Moon has essentially been alone since he was a child, when his mother and siblings were killed. He has lived in various groundling settlements, but none of those places have ever been home, because he has always needed to hide his abilities from everyone. Unlike everyone he has met since his family died, Moon can shapeshift from his groundling form into a winged form. He has no idea what he is and has long since given up on finding others like himself.
Until the day he meets Stone. Stone tells him he is a Raksura and offers to take him back to the Indigo Cloud Court. There are two main breeds of Raksura, each with different castes, and Indigo Cloud is short on Aeriat warriors (winged Raksura who act as scouts and guardians and protect the colony from Fell, beings that prey on all the various intelligent species). It just so happens that Moon is an Aeriat warrior.
Having no place else to go, and hoping to finally find people around whom he can be fully himself, Moon joins up with Stone. It's not long before he finds himself wishing he had asked more questions before agreeing to go anywhere. Unfortunately, Stone wasn't quite honest about the reason Indigo Cloud needs Moon, and he has plunked Moon right in the middle of a deadly conflict.
I enjoyed this book enough to finish it within 24 hours of starting it, although it wasn't without its issues.
One of the things I found interesting about The Cloud Roads was that none of its characters are human. Some of the humanoid characters are more human than others, but that's it. Some characters have tusks, some have frills, some have shells, some have wings. Every group of beings had their own way of living, their own culture, and their own way of thinking, which Wells covered in varying degrees of detail.
Moon, who had a desperate need to belong, appealed to me. He had spent his whole life hiding who he was. He had long since given up finding others like himself – the one time in the past he thought he'd found his people, the experience was horrifying and ended disastrously. Part of him wanted to belong among the Raksura, and part of him feared he wouldn't be able to.
As a romance reader, I enjoyed the light romantic subplot involving Moon and Jade. Having not grown up like most Queens, exposed to various consort choices, Jade had no idea how to convince Moon to willingly be her consort. Moon, as I said, had trust issues, so he didn't exactly make things easy for her. The relationship between Moon and Jade is one of the reasons why I'm looking forward to reading the next book in the series, The Serpent Sea. I can't wait to see how the two of them deal with being a mated couple, since I imagine they still have plenty of things to work through. I wouldn't be surprised if more cultural misunderstanding arise, due to Moon having spent most of his life away from other Raksura. Plus, in a rather fun bit of gender reversal, Moon seems to be more emotionally needy than Jade, so Jade will probably have to learn to deal with that.
I enjoyed reading about Moon and the members of Indigo Cloud struggling to survive against the Fell. However, I couldn't help but wonder why the Fell were, by default, evil beings. Some species, like the Dwei, were known for moving in and killing other intelligent beings, but the Fell were the only ones depicted as being truly evil. At best, only the rulers demonstrated a potential for caring about individuals other than themselves, and even the rulers spread the Fell's taint wherever they went.
While I liked that Moon's world was big and varied, at the same time, it bothered me a little that there was a new intelligent species/race seemingly every few miles. It seemed like the populations of most of the species/races were relatively small, and I wasn't sure how many of them could and did interbreed. I would have liked a more thorough exploration of more of the species/races Moon encountered – I feel like the book only scratched the surface of even the Raksura, which is another reason why I'm looking forward to reading the next book.
Although I had some issues with the book's world, this was still an enjoyable fantasy with a nice romantic subplot. It's pretty much guaranteed that I'll be reading the next book. I can't wait to see how things go with Moon and Jade, and I imagine little Frost will be a fun character as she grows up. I was also fascinated by Chime's story (Chime, one of Moon's first Raksuran friends, was an Arbora mentor who suddenly morphed into an Aeriat, probably in response to Indigo Cloud's shortage of Aeriat warriors). I hope to see more developments involving him.
The e-book version had some mild formatting issues - some of the paragraphs weren't indented while others were. Also, I'm not sure how Baen produces its e-books, but there were a handful of things that were either typos or OCR errors. I've encountered worse, although a couple of the errors were a little distracting.
- Ratha's Creature (book) by Clare Bell - If you'd like another adventure starring non-human characters, you might want to try this. It's set in prehistoric times and focuses on an intelligent cat named Ratha, who experiments with and learns more about fire and is eventually cast out of her clan because of this. I've written about this book.
- The Sixth Discipline (e-book) by Carmen Webster Buxton - Carmen Webster Buxton recommended The Cloud Roads to me and mentioned that some aspects of it were similar to her own book. I agree. Both books feature an outsider who becomes, semi-willingly, a part of another culture, and both books feature a bit of rocky romance. I have written about this book. Since it's available for free, the only thing you risk by trying it out is your time.
- Magic's Pawn (book) by Mercedes Lackey - Another book featuring fantasy, romance (m/m), and a main character who desperately wants a place where he can belong and people who will love him. There's also a bit that's very similar to the revelations about a horrifying event in Moon's past.
- Dragonsong (book) by Anne McCaffrey - Another soft sci-fi book starring a character who wants a place where she belongs. Dragonsong and the book that comes after it, Dragonsinger, are some of my favorites in McCaffrey's Pern series.
- The Blue Sword (book) by Robin McKinley - This is another book in which the main character ends up living among a people whose culture is very different from what she knows. I loved how Harry gradually learned more about the Hillfolk's culture and language and figured out how to (figuratively) spread her own wings as she did so.