The Cloud Roads

Martha Wells
The Cloud Roads Cover

The Cloud Roads


Narrator: Christopher Kipiniak | Length: 15 hrs and 11 mins | Audiobook Publisher: Audible Studios | Whispersync Ready: Yes

The Cloud Roads introduces us to Moon, an orphaned shapeshifter who has spent years living among the groundlings (more traditionally humanoid looking races) disguised as one of them. Moon has long given up on finding his real people, and he doesn't even know the name of his race at the beginning of this book. Instead he's focused on living in different locales with various races, moving on when they became suspicious of him, forging some semblance of a life as best as he can. Despite Moon's somewhat detached nature due to his self-reliance, cynicism, and general distrust-learned habits from having to keep on the move-Moon is not a solitary creature by nature and finds comfort living among others, even if he isn't free to be himself. That all changes one day when he meets another shapeshifter like himself, and Moon begins a life changing journey that may finally provide the answers he feared he'd never find.

Moon presents an interesting conundrum in Raksuran society. He has difficulty with the mores of the society, and while Moon tries to keep his outward feelings neutral, even as he worries he may doing the wrong things, Moon's survival tactics never quite leave him. Given how he's lived much of his life wandering, he always looks for weaknesses and escape routes when introduced into unfamiliar situations. I appreciated he didn't immediately find personal peace or a feeling of belonging among the Raksura, He didn't find himself suddenly eager to sing the songs of his people. No, having Moon work through issues and learn how he factors into this new society gave his journey substance. Moon also showed that, even though he's wary by nature, he is a very dedicated, caring, and trustworthy individual, often feeling his own happiness isn't more important than doing what's right.

What made me enjoy this book as much as I did was Moon and how he slowly comes to learn about his culture including the complicated court politics of his people. Because neither Moon or the reader know anything about the Raksura, this allows a level of world building that feels almost like we're taking this journey with Moon. We're experiencing this strange new place with him, and it gives Wells such freedom of expression with the culture and people. She's allowed to dwell on her world building, presenting Moon and the readers with this beautifully crafted landscape and culture. She weaves this new information into the story without having to resort to info dumping.

With the world building, Wells did a terrific job of fleshing out her characters and races, making most of them feel like more than just humans with odd colored skin tones and some structural appearances. Some races outside the Raksura can feel fairly typical for the fantasy setting, but the author still manages to give them cultural differences to make them memorable. The Raksura culture is treated with ingenuity and craftiness by Wells. There's something that feels familiar and human about them, making the reader empathize with them while giving them this unique culture and mannerisms that sets them apart from typical humans or even the groundlings in the story.

The Raksuran culture is largely matriarchal and plays with gender roles in clever ways. However, gender doesn't play out in such obvious ways to make the characters feel inferior or in ways that makes it seem like a gender war is happening. The genders largely on equal footing with defined roles that are important to their society as a whole. Gender differences aren't treated as a slight. A female may be stronger than her male counterpart in some cases and it doesn't cause an inferiority complex due to gender. It's just treated as part of the culture and makes a interesting, subtle commentary on gender without feeling like it's crept over into the territory of being angry and preachy. In this same vein, the sexual nature and customs of this world are varied and include various sexual orientations and customs without demonizing them in any way.

Chris Kipiniak was an excellent choice in the reading the series. I especially loved the gravelly voice he used for Stone, which made the character actually sound like his name. I was a little unimpressed with his female voices, but I'm particular about narrators voicing characters opposite their gender in general. He didn't do a terrible job with their voices, though. I just wasn't moved by them. Despite that, he was an engaging narrator and added a nice flair to much of the dialogue. I enjoyed his characterization of Moon best and thought he did a superb job with capturing the wry nature of Moon's personality and Moon's conflicted nature that knew he should practice selfish self-preservation but ultimately always did what was right.

In this first book, Wells has introduced us to a wildly imaginative world with these fully fleshed out characters and traditions that take the reader on quite a journey. This is one of the more innovative books I've read in any genre. There haven't been many books that make me feel like I'm reading something that's truly fresh and special, but Wells has managed to make me feel like I've stepped into a whole new world with the Raksura while keeping elements that make it feel familiar.