The Serpent Sea by Martha Wells

I was having such a good time reading The Cloud Reads that I was voicing aloud my need for The Serpent Sea before I was finished. I asked, and the Husband answered by gifting me with a copy on my birthday. You could read this book before the first, but I’d recommend you don’t because there’s character growth that’s more rewarding when the books are read in order.

My review of book 1, The Cloud Roads can be found here:

**** This review may contain spoilers for the first book!!  ****

The Serpent Sea
Martha Wells

The Premise: Finally orphan Moon has found a place for himself in the Raksura colony of Indigo Cloud. He’s still adjusting to being a Consort and all that entails, but in the meantime, the Indigo Cloud court is moving. The influence of the Fell has reduced their numbers and poisoned their home, and now Indigo Cloud is returning to the great tree that they left, generations ago. Unfortunately, when the colony arrives at their tree, they discover that a vital part of it has been recently stolen: the seed at its heart. Without it, the tree will die and Indigo Cloud would be left homeless and vulnerable. The colony needs to find the stolen piece before the damage is irreversible.

My Thoughts: The Serpent Sea begins almost where The Cloud Roads left off: with Raksura of Indigo Cloud traveling to their ancestral home via flying boat. It’s been a long journey and Moon and the rest are eager to finally be at their destination, but when they land, the great tree doesn’t feel quite right. It’s not long before they discover the reason why. Someone has come into the tree and stolen the seed at its heart. Of course this now puts Indigo Cloud back into peril again — without a home, they’re vulnerable. The other nearby Raksura colonies may accept their return to their tree, but they wouldn’t necessarily tolerate Indigo Cloud settling in other territory.

As with The Cloud Roads, I loved the fantastic landscapes of The Serpent Sea, especially when it came to the places that the people of the Three Worlds lived. Every one seemed more amazing than the last. It really felt like anything goes here with building places to live. It begins with the colony’s new home amongst the mountain-trees, with branches that interweave to create platforms for smaller trees to grow:

“It grew darker, the green-tinted sunlight muted as clouds closed in high above the treetops. The drizzle turned into a light rain that pattered on the deck. The platforms of the suspended forest grew wider and more extensive.  Many of them overlapped, or were connected by broad branches, with ponds or streams. Waterfalls fell from holes in some of the mountain-sized trees. Moon wondered if the water was drawn up from the forest floor through the roots. It was like a while multi-layered second forest hanging between the tree canopy and the ground, somewhere far below.”

The quest for the seed leads them to other settlements, including the one shown on the cover — a city built on a giant water-monster (!!!) that swims in a large body of water named the Serpent Sea. These are great settings but there is some thought behind them: why people chose to live in these places, and how it affects them are considerations that aren’t omitted from the story. As you’d expect there are also new creatures introduced as the Raksura travel to find the seed for their tree, but there’s no revisit from races encountered in the last book. This may be to underscore how far the colony has traveled, or how isolated populations become from one another because of the difficulty of travel.

I was fascinated as usual by the variety and differences in cultures, but this story doesn’t forget the Raksura themselves. I continue to enjoy how Raksura society is conveyed through Moon’s experiences.
At this point Moon is no longer the newcomer and his actions have granted him some respect. When the colony decides to search for the missing seed, he’s part of those plans, but he’s still settling into his new role as a Consort and he’s not always confident in that role. In the meantime there’s still some tension between the queens, Pearl and Jade. These types of adjustments don’t happen overnight, and The Serpent Sea reflects that.

There’s an implied system of hierarchy based on birth and an internal ranking system and it is fun to see where certain Raksura placed. I loved that this was a society where women were leaders, and queens are expected to be more aggressive than consorts. There’s a scene in particular (towards the end of the book), that illustrates this point and had me cheering. There are some developments that shed light on the history of Indigo Cloud as well as some eye-opening interactions with other Raksura.  I also enjoyed learning a little more about the magical abilities of the mentors. I would love to learn more, and I hope the unique situation that Chime is in (he’s the only Raksura known to have changed from a mentor into a warrior) gets more attention in the next book.

Most of my reaction to The Serpent Sea is positive, but I had one (probably unfair) issue with it. The Serpent Sea is basically a quest story. The goal from the beginning is clear: Indigo Cloud Court wants a home and to have one they must have their seed. Because of this, to me, the plot felt a lot simpler than The Cloud Roads. Since Moon’s past and Indigo Cloud Court’s problems with the Fell have been cleared up, the focus is now on Indigo Cloud Court resettling. The quest for the seed has it’s complications and there are bumps along the way, but I didn’t feel as though there was as much that was unexpected. I feel like I’m being a tough critic with that that reaction though. In other ways, The Serpent Sea shines. It delivers just as rich world building and gripping action as the first book did, and it continues Moon’s personal journey in a believable way.

Overall: I think part of me compares this with the first installment and wants something more complex than a quest story, but when I put that quibble (which I feel very few people would share) aside, The Serpent Seas is very enjoyable and shows the same imagination (the world building in these books is amazing) as the previous book. This is well-written fantasy and has an incredibly creative, visual story-telling style.

I will be reading the third book, The Siren Depths, which is out in December and has artwork, but no cover yet.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other Reviews:
The Book Smugglers – 8 (excellent)

P.S. While reading this I came across this artwork of a harpy by Sandara on deviantart which I thought could also work as a Raksura. Pretty, no?

3 thoughts on “The Serpent Sea by Martha Wells

  1. Pingback: Review of The Serpent Sea by Martha Wells | Fantasy Cafe | Reviews of Fantasy and Science Fiction Books

  2. Pingback: Review: The Serpent Sea, Martha Wells - The Oaken BookcaseThe Oaken Bookcase

  3. Pingback: Review of The Serpent Sea by Martha Wells | Fantasy Cafe

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