I have been collecting recommendations for science fiction and fantasy authors lately, beyond the favorites that I read and re-read. Martha Wells' "Murderbot Diaries" have come strongly recommended, and she will be signing in a couple of weeks at my beloved Murder by the Book. She will be there with Mary Robinette Kowal, whose "Lady Astronaut" books are already on the TBR stacks.
When I checked into Martha Wells' books, I saw that she has also written other series, and one about shifters immediately caught my eye. The Cloud Roads is the first. It is the story of Moon, who as the first chapter opens "had been thrown out of a lot of groundling settlements and camps, but he hadn't expected it from the Cordans." He can pass as a "groundling," one of the many human types who inhabit the planet, and who come in a variety of forms and skin colors. But Moon has a second form that he can shift into at will, with scales, claws, a tail, and wide wings. He has to hide this form from the groundlings he lives among, because it resembles the Fell, a race of beings that attacks groundling settlements and kills all the inhabitants. Moon is himself that only survivor of an attack that killed his mother and siblings, when he was an adolescent. He has survived since by hiding his true self, earning a place among groundling groups by hard work (and sometimes a bit of trickery). But eventually something always goes wrong, someone decides he is too different, a threat, and he is driven out.
When it plays out yet again, among the Cordans, Moon is unexpectedly rescued by a being like himself, though much larger and older. From his rescuer, called Stone, he learns that he is a Raksura. Moon knows nothing about his people. They come in two types, the winged variety like Moon and Stone, also called Aeriat, and the Arbora, without wings. The Raksura live in communities called courts. Solitaries like Moon are rare, and Stone invites him to his home court, Indigo Cloud. They arrive only to discover that the court is under threat of attack from the Fell. Moon also learns to his shock that he has a special role to play in the court, one Stone recognized but chose not to tell him about.
I was drawn into this story from the first page. Moon is a very sympathetic character, an outsider in both the groundling and Raksuran worlds, simply trying to survive. We see the Raksura through his eyes, as he tries to find a place in yet another alien community, an outsider facing the same hostility he has met his whole life. At least he has Stone to support him, and he does form some alliances. But the threat of the Fell hangs over everything, threatening to bring down the court before Moon can even find his place in it.
I suppose that this series qualifies as fantasy, more than science fiction. I'm not always clear on the divide. I know it's too simplistic to say that "science fiction involves spaceships," but that's always in the back of my mind. Whichever category it falls into, I am enjoying this series very much. I already have the next books from the library, and I look forward to learning more about the Raksura and Moon's adventures with them.