Friday, January 11, 2013

Martha Wells

Over the holidays, among other things I was on a Martha Wells reading binge. So far I've read her Raksura trilogy, City of Bones and The Death of the Necromancer. She is kind of a cross between Leigh Brackett and Ursula Le Guin: truculent heroes kicking ass across anthropologically fascinating worlds.

As usual, I encountered her via her Big Idea essays (here and here) on John Scalzi's site.

First up, her Raksura trilogy, consisting of The Cloud Roads, The Serpent Sea, and The Siren Depths:

These books follow the adventures of Moon, a shape-shifter with two forms: a humanoid form and a winged form capable of flight. Moon's world has a varied collection of sentient species, but he is an orphan and knows no others of his kind.

Moon lives with a human girlfriend in her settlement, hiding his flying Raksura form since it is easily mistaken by the people in his area for that of the predatory Fell. When his secret is discovered he is driven from the village, where he runs into an elder Raksura who takes him under his wing, so to speak. Many adventures follow as Moon tries to establish his place in the world.

It's a good series; I highly recommend it. Ms. Wells obviously loves world-building, and she's really good at constructing alien social arrangements. The Raksura live in tribes with matriarchs (who have male consorts), with various specialized types of workers and warriors. Kind of like a bee hive. But they have recognizable emotions and relationships; it's quite relatable. If you ever read Le Guin's work, especially The Left Hand of Darkness, just imagine that with more fighting.

City of Bones was Wells' second published novel. In it she's constructed a tiered city (much like Tolkien's Minas Tirith) on the edge of a post-apocalyptic wasteland caused by a collision of worlds, of sorts. The main character is a hunter of and dealer in ancient relics, drawn into a conflict between the movers and shakers of the city over some potentially powerful Ancient MacGuffins.

I enjoyed this book very much, too. It's very evocative of place. The MacGuffin and the plot surrounding it are really just an excuse to visit all the interesting corners of the tiered city: the slums, the university, the palace, the surrounding wastes, and so forth. The main characters are likable. One character is described repeatedly as “mad” with very little evidence of said madness; he is really more “crazy cool.” But overall it's a good read.

The final book, The Death of the Necromancer, I read quite some time ago, so I'm working from recollection. It's about your typical gentleman thief (I hear Dashiell Hammett snorting) and his ragtag band. He has a vendetta against someone dastardly, Count of Monte Cristo style, but there are darker supernatural forces at work that draw him inexorably in. I thought it was a good read. It's set in the same universe as another series of Wells' books, although I think it might be in a different era or something.

The book links all have excerpts on them so head over and have a look if any of these sound interesting. Martha Wells deserves a wide audience.


Jotaf said...

Just read the first chapter of the Cloud Roads. This is a great read! Thank you for the recommendation.

James McNeill said...

You're welcome! Hope you enjoy it.