The Cloud Roads – Martha Wells

About the book

Moon has spent his life hiding what he is—a shape-shifter able to transform himself into a winged creature of flight. An orphan with only vague memories of his own kind, Moon tries to fit in among the tribes of his river valley, with mixed success. Just as Moon is once again discovered and cast out by his adopted tribe, he discovers a shape-shifter like himself… someone who seems to know exactly what he is, who promises that Moon will be welcomed into his community.

What this stranger doesn’t tell Moon is that his presence will tip the balance of power… that his extraordinary lineage is crucial to the colony’s survival… and that his people face extinction at the hands of the dreaded Fell.

Moon must overcome a lifetime of conditioning in order to save and himself… and his newfound kin.

278 pages (paperback)

Published on: March 15, 2011

Published by: Night Shade Books

Author’s webpage


About twice a week I make my rounds through the free book sections of iBooks and Amazon Kindle. Occasionally I come back with something good. A few weeks ago I saw The Cloud Roads and downloaded it. I then forgot about it until Martha Wells wrote in for Fantasy Café’s Women in SF&F feature. After reading the author’s post, I decided to give this book a shot. I dug it out of the Kindle dungeon where I store all the books I download and forget (oops) and started reading.

It isn’t often that I read a book which simultaneously delights me and exhausts me at the same time. The fact that this is one such rare book was, honestly, a treat.  Opinions like this are so different than my usual that I find them to be a true delight; a wonderful break from normal. There’s so much in The Cloud Roads to enjoy, from an incredible world filled with unique creatures, to sympathetic protagonists. However, there are two sides to each coin, and that’s no less true with The Cloud Roads.

The Cloud Roads tells the story of Moon, a young man who has traveled most of his life trying to find what he is and where he fits. He spent much of his time hiding his true nature and living with various ground dwelling peoples until they caught wind that he wasn’t what they thought and was forced to move on. One of the most interesting parts of The Cloud Roads is the world that Wells has created. It’s a complex, vast world filled with impressively unique cultures and beliefs and not one human species, despite there being many that may mirror humans in many respects. Wells’ world truly is fantasy and unique, full of flying islands, sprawling landscapes and hints of a much more vast world that sprawls far beyond what was exposed to the reader in this volume.

Quickly after Moon is discovered by Stone, the world, which is so incredibly unique and sprawling, seems to narrow quite a bit as the story takes root with one specific group of people in one specific area. While Moon still travels a bit throughout the book, much of that vast feeling the reader gets when first introduced to the world is lost, as his attention is focused on the Indigo Cloud Court. This really was a keenly felt loss, because it’s the world that pulled me in and wrapped around me, entrancing me in the book and when the plot became more focused on one specific group of people in one specific location, much of the amazement I felt was lost.

The Raksura are incredibly fascinating to learn about, but I soon discovered that I was more interested in their wings and scales than anything else. As a whole, the Raksura are much like any other downtrodden, misunderstood group of individuals in any fantasy book. They are better than the world perceives them to be and, perhaps too morally righteous to be completely believable. Despite how downtrodden they are, all they really want to do is help themselves and others. I guess part of me rolls her eyes at that, because I just feel like I’ve read it before. If the scales and wings were taken away, I’m not really sure what makes the Raksura much different than myriads of other downtrodden groups I’ve read in plenty of other books.

That’s not to say that the book isn’t interesting. The plot moves forward at a fast clip, and the characters are very easy to sympathize with. However, when it’s boiled down to its bare bones, there really isn’t anything incredibly unique about The Cloud Roads. It’s the story of a man with a mysterious past that, in one form or another, can be seen as “the chosen one” and by joining with a group of people, he has to learn to fight against prejudice with the greater world (against the Raksura) and among his own people. There are some quests and a few battles but none of that is surprising. By the time the reader really gets used to the Indigo Cloud Court, they’ll probably be able to predict the ending, and the important plot points before they reach them. This would have bothered me a lot more if I hadn’t been so completely fascinated by Wells’ world and the creatures that inhabit it.

One of my largest complaints about the work as a whole was (In order to not spoil anything I will try to keep it vague. People who have read this before will hopefully know what I’m talking about) Moon’s constant inner discussion about what he planned to do after the court is moved really grated on me. Due to how predictable the plot was, I knew he wasn’t going to do what he kept saying he would do and the constant reminder of it got incredibly annoying and just seemed to point out how sadly predictable the plot was over, and over again.

Despite the flaws, and my few complaints, this is a series I will probably continue with. While the plot is rather lackluster when compared to the world, Wells’ really started something unique here. It’s easy reading and what I consider to be detachment fantasy, and there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s nothing wrong with a little predictability when it’s balanced with such a creative, wonderful word. While I had hoped that Wells’ would have spent a little more time elaborating on cultures and, perhaps, exploring her world a little more than she does, I have high hopes that she will do that in further volumes, and that’s why I plan on continuing with the series. I want to know what other creatures she has dreamed up, and what lies beyond the horizons of her world, and the Indigo Cloud Court.


3.5/5 stars

6 Responses

  • Hi Sarah.

    I loved this (although my overall rating was equal to yours) because of the worldbuilding. The worldbuilding is the best part of the book and I am very happy to have a fantasy world full of different races, where there is no baseline human per se.

    It also had been far too long for me, a longtime reader of Wells, that there had been a novel from her. That may have colored my perceptions of the book to a little rosier than yours.

    • BookwormBlues

      I loved the world! I really did. It was the best part of the book IMO. I just felt like a lot of it was lost when the book got tunnel vision on the raksura, if that makes sense.

      This is my first Wells novel. I am excited to read more by her.

      • Her single best (Nebula nominated!) is Death of the Necromancer, but if you are going to read the novels set in Ile-Rien, you might want to read Element of Fire first. Her standalones Wheel of the Infinite and City of Bones are also good entry points to her work.

        • BookwormBlues

          Thanks for those suggestions. I never seem to know where to start with an author so I always appreciate suggestions from people who have read that author before. It helps immensely. I’m going to see if I can find Death of the Necromancer, or any of the others, at the library.

  • I read City of Bones ages ago and really enjoyed it, but somehow have never picked up any of Wells’ other books. I’ll have to add her back into my TBR list. Great review!

  • Ben

    I thought the world Wells created was rich, unique, and populated with several fascinating races and cultures, but ultimately all that worldbuilding needs to be in service of telling a compelling story with interesting characters, and I didn’t really get that. The predictable, contrived plot and Moon’s totally static character (seriously, how many times did he have the same internal struggles?) left me wishing desperately for a comprehensive Fell victory.

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