The Serpent Sea by Martha Wells fantasy book reviewsThe Serpent Sea by Martha Wells fantasy book reviewsThe Serpent Sea by Martha Wells

The Serpent Sea (2012) is the second of Martha WellsBOOKS OF THE RAKSURA following The Cloud Roads which you’ll want to read first (this review will contain spoilers for The Cloud Roads).

In the previous book we met Moon, a solitary Raksura (a humanoid species that can shape-shift into a scaly flying dragon-like creature) who lost contact with his people when he was a baby and had no idea what he was. Trying to hide among other humans, he was discovered by a member of the Raksuran Indigo Cloud court and presented to their queen as a consort. The Cloud Roads describes Moon’s loneliness, his journey, his bewildering introduction to his race and culture, his struggle to fit in, and his desire to help his new family defeat an evil enemy.

The Serpent Sea begins a couple of weeks later. Being a loner all his life, Moon is still not confident about his place as consort to one of the queens in the Indigo Cloud court. He is feisty and independently-minded, and he finds it difficult to adhere to social customs he didn’t grow up with and doesn’t understand. He desperately wants to belong, though he may not realize his desperation.

The Indigo Court has decided to move to their ancestral home inside a mountain-sized tree. The new location is beautiful and spacious, but when they arrive, they discover that the tree is dying because its heart seed has been stolen. And so Moon (because he has the most experience in the outside world) and some of his recently-met kin set out on a quest to find and recover the seed. This leads them to another Raksuran court and then to an island built on the back of a huge leviathan. There they have to deal with an evil magician. The quest is dangerous, but if they do not recover the seed, the clan will be homeless again.

The Books Of The Raksura (5 Book Series) by Martha WellsAs with The Cloud Roads, the best part of The Serpent Sea is Wells’ exotic world. It’s lush and beautiful — the kind of place you’d love to explore — and there are surprising fantastical elements such as flying islands and islands built on top of live leviathans. The world is diversely populated with interesting locales and peoples; it never feels dull. The pacing of the story is usually brisk, and often exciting, but there are slow parts, too. A few of these are dull patches that could have been tightened up a bit, but some are times when things slow down so we can have a chance to get to know Wells’ characters a little better.

Many of these characters are portrayed thinly, but Moon, the main protagonist, is better developed. Because we know his backstory (he was a homeless orphan), he’s easy to understand and sympathize with, though his hot-headedness and brooding can get a little wearisome. He gets aggressive and picks fights and sometimes I suspect that’s just to add tension to the story. He often seems unnecessarily angsty. And it’s not clear what the attraction is between him and Jade. It’s not a convincing relationship.

Wells’ writing is smooth and lively with just a hint of humor. Some words such as “hiss” are overused to the point that I started to feel each as a little jab. Small complaint. The audio version of The Serpent Sea produced by Audible Studios is nicely narrated by Christopher Kipiniak.

THE BOOKS OF THE RAKSURA has been nominated for a 2018 Hugo Award for Best Series.

Published in 2012. Moon, once a solitary wanderer, has become consort to Jade, sister queen of the Indigo Cloud court. Together, they travel with their people on a pair of flying ships in hopes of finding a new home for their colony. Moon finally feels like he’s found a tribe where he belongs. But when the travelers reach the ancestral home of Indigo Cloud, shrouded within the trunk of a mountain-sized tree, they discover a blight infecting its core. Nearby they find the remains of the invaders who may be responsible, as well as evidence of a devastating theft. This discovery sends Moon and the hunters of Indigo Cloud on a quest for the heartstone of the tree — a quest that will lead them far away, across the Serpent Sea. In this followup to The Cloud Roads, Martha Wells returns with a world-spanning odyssey, a mystery that only provokes more questions — and the adventure of a lifetime.


  • Kat Hooper

    KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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