I’ve been wanting to try out Martha Wells’ other books that came before Murderbot for a while now, and I finally checked this one out of the library. I had no idea what to expect going in, and I hadn’t even read the blurb. And I liked it! And it was weird. In a good way.
This book takes place on another world, nary a human in sight. The world is populated by “groundlings,” basically wingless humanoid peoples, and creatures of various evolutionary origins who can fly, some of whom are sentient. Our main character is Moon, whose family died mysteriously, and who has been on his own for most of his life, not even knowing what species he was. He’s gone from community to community trying to find a place that will accept him where he can feel safe and at home, and has always failed. He is also a shapeshifter. He has a groundling form, but he also has a fierce flying form in which he kills and eats, and feels the most like himself. He has to keep this secret because there are creatures called Fell who look very much like himself to an ignorant eye, and the Fell are capital-B Bad. They conquer, kill, and eat other civilizations. They engage in cannibalistic behavior, and they can also fly.
The story really picks up when two things happen: Moon is found out by his current community, who think him a Fell and try to kill him, and what appears to be another member of his species finds him and rescues him, taking him back their colony, which is having problems of their own with the Fell. From there, we follow Moon as he learns about his own species for the first time, and tries to fit into this colony. There are interesting political struggles, made more complicated by the behaviors of the Raksura, which is the name of Moon’s species. He learns about them as we do.
I did have a bit of trouble at first wrapping my head around the new world, but that’s something I’m used to with fantasy, and in the end, Wells makes it easy for you to know what’s going on in her world, and to care for her characters. This does feel very much like a first book in the series, designed to introduce the world and the characters, to get Moon in place in the Indigo Cloud colony and set up a new normal. There are still mysteries left dangling at the end that I do want to know how they are resolved. I’m definitely in for reading the rest of the series, probably later in 2022. If you’re curious about Wells’ other stuff like I was, this might be a good place to start.