The Cloud Roads by Martha WellsGenre: fantasy
Most Fantasy novels have pseudo medieval-European settings. That's fine, but The Cloud Roads is nothing like that, and it's brilliant. Along with an awe-inspiring world, Martha Wells captures perfectly the pain of being lonely and different. And how being surrounded by others who are "just like you" (who really don’t understand you at all, and who you certainly don’t understand) can make that pain so much worse.
General premise Moon’s learned the hard way not to trust anyone. In his flying form, he looks too much like the Fell, who destroy cities and eat their inhabitants. When his neighbors stake him out for death, he's rescued by Stone, the first person he's met who looks like him. Not only can Stone answer all of Moon’s questions about himself, but Stone truly seems to want him around, a rare experience in Moon’s life. Intrigued and relieved not to be alone anymore, he agrees to move to Stone's settlement.
But looking like his kind doesn't mean Moon fits in. He doesn't know the things he should, doesn't do the things they do or like what they like. Worse, Stone led him to believe he was a warrior-type, but Moon finds out in an epic showdown that he's actually a consort. The reigning queen hates him for tipping the balance of power in her young rival's favor, and the challenger keeps leaving gifts for him that he's afraid will mean he owes her something it will cost him too much to repay. Moon isn't interested in power struggles - he has enough problems of his own. But the Fell intrude on his new life, too, and fighting them is the only option.
This series (the second book is The Serpent Sea; The Siren Depths comes out in January 2013, and I really hope that's not the last) pulls together the things I love best about the major “grade levels” of books. Middle grade books are written for an audience that hasn’t yet restricted its imagination and possibilities and gender into rigid boxes. YA deals exquisitely with emotions and coming-of-age stories. Adult fiction doesn’t shy away from pain or suffering or other difficult themes. Martha Wells combines all these in the Books of the Raksura, and does it in a way that just leaves me awestruck.