I’ve made no bones of the fact that I am a fan of Martha Wells. I’ve read her work, in toto, since the nineties, starting in those days when I took a look at Nebula and Hugo nomination lists and took them as straight-up reading guides. Her Ile-Rien Nebula-nominated novel Death of the Necromancer introduced me to her work, then, and I moved forward from there.
The Cloud Roads, in 2011, started a new universe for her. A world with many humanoid species living in a welter of civilizations and cultures, current and past. A world where two species above all were focused. The Fell, ravenous, destructive and dangerous shapeshifters, their Flights devastating to all, a threat to any and every community. And then there were the Raksura, a shapeshifting species far, far more benign to their neighbors. A species rich in culture and internal society, a matrilineal culture built around courts ruled by Queens, with their consorts and a couple of subvarieties of the species providing a rich social environment. One problem the Raksura have is that their more aggressive flying forms have more than a passing resemblance to the Fell, and so with few exceptions, the Raksura treat with other species in their humanoid form secretly, or not at all.
Into this mix, enter Moon…
Moon lives alone, not quite sure of his nature. His mother and siblings are long dead, and he has lived within communities of other humanoids, posing as just another one of the numerous variations of humanoids to be found in the Three Worlds ‘verse. Moon has had to move around a lot, since it is inevitable that a community finds out his true nature, and he has to flee to avoid being killed. It’s a hard and lonely life and it is interrupted when he is discovered by the Raksura, and brought to the Court of Indigo Cloud. To have a feral solitary brought into the court of the Raksura, a lost consort at that, is frankly, a recipe for drama. Moon has no idea how a consort is expected to act in Raksura society, and has little patience with the idea of being a mostly cosseted and Court-focused individual. His new court has no idea how to deal with a Consort who is so independent and individually focused. Consorts, to their view, should not be gallivanting out on adventures, that’s what warriors are for.
The drama of Moon and the court of Indigo Court is the bulk of The Cloud Roads, The Serpent Sea and the Siren Depths, as the Court migrates back to its ancestral homeland to an ancient rainforest, and readapts to life with other Courts nearby, with Moon’s fish-out-of-water story a strong chord within it. After these three novels, a quartet of novellas, The Falling World, The Tale of Indigo and Cloud, The Dead City, and The Dark Earth Below continued to flesh out Moon’s backstory, the backstory of how the Court came to be decades before the current generation, and started to show the shape of the Court’s future.
The Edge of Worlds started a two-volume diptych capstone to the Three Worlds ‘verse. In that volume, Moon and his friends join in an expedition to a ruined city that may not only have secrets of an ancient civilization, but it is an ancient city that may have secrets connected to the Raksura as well—and the Fell. That volume ended on a cliffhanger, as some of the humanoids who had hired and partnered with the Raksura turn on them, kidnapping several of them and fleeing on an airship (did I mention that this rich universe also has airships?) for parts unknown. Oh and then there is the crossbreed Fell/Raksura (!) with agendas of their own.
Now, with The Harbors of the Sun, Martha Wells finishes that story and in truth the story that began with The Cloud Roads.
Trying to wrap up an entire story cycle on top of a duology is no easy task. The author drops us right in the middle of the action, without prologue, as the Raksura are reacting and trying to deal with the kidnapping of their kin. This novel is best read, I think, right after The Edge of Worlds as part of a two-part novel, as a significant time between the two requires some memory jogging to recall some of the particulars of the last adventure. This feels like a book meant to be read right on the heels of The Edge of Worlds.
In this new and final book, we get the resolution of a plot that threatens not only the Raksura who have been captured, but perhaps all of the Raksura everywhere. There are revelations and tense negotiations regarding the Half-Fell Half-Raksura, action, adventures, escapes, rescues, romance, and tons of character interplay. And there are revelations and liminal lines about an earlier age of the Three Worlds. One of the things I really like and liked about the Three Worlds is that it feels old, that it has had a history, that history is mostly in darkness, but what happened then influences the present in ways that those alive in the present themselves don’t even know. That “lived in” feel for fantasy worlds is something really hard to capture, I have found, with a lot of fantasy worlds only having the barest of nods toward the concept, or not even bothering to try.
The other major strand I want to tease out here is Moon himself. From that first novel, The Cloud Roads, Moon has been the fish out of water, the feral solitary suddenly thrust into a position in a complicated social web whose rules were opaque and often at odds with his nature. It is here at the end, when he is dealing with Humanoids, Half-Fell Half-Raksura, and especially other Raksuran courts, that Moon’s growth and change since the beginning, and the way that everyone has had to adapt to him, provides a characterization throughline through the entirety of the Raksuran novels and novellas.
All good things must end, and with the end of The Harbors of the Sun, Martha Wells brings to the close the story of a feral shapeshifter who is taken in by his people, and in the process helps them, and himself, find a place in their ancestral home.
Well done, Martha Wells. Well done indeed.