Literature: Books of the Raksura

The Books of the Raksura are a fantasy series by Martha Wells (website here). The first book, The Cloud Roads, introduces us to Moon. In the Three Worlds, there are perhaps hundreds of wildly diverse humanoid species — but Moon has spent most of his life thinking he's the only one of his kind. And unfortunately Moon, who is a shapeshifter, just happens to resemble (in one of his two forms) the most rapacious and vicious predators on the planet: the Fell. Moon just wants a place to belong, but he must constantly guard against others learning of his secret. When he finally meets a member of his own kind, a whole new set of adventures begin for him, and he faces his biggest challenge of all: fitting in.

There are presently three books in the series:
  • The Cloud Roads
  • The Serpent Sea
  • The Siren Depths

As well as two novella collections:
  • Stories of the Raksura, Volume I
    • "The Falling World"
    • "The Tale of Indigo and Cloud"
  • Stories of the Raksura, Volume II
    • "The Dead City"
    • "The Dark Earth Below"

The Books of the Raksura provide examples of:

  • Age Is Relative: Pearl may be a hundred years old or more, but she competes with her daughter Jade (who is probably Moon's age, in her thirties/forties) as if they're sisters. Inverted in Stone, who is Really 700 Years Old, or at least a few hundred, and acts more like a big brother to Moon.
  • Ancient Artifact: Essentially the whole of the Three Worlds, which is littered with the ruins of extinct empires and species.
  • Badass Grandpa with a general subset of Stronger with Age: Stone, and by extension any elderly consort or queen; they get stronger and bigger, not weaker, with age. Moon is initially stunned to realize he and Stone are the same species because Stone is three times bigger in his shifted form.
  • Bi the Way: The fact that Moon occasionally sleeps with Chime is in no way played for drama. It could be inferred that Everyone Is Bi, Raksura in general have a very casual attitude towards sex.
  • Body Horror: Moon reflects on this when he learns about Chime's abrupt change from mentor to Aeriat.
  • Bratty Half-Pint: Frost, the fledgling queen, and leader of the Sky Copper orphans.
  • Break the Haughty: River, after Pearl dumps him. He loses his status in the court, and becomes desperate to prove that he still has worth as a warrior even without his former rank. Because he was such a Jerkass while he still had power, the warriors he used to boss around are happy about his downfall.
  • Cultural Rebel: Moon, a consort, learns that other Raksuran consorts are supposed to be refined, shy creatures who never leave home. His history has made him tougher and much more crude, and he's not particularly interested in being protected or courted.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Moon is suspicious of the Raksura because he's tried before to find his people, which led him into the clutches of a Fell ruler, who raped him. Although this incident clearly scarred him, Moon doesn't want sympathy.
  • Double Consciousness: Moon has learned to fit in, more or less, among groundlings. It's his own people who confuse him badly.
  • Eccentric Mentor: Stone again, who never bothers to tell Moon anything, thinks it's funny to joke about eating sentient beings, and periodically slaps him in the head.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Whatever that ... thing was at the end of The Siren Depths.
  • The Exile: Moon's big problem among the Raksura is that he's considered a "solitary" — a Raksura without family ties or a court. Solitary Raksura are treated much like solitary members of any pack species — barely tolerated, rarely adopted, usually not highly-ranked.
  • Floating Continent: The Three Worlds are strewn with floating islands. A specific type of magical rock is responsible for their flight; one race uses it to build flying boats. No, not Cool Airships, but flying boats.
  • Giant Mook: The major kethel are Giant Flyers as big as Stone's shifted form, but because they're not very bright, they're simply very dangerous mooks as well as transport for the smaller Fell.
  • Guttural Growler: All the Raksura, in their shifted forms.
  • Hive Caste System: The Raksuran social structure includes two breeds (winged Aeriat and wingless Arbora), and several castes within each breed, all ruled by a powerful queen. Moon is a consort, the only male who can breed with a queen to produce children, which makes for some interesting gender dynamics given that the queens are bigger, stronger, and decidedly aggressive.
  • Humanoid Aliens and Rubber-Forehead Aliens: The groundling races mentionednote  tend to be humanoid, but with a feature like fur, horns, or oddly colored skin to set them apart. The official website lists several examples. The Raksura and Fell's shifted forms are also humanoid in shape, but even the wingless ones are out of the Rubber Forehead category.
  • Interspecies Romance: Moon's initial relationship with two groundling women; it's implied that he's had other relationships in the past. Also, a big secret of the Raksura is that they came from the same 'forefather' race as the Fell. The Raksura became a distinct race after the 'Aeriat' interbred with the Arbora, who were once a separate species entirely.
  • Involuntary Shapeshifting: Raksura children can be forced to change shape just by startling them. Older Raksura can control it, but Moon fears sex with groundlings because in a moment of, er, distraction, he might give his lover a little surprise.
  • Jerkass: Pearl, who seems to delight in pissing off everyone around her.
  • Kryptonite Factor: The poison used on Moon at the beginning of the first book, which "outs" him as a shapeshifter. It turns out to be deadly to Fell.
  • Little Miss Badass: Potentially every female Raksura; they're cute when they're little, but adult females are bigger and stronger than males, and queens are basically born badasses.
  • Long-Lost Relative: In The Siren Depths, Moon meets his surviving relatives—mother, sister, and half-Fell brother. All of them are eager to form a relationship, while Moon is angry that they removed him from Indigo Cloud and bitter that they didn't find him sooner.
  • Magic Pants: The ability to keep one's clothes when shifting is mentioned to be a "bit of magic" early on. It can also be used to hide weapons.
  • Magic Tool: Literal; mentors create light by infusing magic into inanimate objects, like rocks and shells. Other races in the Three Worlds use various created and found magical tools, such as creating flying ships from pieces of flying islands.
  • Masculine Girl, Feminine Boy: Gender roles among the Raksura seem to be more or less nonexistent... except among queens and consorts. Queens are stronger, aggressive, bossy, and possessive; consorts start out weaker (although they get Stronger with Age), and aside from Moon, are supposed to be shy and high-strung. Queens fight over them and — as Stone implies to Moon re: Pearl — may not take no for an answer, especially with younger consorts.
  • Menacing Stroll: Most Aeriat females, and Ranea, the half-Fell half-Raksuran queen.
  • Monster Progenitor: Literally in the case of both Fell progenitors and Raksuran queens. And especially Ranea, who's both, and who's been laying waste to the Three Worlds just to get her hands on Moon, whom she wants as a(n unwilling) mate. Fell progenitors are likely also Mothers of a Thousand Young, because they're the only female Fell and yet somehow give birth to giant kethel, rulers and other progenitors, and numerous swarms of dakti.
  • My Instincts Are Showing: Moon doesn't know much about proper Raksuran behavior, but fortunately much of it is rooted in predatory dominance behavior.
  • Never Learned to Read: Moon never learned to read Raksuran. Since he doesn't want to admit that, he's been trying to learn by sitting in on the royal clutch's lessons.
  • Non-Action Big Bad: The expected role of a Fell progenitor. They are the overall leaders of their flights, and thus responsible for the incredible destruction caused by the Fell as well as most of the Evil Plans their people carry out... but their shifted forms are unarmored and they remain in safety rather than leading from the front lines like Raksuran queens. Ranea is an exception; as a hybrid queen-progenitor, she is perfectly able to fight, although she does so only when the Raksura reach her temporary stronghold.
  • Nonhuman Humanoid Hybrid: The Fell are trying to make these. It's also the origin story of the Raksura themselves.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: The Raksuras' shifted forms, especially those of the Aeriat, are basically humanoid dragons: scales, wings, tails, claws, and they have a taste for shiny things. They're omnivores and not carnivores, and they don't breathe fire. No need, since as s/he gets older an Aeriat becomes a Giant Flyer.
  • Raised by Wolves: Inverted; Moon has trouble among the Raksura because he wasn't raised in their wolfpack/lion-pride-like society.
  • Secretly Dying: Flower sickens and dies of old age over the course of The Serpent Sea, pretending all the while that she'll be fine if she can just get some rest. The trope is subverted, as it was only kept secret from Moon. Everyone else had recognized the signs long beforehand.
  • Seers: The mentor caste of the Arbora.
  • Sibling Team: Traditionally, queens are supported by their female warrior clutchmates. For example, Jade's clutchmate Balm is the head of her warrior faction.
  • Stronger with Age: Raksura consorts become stronger as they age, and both queens and consorts grow larger as long as they live, so that an elderly queen is twice Pearl's size, and Stone, the oldest Raksura shown, has a wingspan three times Moon's.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Pearl, who stops being an ass whenever her court is threatened, long enough to rip her enemies' heads off.
  • Turtle Island: The leviathan in The Serpent Sea doesn't have plantlife growing on it other than moss, but it is big enough to host an entire groundling city.
  • Winged Humanoid: Aeriat, Raksura queens, and most Fell are winged, scaly humanoids in their shifted forms.
  • Womb Level: Moon and friends get inhaled by the leviathan. Giant parasites and even an intelligent race call it home; Moon remarks that having tunnels chewed into its flesh has to hurt.

Alternative Title(s):

Books Of The Raksura