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The Serpent Sea by Martha Wells
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Jan 13, 2012

it was amazing

This sequel to the excellent The Cloud Roads (one of my top 10 books 2010) starts where the first book left of, as Moon, the now-consort to Jade, the sister queen to the Indigo Cloud and their court are on their way to their ancestral home in the hope of finding a new settlement for their people. The court is battle-weary after their fight against the Fell and worried about their diminishing numbers but still hopeful for a bright future at the new settlement. And at first, it seems all of their expectations have been fulfilled: within the trunk of a mountain-sized tree, filled with amazing carvings, beautiful surroundings, waterfalls and more rooms they can ever hope to fill, their ancestral home is a dream come true. But soon after their arrival, they find evidence of pillaging and discover that the seed that keeps the mountain alive has been stolen. Without it, they have no hope to survive there. Jade, Moon and Stone alongside some of the court’s most experienced warriors and mentors set out across the sea to find the missing seed.

The Serpent Sea is a worthy sequel to The Cloud Roads and it features all of the strengths (fantastic world-building, great story, awesome characters) of that first novel. It is so easy to fall in love with this series and the reasons are manifold.

It presents one of the most beautifully rendered Fantasy worlds I have ever encountered. The descriptions of the locales, the peoples and the different cultures of the Three Worlds have depth and originality. For example, I am amazed with the description of the mountain-sized tree that is the court’s new home: it’s grandiose, creative and literally awe-inspiring. From the moment the court stepped through its “doors”, I wished and hoped for them to make a home there. There is also an element of magic in the series but this is not really a central aspect of the series and it never overwhelms the story. Instead, the social and political dynamics of the Indigo Cloud court and their fight for survival are its central focus. There are internal conflicts (between the queen Pearl and sister queen Jade; between some of each queen’s favourites within the court; between those who support Moon and those who distrust him because of his past) as well as external ones (their diminishing numbers as well as a lack of Royal consort make them vulnerable; there are diplomatic issues with a neighbouring court) and all of it are compounded with the urgent need to find the missing seed. The actual plot of The Serpent Sea is a smooth continuation of the long-term tribulations of Indigo Cloud. The well-paced story evolves from their fight for survival and spirals from there in an adventure across the sea: there is time for fighting; there is time for diplomacy; there is also time for love-making, for laughter (I love the humorous bits interspersed throughout and the banter between Moon and Stone is so much fun) and for sorrow.

As much as I loved the aforementioned aspects of the book, the characters are my favourite thing about the series. The Raksura, as a race, is fascinating and I loved reading about their culture and their internal dynamics. It is all the more interesting that even though they are clearly the heroes of the series, there is also scope for a critical look at some of their more troubling aspects. For example, how the standing within the court is biologically determined. This is expertly explored through Chime, a character who was born a member of the mentor’s cast and has unwillingly shifted into a warrior – this shift is not to his liking, he misses being a mentor but he seems to have no choice in the matter. It seems unfair because well, it is unfair but I feel his story is far from being done. Perhaps there is room for change there? I would love to see that.

Finally, there is Moon. The series is from his point of view and this is perfect from a narrative perspective: he is as new to the Raksura world as we are and as such what he doesn’t know, we don’t know. This makes the small bits of info-dumping present in the narrative less awkward than they should have been. More to the point, his struggle to fit in and to be accepted by the court is a very real one. His budding relationship with Jade is really cool. But more than that, the most important aspect about his arc is the conflict between how he should behave as a consort and how he does behave. A consort is basically someone with high social standing but no real power, someone expected to be lazy and pampered. Moon is someone who has lived most of his life fending for himself and who loves to hunt (although he prefers not to fight). He stumbles all the time in this new position and wavers between assertiveness and acceptance of a submissive role. Although he respects the tradition that comes with being a consort, he strives to find a more energetic position and I LOVED that empowering Moon doesn’t automatically mean under-powering Jade. I also LOVED that his need to have a bigger voice does not come from being a male. He wants to be able to do more because that’s who he is, not for some gender-specific reasoning and certainly not because he wants to be more powerful than Jade (like that could ever happen. Seriously, Jade is simply the coolest BAMF ever and this one scene toward the end when she unleashes her fury? SO badass.

I do have one major concern: at the end of The Serpent Sea it seems that the story started in Cloud Roads comes to an end and although there is certainly scope for more stories in this world, these two books read as a self-sufficient duology. Please tell me it isn’t so, I want many more Raksura books.

Is it too early to declare The Serpent Sea a favourite read of 2012?
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Estara No, it isn't ^^

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