start of the book, he’s been living for quite some time in a groundling village before inevitably getting kicked out again. This time, though, it leads him to find another Raksura (Stone), or rather Stone found and rescued him.

With nowhere to go and a desire to learn about Raksura, Moon decides to trust Stone and follow him back to his court, Indigo Cloud, which is only a few days’ flight away. On the way there, they stop by another court, but unfortunately not before it was completely destroyed by the Fell, which have increasingly become a menacing presence in these parts of the Three Worlds. Stone brings Moon to Indigo Cloud not only out of his goodness of his heart but for an ulterior motive, which is to help the court fight off the Fell.

As expected, Moon has a difficult time fitting into yet another group of people who view him with suspicion and sometimes distaste, but Jade, the young queen, takes an interest in him and he seems to like her too. However, all of that is put aside as more pressing matter arise and the Fell attack. Moon must decide if his place is to help the Raksura or leave because it’s not his fight. He decides to stay.

 

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½
Date Read
: February 3 to 5, 2015

The Serpent Sea takes place after the fight with the Fell. Moon is now a member of the Indigo Cloud court and takes his place beside Jade as her Consort. He’s settling into his new role and has even made a few friends, but before he could get comfortable, new trouble finds its way to the court.

The survivors of Indigo Cloud decide to pack up and leave their pyramid mound. Too many bad memories there for them to stay, and like Stone said, the colony is too hard to defend from Fell attacks. So they head to the court’s original territory in the Reaches, the forest of their ancestors where Raksura originated. The journey is uneventful and they reach the colony tree in a matter of days. Once there, though, they discover the tree’s seed pod is missing and that the tree itself will die slowly if the seed isn’t recovered. Moon, Jade, Stone, and a number of beloved characters from the previous book head out to find the seed, and the journey takes them across the Reaches and into the Serpent Sea.

Reading this book was like going on the journey myself. There are so many awe-inspiring things to mention: an ancient leviathan with a city on its back magically enchanted to stay afloat, the city on its back, the museum in the city on its back, Niren’s flying boats, the vastness of the Reaches, the Emerald Twilight court, and last but not least the colony tree. It’s like a multi-level mansion-sized tree house complete with running water and platforms for farming. The world building and details in this series get better and better with each book.

 

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Date Read
: February 5 to 9, 2015

Now that the Indigo Cloud court has settled into their new home, Moon and Jade focus their attention on starting a family, but conceiving proves to be more difficult than either had anticipated. Meanwhile, a powerful court with a powerful reigning queen on the other side of the Reaches makes a claim on Moon. She thinks he is the son she lost during a Fell attack on her colony many years ago. These events line up with Moon’s age and vague memories of that time and Sorrow, the Raksura he thought was his mother. According to Raksura law, if a consort hasn’t fathered a clutch yet, then his birth court still has claims on him. Once a “feral solitary” with no known ties and a muddled bloodline, Moon now has two courts that want him.

The Siren Depths is about lineages and bloodlines, of both the Raksura and the Fell, and they’re explored through Moon, his birth queen, their court, and what happened to their home in the East all those years ago. In short, Moon finally knows where he came from. Revealing any more would spoil the rest of the story, but I will say that it’s a great story full of surprises. It had me glued to each page; a few meals were missed and phone calls went ignored. Moon’s birth mother is such a great character (so great!), and her court and her side of the story are an intriguing addition to the narrative and Moon’s arc. They not only add interest and tension, but a whole heaping amount of history and heritage and so much more depth to an already rich vibrant series.

I will never get tired of rereading these books or singing their praises. They are, hands down, my favorite kind of fantasy and exactly what I had been looking for at the time to revitalize my love for the genre. If you’re tired of the same old fantasy books and want to try something new and different, give this series a go. Martha Wells never disappoints, and these books will take you on an unforgettable journey.

 

[ETA]

A post by Martha Wells (about Stories of the Raksura, Volume II) is featured on John Scalzi’s blog Whatever.

In many ways, the Raksura books are the books I’ve always wanted to write, it just took me writing a bunch of other books to figure it out.

Also on Whatever by Martha Wells:

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Still captivating, still beautiful. These books bring my fantasies of flying and living in trees to life–well, as close to reality as possible.

This is my third reread and I still find this world and these characters as interesting as when I first picked up this series and read it in a matter of days.

Review: City of Bones by Martha Wells

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½
Date read: March 5 to 20, 2014
Read count: 2

Not the book everyone thinks of when they hear “City of Bones,” unfortunately. I have no idea what that one is about, but this one is actually about bones. Cities and wastelands littered with bones and sand and an ancient mystery tied to bones (among other things) and a lot of mysticism revolving around the usage of bones, hence the relevant title.

I think most readers would give this book a 3- to 4-star rating, but for me it’s nearly 5. I rarely reread a book right away after finishing it–this book made me to that. I rarely wish books were longer–this book made me do that too. After finishing this book a second time, I wished it were part of a series, and I have a feeling Martha Wells intended for it to be a series because there’s still so much material left that can span at the very least a trilogy. The easy pacing, engaging characters, interesting plotting, and overall atmosphere of the story makes it an very enjoyable read. Without further ado, this is a post-apocalyptic semi-steampunk desert fantasy, which means it’s mostly fantasy with some interesting sci-fi parts.

As depicted on the front cover, the story takes place in a barren setting overrun by deserts and wastelands. The few cities left alive following a long-ago apocalypse are struggling to get by under a lot of strain–socially, economically, religiously, spiritually, morally, etc. It’s not clear when or how the apocalypse came about due to all records being destroyed. The main story takes place in Charisat, the largest and wealthiest surviving city surrounded by the Waste, former oceans that have been turned into vast fiery desert pits. What’s special about Charisat is that it’s a multi-level (Tier) city and its citizens’ socio-economic statuses are tied to where they live on these Tiers, with the highest Tiers set aside for royalty, politicians, and religious figures; the middle Tiers are for merchants; and the lowest Tiers are for the poor, non-citizens, and other outcasts. More about Charisat below[1].

Half of the adventure/mystery in this story focuses on digging into the past, uncovering pieces of relics, and figuring out how they work. The belief is that these relics are part of a huge system of some kind that the Ancients–people living before the apocalypse–made. The only people believed to know how to use these machines were the Survivors–those who survived the apocalypse–but for some reason, they did not pass on the knowledge to their descendants. Instead they left cryptic texts, strange notes, and weird drawings behind, as crazy ancestors tend to do. Hunting down the relics and bartering for them, or in some cases stealing them outright, is the other half of the adventure/mystery. And what’s an adventure without political and religious intrigue or a crazy cult chasing after the relic hunters? Of course time is as limited as water once everyone realizes that by piecing the relics together they begin to unravel the mystery of the apocalypse.

The relic hunters are: Khat, a not quite human non-citizen hiding from a mysterious past in Charisat ; Sagai, also a non-citizen, relic scholar, and Khat’s partner in crime; and Elen, a young determined scholar mage (“Warder”) from the upper Tiers on a secret mission. Due to their extensive knowledge of history and valuable relics, Khat and Sagai are hired on (read: forced) to help Elen in her search. They don’t have much choice in the matter since they’re lower-Tiered immigrants who don’t want to offend the authorities or get kicked out of the city by refusing to help. Don’t worry, there’s no love triangle here, but things do become more tense as these three come closer to unraveling the mystery.

The setting is both fantastical and realistic. It’s a feat of imagination, but at the same time, the depictions borrow from familiar cultures and customs of the Middle East, such as veils and preservation of identity as a social status. The terrains and climates are distinctly that of a desert world, and details pertinent to both city and society (of Charisat) are casually slipped into narration and conversations to reinforce the feeling of being in an unfamiliar place that feels vaguely familiar. Dry heat, searing sand, scorching sun, burning paved roads, gleaming rooftops, billowing dust clouds–all minor details that add to the overall atmosphere of the story.

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