Why I Read It: The cover of this book had always caught my eye, but I didn’t pay it a whole lot of attention. Good reviews kept popping up, so I slapped it on a wish list for a “one day when I’m bored” or “when I need to order enough on Amazon to get free shipping” mood. What I didn’t expect was, around the holiday season, to discover the book was being offered for free on the Kindle. I couldn’t resist, so I downloaded it ASAP. Thanks to Mount TBR, I couldn’t ignore it indefinitely, so I loaded it up on my reader and sat back with absolutely no expectations.
The premise: nabbed from BN.com: 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 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! Now Moon must overcome a lifetime of conditioning in order to save and himself… and his newfound kin.
Spoilers, yay or nay?: Nay. I didn’t take a lot of notes while reading, and those I did take were more to mark the areas I found humorous, so no spoilers. However, if you’re in a hurry, just skip to “My Rating” and you’ll be fine.
Discussion: It wasn’t hard to get into this book. From the very beginning, the reader is thrust into Moon’s POV. At first, he seems kind of like a disagreeable sort, as he doesn’t fit in well with his community and really doesn’t want to. But we gradually learn that he doesn’t know what, exactly, he is, but he does know that when he shifts, he has a disturbing resemblance to the world’s most fearsome monsters, the Fell.
And so, the story begins.
Wells is an author I’ve always had on my radar, but I never really took the opportunity to read her work until now. What a shame that is. Once I was sucked into the world of The Cloud Roads, I was really and truly sucked in. One thing that really helped was the close, third person POV of Moon. Wells doesn’t give into any temptations to show the reader what’s happening from someone else’s POV, which means that we feel the story through Moon’s eyes every step of the way. From the longing to belonging somewhere, even if it’s with a bunch of groundlings, to the discovery that he has a whole race he belongs to, to the fear that in the end, life has dealt him the kind of circumstances that means he’ll never belong, anywhere, no matter how much he wants to. And then, of course, the fight of trying not to belong when he wants to, even though he thinks he doesn’t.
The story of Moon’s discovery of his own race, the Raskura, and what it means to be Raskura (let alone what it means for him, in particular to be Raskura) would be an entertaining book in and of itself, at least it would be for my two cents. But the world is plagued with monsters, and his people are being forced to either treaty with them or die. Which means that even though Moon doesn’t feel like he belongs, he feels obligated to help, and then get the hell out of Dodge.
The world-building, for me, was captivating. Everything from the world itself, to the differences between the groundlings and the winged-races, to the flying ships and even the Fell, I glommed on to every detail Wells threw at me. But the story itself was enjoyable too, for while it applied recognizable fantasy tropes, it would twist them just enough to make that convention a wee bit more interesting, so the reader is left with a nice fuzzy feeling of warm & familiar, but with a little bit of wonder.
I loved how Moon’s past influenced the plot, and I loved how closely connected the Fell were with the Raskura by the end. I was fascinated by the faint suggestion that this world they all live in might be a futuristic Earth, a conclusion I came to only because there was a bit of talk of metal towers and landings and such. I could be wrong, but it made me pay closer attention to details, in a vain effort to learn if we might get the creation story of this world. After all, there aren’t actually any humans in this book. Even the groundlings, while humanoid, are clearly not human, so Wells’ fantasy world is certainly made up of diverse and unique populations, and I can’t help but wonder if there’s more of a story behind it.
There were also nice moments of humor, especially toward the end of the book. I won’t spoil said moment, but it makes me hope this character shows up in the sequel, The Serpent Seas.
And the characters worked well for me. I’ve seen complaints that everyone besides Moon is two-dimensional and flat, and I suppose that because we only get Moon’s POV, it’s easy to interpret it that way. And it may be true regardless, but Pearl was a more complex character than I originally gave her credit for, and not all of the Fell were mindless monsters: they had goals, ambitions, and feelings too (which sounds incredibly cheesy, until you learn more about Moon’s past history with them). Characters like Chime charmed me for their plucky sidekick-ness, and Jade made a lasting impression in that she didn’t fit a particular feminine stereotype.
In short, I was looking into the sequel of this book long before I finished reading it, and that’s always a good sign.
My Rating: 7 – Good Read
I may have downloaded this on a whim because it was free during the holidays, but The Cloud Roads ended up being utterly enjoyable to read. Fans of fantasy will most certainly want to give this book a shot, especially readers who want something more than elves or dragons or werewolves and vampires. I haven’t actually read a fantasy where the primary focus in on reptilian shape-shifters (which is the easiest way to describe the Raskura), but Wells does a wonderful job painting the picture and giving me a real sense of what it’s like to be a Raskura, what it’s like to confront one, and what it’s like to live in a world where many groundlings fear them. Moon is a rather reluctant hero, but he’s honorable as well, despite his misgivings for the story he’s been thrust into. As soon as I’m able, I’ll be picking up the sequel, The Serpent Seas, to see how Wells continues to develop this world, because it and the characters were just that enjoyable. Wells is an author I’ll definitely pay better attention to in the future.
Cover Commentary: It’s a compelling, eye-catching cover. The coloring is warm and lovely, and the sight of a winged man is just different enough to make me look closer and wonder what on Earth the book is about. This definitely caught my eye. Weirdly, I thought, for some reason, that this book was published by Tor, only to learn it’s actually published by Night Shade Books, which is still something I’m trying to wrap my head around. I don’t know why that’s so difficult to accept. I suspect the cover has something to do with it.