If you have read any of Martha Wells’ Raksura novels and stories, you likely do not need me to coax you into reading her latest volume, THE EDGE OF WORLDS, now that you know it’s here. Go forth and get it, and enjoy it as I did. You’re excused from reading the rest of this review.
For those of you who are new to Wells’ fiction, or her Three Worlds novels, let me open up this treasure of wonders for you. Imagine a fantasy world filled to the brim with more sentient species than a Talislanta corebook, and more diverse than the various types of hominids on Niven’s Ringworld. A fantasy world whose roots run deep, where ancient ruins of cities from civilizations long dead hold treasures, wonders and dangers. Where the foul Fell, an all-consuming race who view all other races as prey, seek to spread and devour the world.
The Three Worlds is a place where the shapeshifting Raksura, dwellers inside of mighty tropical trees, seek to survive in a world that often sees them as dangerous as the Fell even if the Raksura are arguably their greatest enemy. The Raksura are composed of an interlocking set of castes and types, from the matriarchal ruling Queens, through their breeding consorts, through the warriors to the flightless and more tool-oriented Arbora types. Personal conflicts, political machinations both within and without of the colony, strong characters, interesting problems and evolving and shifting ground underneath them means that life in a Raksura colony is rarely boring for long, not given the world they inhabit.
In previous volumes, the colony of Indigo Cloud, with their found consort Moon, have been adapting to life in the Reaches. Circumstances recounted in previous novels told the story of how the isolated colony, far from many other Raksura, found themselves needing to return to the ancestral home of their kind. Of course, for a colony long absent from that homeland, returning to now unfamiliar territory was a problem the colony has spent several volumes (and into this one) dealing with. From the various species in the rainforest, to the mysteries and surprises within, and of course their relations with nearby Raksura colonies, Indigo Cloud as a colony has had a large learning curve.
THE EDGE OF WORLDS itself continues that arc and evolution for Indigo Cloud. A group of groundlings, with an old friend of Indigo Cloud in tow to seek their help in getting into one of those ancient cities I mentioned above. The Raksura have had experience in this field, and thus the groundlings from the Empire of Kish seek the Raksura’s help. But it’s not just the groundlings from Kish, or the Raksura who are interested in a Forerunner City. Darker powers, powers that might do great evil with the artifacts and weapons inside the City, are a strong motivator for the Raksura to get into the city, and first.
The Raksura novels, in addition to their complex and rich worldbuilding, feature excellent action beats and a strong sense of adventure. In addition to the interesting and complicated family clan dynamics at home amongst the Raksura, when Moon and his family go out into the amazing world that Wells has created for them, the story flips seamlessly into pulse-pounding action. As always, too, Wells’ action candy does double duty, as the action sequences come with a significant dollop of characterization, as well. Far from mindless sock-em action, The Edge of Worlds provide conflicts with stakes, with choices, and illuminate the inner lives of Moon and the rest of the characters.
One nit I have, maybe cut for space (this volume is a bit longer than most of the previous volumes) is that Delin’s glossary and concordance about the Raksura, a feature of the previous books, is missing here. And of course if you are the kind of reader that hates that sort of thing — this book does end on a dramatic cliffhanger.
The Edge of Worlds starts a new series within Wells’ greater universe of the Three Worlds, and she does do a lot of enfolding of concepts and ideas about Moon, the colony of Indigo Cloud, the Raksura and the Fell. You could really start here if you wanted to, and there are advantages to doing so. Four novels and a host of stories in, Wells’ command and depiction of the Raksura and her world are better than ever. Starting here and then backfilling with the rest of the Raksura verse is a completely legitimate reading strategy. THE EDGE OF WORLDS does, though, incorporate ideas and implications of important things discovered in the previous volumes by the characters themselves about the Raksura, the Fell, and their world.
If you are not a reader who likes to read backwards, and have been intrigued by this, you should start with THE CLOUD ROADS, the first novel Wells set in the Three Worlds, and then proceed through its two sequels and the short story collections. THE CLOUD ROADS in particular gives a reader all the building blocks one needs to understand the Three Worlds, the Raksura, the Fell and Moon himself.
As for me, I am going to be impatiently awaiting the resolution of the cliffhanger in the next volume.