marthawells: (The Serpent Sea)
marthawells ([personal profile] marthawells) wrote2019-01-04 11:41 am

The Harbors of the Sun Review

I'm going to re-post some things here that got deleted with my tumblr:

Here's one of my favorite reviews of The Books of the Raksura


Review by Na'amen Gobert Tilahun of The Harbors of the Sun
http://strangehorizons.com/non-fiction/reviews/the-harbors-of-the-sun-by-martha-wells/

A quick and dirty description of the series as a whole that I’ve seen Wells herself use is “bisexual, polyamorous, matriarchal, shapeshifting flying lizard people.” This is absolutely correct. However it’s also more of the “who” than the “what” of the series. The what of the Raksura books is more complicated and subtle. If you had asked me what the series was about before reading The Edge of Worlds and The Harbors of the Sun, I would have answered that it was about a young man finding a home and his people after being on his own for too long. I would have said it was about rediscovering family and learning to trust again. Those answers are all still true, but now I realize that this series is also very much about a community constantly under attack, how they deal with trauma and continue fighting to survive and find a safe space.

Without giving away too much, Moon starts the series isolated and ignorant of his people because of an attack on his birthplace; and the results and reactions to this and other attacks that happen within the books affect every character deeply and in different ways. In between the exciting action scenes, characters are dealing with feelings of abandonment, PTSD, and the reverberations of sexual assault through whole families and communities. These heavy subjects are no less well depicted for the series’ being set in a secondary fantasy world. Wells handles them with subtlety and grace, so they slowly build almost within the background of the series, book by book. For example, there are a few characters in the series that are born as the result of sexual assault and while this is never ignored, it’s also not focused on too closely. However, in The Harbors of the Sun we, along with the characters, are forced to confront more directly what life would be like for those taken and forced to impregnate their captors and where they might find some consolation. (That sentence is a great call out to the book, so after you read it? Make sure to come back and marvel at my brilliance.) Wells never glosses over the pain and the after effects of terrible things; she treats these horrors with the respect they deserve unlike many other writers who linger over sexual assault and other violations to both eroticize the acts and use them to shock the reader.

Another great aspect of the series is the casual queerness of the characters. What I mean by a casual queerness is that the world itself is queer, so sexuality is a non-issue most of the time and since most of the characters are bisexual there is no single queer character for the whole of a complex identity to be pinned upon. As mentioned above, the Raksura are polyamorous, and though Moon’s main relationship is with the queen, Jade, he also has a strong and loving relationship with the male mentor-turned-warrior Chime. Chime is explicitly described as Moon’s favorite multiple times in the books. None of this is a main focus of the books but it is wonderful to see a world where queer sexuality is so accepted that it need not necessitate any conversation or explanation. Though it is thankfully becoming more common, it is still thrilling to see a world where queerness doesn’t exist as a way to isolate a character or to give them a tortured past. While many of Wells’s characters do have dark pasts, none of these are the result of their sexuality.

The series as a whole deserves all the accolades it has received and more, and The Harbors of the Sun acts as a lovely and fitting final book in the series. The adventure is thrilling and fast paced, moving you along at a steady pace that will make you rage at any real life interruptions. As always with Wells, the worldbuilding is top-notch and interesting, featuring unique species and fascinating flora and fauna that feel both fantastic and also oddly realistic. The interpersonal relationships between characters and the intrigue between both different species and political factions will keep you wondering until the very end. It’s always hard when a beloved series ends, but The Harbors of the Sun brings the Books of the Raksura to a satisfying end, one that leaves most characters in very different places emotionally than they were at their introduction. The world that Wells built still feels open and alive; so that this is more of a gentle tapering off than a firm end. Moon will certainly have many more adventures, even if we never get to see them.