As much as I enjoyed Stories of the Raksura and will definitely be going back to read the original stories (beginning with The Cloud Roads), this is a difficult read for a newcomer to the worlds of Martha Wells. I don't regret giving it a read for a moment, but I do regret not having read the previous novels first.
There are a lot of nuances to the stories that I just didn't get, particularly in regards to the relationships, but I'm sure fans will pick up on them right away. Having said that, the world building here is really quite astounding, right from the concept for the Raksura themselves, to the construction of their world, to the social hierarchies, to the gender politics.
Amongst the Raksura there are two distinct forms, which each have their own unique manifestations. The Arbora, who are kind of a worker/artist class, are scaled humanoids with retractable claws, spines, and frills. The Aeriat, by contrast, are more of a noble class, marked as much by their wings as their roles. The Queens are powerfully aggressive, and very protective of their Courts, while their male consorts are largely shy and submissive. Otherwise, there don't seem to be any sort of rigid gender roles here, and sexuality seems to be very open and flexible. While the races appear reptilian, they behave very insect-like, at least from a societal point of view.
Anyway, onto the stories. The Falling World is a classic adventure-quest type story, with a party from the Indigo Court setting out to discover why their diplomatic party never reached their destination. There's some nice jostling for position in the search party, a good bit of mystery regarding who can and cannot be trusted, and some breathtaking action scenes. The imagination at work here is top-notch, and my own sense of wonder easily carried me past the confusion as to who the characters were and why their relationships mattered.
The Tale of Indigo and Cloud is an historical background tale, exploring events that I presume happened long before the original trilogy. This, for me, was a much more accessible story as I didn't feel like I was missing out on nearly so much. It was more of a political tale, exploring the origins and animosities between the Courts, but I found it fascinating. The world here seems a bit more primitive than in the other story, which just makes me that much more curious about how the Courts developed and what's really out there in the wider world.
The other two short stories - The Forest Boy and Adaptation - were interesting but, once again, suffer from those missed nuances. They were too short to really engage a new reader, but readers who already know the characters will likely appreciate them.
Overall, Stories of the Raksura is a rough introduction to the world of Martha Wells, but extraordinary effective in making me want to read more. I did have her Ile-Rien series high in my TBR pile, but it looks like Raksura may just leap ahead in the queue.
Paperback, 206 pages
Published October 7th 2014 by Night Shade Books