Wells, Martha -- The Cloud Roads

Not ambitious, but does a couple of interesting things. You know the (rare) SF novel with no human protagonists? This is a fantasy novel with no human protagonists -- a world inhabited by tribes of demi-humans, bipeds with fur or scales or carapaces. Yes, Adrian Tchaikovsky is doing that, but his bug-people are distinctly humans with knacks and the (slightly hard-to-swallow) mechanical inaptitude. These folks are people, but a step to the side of human: instinct, social reflexes, sensory ranges, living arrangements.

The protagonist has a tail. He also, unusually, can shapeshift into a winged, scaly, dragonish form. He keeps this secret, because the region gets regularly invaded by the winged, scaly, dragonish Fell, and he doesn't trust any of the locals to recognize the difference. (He knows the difference; the Fell stink, to his nose.) This is the other interesting bit: it's the fantasy novel where the "orcs" are smart. The Fell intend to take over the continent, and they use every trick in sight: treacherous peace treaties, assassinations, sneak attacks, divide-and-conquer. Or all of the above, at the same time, in layers. They lie whenever there's any tactical advantage in it at all. They're not very nice people. (This appears to be a racial trait, although the text does not engage this aspect of orc-fantasy -- at least not yet. No Dark Lord is in sight, in case you were wondering.)

Anyhow, our orphaned-at-an-early-age hero meets up with more of his kind, and they fight off the Fell. No surprise there. The surprise is that this is resolutely non-epic fantasy; it's one clan of good guys, one clan of bad guys, several local clans of bystanders, and everything is personal. The core plot arc is our hero's dragonny teen romance. (Okay, he's supposed to be 35, but he's shy and uncomfortable in groups -- due to having not met anyone of his species since he was a kid -- and, basically, it feels like that.) So, an unassuming book and nothing about it made me bounce around in my chair, but it's solid, and the series may be headed somewhere I don't see yet.

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