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Literature / Books of the Raksura

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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 currently five books in the series:

  • The Cloud Roads
  • The Serpent Sea
  • The Siren Depths
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  • The Edge of Worlds
  • The Harbors of the Sun

As well as two novella collections:

  • Stories of the Raksura, Volume I
    • "The Falling World"
    • "The Tale of Indigo and Cloud"
    • "The Forest Boy"
    • "Adaptation"
  • Stories of the Raksura, Volume II
    • "The Dead City"
    • "Mimesis"
    • "Trading Lesson"
    • "The Almost Last Voyage of the Wind-ship Escarpment"
    • "The Dark Earth Below"

The Books of the Raksura provide examples of:

  • Action Girl: All female Aeriat are required to be this, but special mention goes to the queens.
  • A Dog Named "Dog": In Harbors of the Sun, Moon eventually starts to think of the kethel accompanying him and Stone as a person named "Kethel".
  • 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 (though Moon does see him as a surrogate father).
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  • Alien Landmass: The Three Worlds are dotted with floating islands, many of which hold ruins of long-lost civilizations.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: Initially seems to be played straight with the Fell. Later books reveal it's more complex than that, and only true of Fell progenitors.
  • Amazing Technicolor Population: Some of the most human-like groundling races, such as the Golden Islanders, just have unusual coloration.
  • Ancient Artifact: Essentially the whole of the Three Worlds, which is littered with the ruins of extinct empires and species.
  • Bite of Affection: The Raksura use gentle bites as their equivalent of kissing, to show affection or to solicit 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.
  • Child by Rape: Considering the Fell had a plan to make crossbreed children by abducting Raksura for breeding, most of the children were either killed or hidden or taken by the Fell or the Raksura, the most notable being:
    • Ranea: half-Fell progenitor half-Raksuran queen.
    • Shade: half-Fell half-Raksuran consort.
    • Lithe: half-Fell half-Raksuran mentor.
    • Demus: half-Fell dakti half-Raksura mentor.
    • Erasus: half-Fell half-Raksura who could also force shapeshifting of Raksura into their groundling forms.
    • Consolation, the hybrid progenitor-queen and her siblings from The Edge of Worlds, whose Raksura father lived long enough to impart basic morality to them.
  • Cool Airship: A bunch of different ones that all operate on different principles.
    • Golden Island wind-ships look like wooden sailing ships, but are in fact suspended, propelled, and controlled by a shard of rock from the flying islands.
    • The explorers in The Serpent Sea have a heavily armored hovercraft.
    • The Kishans build airships out of a special moss that converts sunlight into power.
    • A few civilizations just have straight-up blimps, which are disparagingly referred to as "bladder-boats".
  • Cool Old Guy: Stone and Delin both qualify.
  • Creative Sterility: The Fell don't create anything, they just steal from other races. Aeriat Raksura also have a bit of this, but to a far lesser degree.
  • 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.
  • Dangerous Drowsiness: Flower's constant fatigue in The Serpent Sea is one sign that she's near death from old age.
  • 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.
  • Dead Guy Junior: Moon and Jade's first clutch are named for their father's adoptive sister, their mother's father, and three long-dead consorts and queens of the court.
  • Death Is Gray: The titular shapeshifters lose their natural colouration and turn white when they're very near death from old age. Moon, who was Raised by Humans, doesn't know what it means when it happens to Flower, and she doesn't tell him so he'll keep treating her normally.
  • Does Not Like Shoes: Raksura don't need to wear shoes in their groundling forms, and usually prefer not to. In The Serpent Sea, Moon exploits this fact by wearing boots while trying to pass himself off as a groundling to someone who knows about Raksura.
  • 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.
  • Evil Sorcerer: Ardan, the Big Bad of The Serpent Sea.
  • 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.
  • Fantastic Racism: Surprisingly uncommon, considering, but there are a few examples. Many groundlings distrust shapeshifters, and the swamplings featured early on in Harbours of the Sun despise soft-skinned races.
  • Fantasy Contraception: Queens can suppress their fertility at will.
  • Faux Affably Evil: The Fell have this down to an art. They can be polite, charming, and even strive to appear reasonable, but it's all an act.
  • The Federation: Imperial Kish, a large, multi-species confederation, and the most powerful civilization on the Raksura's home continent.
  • 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.
  • Human Aliens: Fell and Raksura can both pass for human in their groundling forms - they're more resilient than they look, and don't need to wear shoes, but otherwise they're by far the most visibly human-like species in the setting.
  • Illness Blanket: When Moon attends a tense meeting with a rival Raksuran Court while recovering from poisoning that nearly killed him, he is embarrassed when the queen interrupts the meeting to order him another blanket.
  • 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.
  • "It" Is Dehumanizing: One of the early signs that Moon is starting to think of Kethel as a person rather than a monster is that the narration starts referring to him as "he", rather than "it".
  • Jade-Colored Glasses: Moon is incredibly cynical by the start of The Cloud Roads, bordering on outright paranoia at times.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Pearl, who seems to delight in pissing off everyone around her. Yet she does want what's best for the court and will go toe to toe work any who threatens them (like all queens).
  • 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.
  • Let's Get Dangerous!: Pearl, who stops being an ass whenever her court is threatened, long enough to rip her enemies' heads off.
  • 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.
  • Loners Are Freaks: Moon gets a lot of negative attention among Raksura for having lived most of his life as a "solitary" among groundlings. Justified — if not in Moon's case — since Raksura are intensely social, so "solitaries" are almost always those exiled from their Court for horrible misdeeds. Indeed, the solitary that Moon meets in The Serpent Sea turns out to be a Serial Killer.
  • 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.
  • Obviously Not Fine: Despite her obviously failing health, Flower insists that she's just "tired" throughout The Serpent Sea. She eventually tells the protagonist that she's dying of old age, that all the other Raksura knew the signs, and that she left him out of the loop because she liked that he was treating her normally. She passes soon after.
  • Orc Raised by Elves: In Harbors of the Sun, the Fell in Consolation's flight were largely raised by an unnamed consort.
  • Our Demons Are Different: The Fell aren't demons, exactly, but they're fairly close. They're Always Chaotic Evil and the scourge of much of the world, and in their shifted forms the dakti resemble winged imps, while the kethel are enormous winged, horned humanoid monsters.
  • 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.
  • Precursors: Several. The most important are the forerunners, ancestors of the Raksura and the Fell, and their allies the foundation-builders, ancestors of most of Imperial Kish.
  • Prefers Raw Meat: The Raksura are fine with hunting live prey when they're traveling; within their communities, they serve the raw meat nicely prepared with a range of side dishes. In fact, Jade is fairly apprehensive when she visits a human settlement and is served cooked meat for the first time.
  • Pretty Boy: Seems to be the norm for Raksuran consorts.
  • Raised by Wolves: Inverted; Moon has trouble among the Raksura because he wasn't raised in their wolfpack/lion-pride-like society.
  • Rape as Backstory: Happened to Moon, who was raped in the past by the Fell ruler. When he was younger and still trying to find signs of his race, he came across a city Saraseil, which was attacked by Fell. Moon, who never saw either Raksura or Fell before, went to ask them to tell him what he was. There, a Fell ruler called Liheas tried to brainwash him into thinking he was Fell too, and then raped him, after which Moon realized he was not one of them and broke the ruler's neck while the ruler was sleeping, then set the room on fire and escaped. Because of this traumatic event, he stopped all attempts to ever try to find his race, didn't care anymore about himself for a long time, and became cynical, wary and distrustful of others, especially of the Fell and even more of the Raksura.
  • Really 700 Years Old: Raksura don't show many outward signs of age, so in his groundling form, Stone is a grey-skinned and white-haired but otherwise youthful-looking Pretty Boy. In reality, he's far older than anyone else in Indigo Cloud.
  • 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.
  • Screw Politeness, I'm a Senior!: Line-grandfathers are largely exempt from Raksuran etiquette, something that Stone takes full advantage of.
  • 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 have Psychic Powers that include auguring the future and sensing the attention of hostile forces.
  • Shapeshifting Heals Wounds: Inverted: If a Raksura's wings are injured, it can't safely shift back to human form until it heals; when Moon is forced to do so, the injury transfers to his human body's chest and back muscles and becomes much worse in the process.
  • Sibling Team: Traditionally, queens are supported by their female warrior clutchmates. For example, Jade's clutchmate Balm is the head of her warrior faction.
  • The Sociopath: The default personality of most Fell.
  • Stay in the Kitchen: Gender-flipped and Downplayed with Raksura Consorts, who are generally expected to lead pampered, cloistered lives within their home colony, fathering clutches with their Queens and otherwise looking pretty. Moon comes across as a bit of a Rebellious Princess for remaining an active, deadly fighter and going on missions outside his colony.
  • 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.
  • Tomboy: Having grown up alone, around groundling cultures with more conventional gender roles, Moon is essentially the Raksuran equivalent of a tomboy. This sometimes causes friction with traditionally-minded Raksura who expect him to be a pampered, Non-Action Guy consort.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Gender-flipped when Moon meets Ember, a more conventional consort who's slightly in awe of Moon's independence and personal exploits.
  • Tomboy Angst: Gender-flipped. Moon has some self-esteem issues revolving around how he's not a "normal" consort, most obvious in The Siren Depths, where he finds himself wondering if he's a liability to Jade.
  • Tomboy with a Girly Streak: As he settles into his position as consort, he's a dedicated caregiver to the court's children, and later on starts taking more of an interest in his appearance.
  • 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.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Moon can border on paranoia at times, and his narration often describes perfectly innocuous actions as if they were the most suspicious thing in the world.
  • The Usual Adversaries: The Fell are this to pretty much the entire population of the Three Worlds.
  • 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.


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