The Unbalancing: A Birdverse Novel
by R. B. Lemberg
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Pub Date 20 Sep 2022 | Archive Date Not set
In this first full-length novel from the acclaimed Birdverse, new love blossoms between an impatient starkeeper and a reclusive poet as they try together to save their island home. Nebula, Locus, and Ignyte finalist R. B. Lemberg (The Four Profound Weaves) has crafted a gorgeous tale of the inevitable transformations of communities and their worlds. The Unbalancing is rooted in the mystical cosmology, neurodiversity, and queerness that infuses Lemberg’s lyrical prose, which has invited glowing comparisons to N. K. Jemisin, Patricia A. McKillip, and Ursula K. Le Guin.
“An enchanting world of star lore, magic and gender identity with a roster of heartfelt characters.”
—Tlotlo Tsamaase, The Silence of the Wilting Skin
“The Unbalancing is Lemberg’s first novel-length book to take place in the Birdverse. It’s a poetic and magical Atlantis-esque novel and a perfect introduction to the Birdverse.”
Beneath the waters by the islands of Gelle-Geu, a star sleeps restlessly. The celebrated new starkeeper Ranra Kekeri, who is preoccupied by the increasing tremors, confronts the problems left behind by her predecessor. Meanwhile, the poet Erígra Lilún, who merely wants to be left alone, is repeatedly asked by their ancestor Semberi to take over the starkeeping helm. Semberi insists upon telling Lilún mysterious tales of the deliverance of the stars by the goddess Bird.
When Ranra and Lilún meet, sparks begin to fly. An unforeseen configuration of their magical deepnames illuminates the trouble under the tides. For Ranra and Lilún, their story is just beginning; for the people of Gelle-Geu, it may well be too late to save their home.
About the Birdverse: The Birdverse is the creation of fantasy author R. B. Lemberg. It is a complex, culturally diverse world, with a range of LGBTQIA characters and different family configurations. Named after its deity, Bird, Birdverse shorter works have been nominated for the Nebula, Hugo, Tiptree award, and Rhysling awards. The Unbalancing is the first novel set in the Birdverse.
A Note From the Publisher
“In a narrative by turns gentle and implacable, Lemberg writes movingly and magnificently about disaster, survival, and hope.”
—Kate Elliott, author of the Crown of Stars series
“The lush lyricism of the mythology, culture and history in The Unbalancing is illustrious and transportive. It’s an enchanting world of star lore, magic and gender identity with a roster of heartfelt characters told with such rich prose that kept me rooting for Ranra.”
—Tlotlo Tsamaase, The Silence of the Wilting Skin
“In all their fiction from the fascinating Birdverse world, Lemberg centers marginalized identities: queer, trans, neurodiverse, elderly, and more The Unbalancing is Lemberg’s first novel-length book to take place in the Birdverse. It’s a poetic and magical Atlantis-esque novel and a perfect introduction to the Birdverse.”
“Poet Erígra Lilún just wants to attend the grove on the mountain, but their ancestor Semberí, one of the original starkeepers, wants them to take up the mantle of starkeeping and shares the tale of the deliverance of stars by the goddess Bird. The new starkeeper, Ranra Kekeri, discovers that the star that rests beneath the ocean waters is restless, and the increasing tremors that disturb the islands of Gelle-Geu may become worse. Ranra and Lilún form an immediate connection based on their concern for the star and their home, their attraction to each other, and the powerful configuration of their magical deepnames—revealing that while it may be the start of their relationship, it could also be the end of their home. The intricate world of magical names and variations of gender identity provide nuance and character growth while still providing enough action to build to its climactic end. VERDICT Lemberg’s first full-length novel in their lauded ‘Birdverse’ (following the novella The Four Profound Weaves) showcases elegant and lyrical prose to create an immersive romantic fantasy.”
“The finely wrought first full-length outing into Lemberg’s inclusive and lushly folkloric Birdverse universe (after the novella The Four Profound Weaves) begins centuries after the goddess Bird carried 12 stars into the world. One of these stars has become increasingly unstable, tormented by nightmares as it sleeps beneath the Gelle-Geu archipelago. Neurodivergent nonbinary poet Erígra Lilún has a subconscious connection to the star, but they’re uninterested in assuming the powerful position of starkeeper, preferring their quiet life of contemplation and gardening. Meanwhile, the brash and determined new starkeeper, Ranra Kekeri, discovers that the islands’ circumstances are far more dire than anyone realizes: unless the people of Gelle-Geu can stabilize the star, the archipelago is headed for environmental collapse. When Erígra and Ranra meet, they’re instantly drawn to one another as they rush to galvanize their community to mend what has been broken. Brisk action balances the meditations on gender and glimpses of the complex magic system as this unpredictable tale wends to an intense and deeply moving climax. It’s bittersweet and lovely.”
“Lemberg’s stories embrace truths that we are afraid to confront: that sometimes failure is inevitable, but that hopeful futures can still be found amid the destruction. Despair, love, survival, death, identity, and community are intimately intertwined in the Birdverse. This is one of the most beautiful and important books I’ve read this year.”
—Nibidita Sen, Hugo, Nebula, and Ignyte Award-nominated author
“Beautiful and queer and challenging and tender.”
—Ada Hoffmann, Philip K. Dick Award finalist and author of The Outside
“R. B Lemberg’s Birdverse is one of my favorite places to visit, full of queer possibilities and deep emotional and philosophical musings. In The Unbalancing they give us wonder, devastation, resilience, and love.”
—Julia Rios, Hugo Award-winning editor of Uncanny Magazine
“A novel at times raging, at times romantic, but through everything beautiful and powerfully human.”
—Charles Payseur, author of The Burning Day
“A beautiful and nuanced work about love, power, and magic.”
—Quick Sip Reviews
“The Unbalancing is a story of people and their power, in nature and society, in interactions and relationships, and of consent and belonging, and of failure and hope.”
—Scott H. Andrews, World Fantasy Award-winning Editor/Publisher of Beneath Ceaseless Skies Magazine
“Reading this book is like diving into the most beautiful language exploring various aspects of human possibility. Everything in this book is so fluid from the words, the setting itself, but also the characters—the way they think, the way they feel, and the way they present.”
5/5 stars. “A beautiful read, and its ending is as beautiful as it is tragic. This novel is rich, with many layers that you can just sink your teeth into. I love this diverse world with queer characters and all kinds of families.”
“Beautiful and queer and challenging and tender. And it’s a story that could not have been told without Erígra’s autistic point of view, without a deep respect for needs like Erígra’s, which comes from lived, thoughtful experience. I love all of R. B. Lemberg’s work, but I might love this book most out of any of them.”
—Autistic Book Party
“An exquisite marriage of imaginative world-building, insightful relationships, and a compelling story. Here stars are sentient, ghosts speak to their descendants, both sexuality and gender are accepted as fluid, and people work magic through their ‘deepnames.’ It’s also a sweet love story between a reclusive poet and the brash new starkeeper. . . . As with Lemberg’s previous novella, The Four Profound Weaves, The Unbalancing is a tale of emotional power and superbly handled prose that often approaches poetry in its nuance and poise. Highly recommended.”
“Some of the best nonbinary rep I’ve seen in SFF fiction, and two people who find deep connection when they least expect it. . . . The Unbalancing is a beautiful novel, and a welcome ramping-up of Lemberg’s Birdverse.”
—M. Crane Hana, author of Moro’s Price
5/5 stars. “This novel is rich, with many layers that you can just sink your teeth into. I love this diverse world with queer characters and all kinds of families.”
—Cloud Reads Books
“The Unbalancing is amazing. R. B. Lemberg is a skilled worldbuilder, and the Birdverse is a perfect and rich example of what speculative fiction is meant to do. The world they’ve created is one in which 'they' is a given: there’s room for all kinds of fluidity, neurodivergence, sexual preference (or not) and gender expression. Chances are that if any of these things are especially important in your life, you’ll feel seen here in a way that is joyous, powerful and necessary.”
• Cover reveal and launch feature on The Fantasy Hive
• Prepublication reviews and endorsements from leading mainstream, genre, and LBGTQIA+ authors, reviewers, and media outlets
• Print and digital ARC distribution via NetGalley, Edelweiss+, and publisher; Featured at ABA Snow Days
• Online and print features, author tour/events, and book launch TBD
• Instagram and blog tour, Reddit AMA, and social media campaign
Average rating from 20 members
Huge thanks to the author, R. B. Lemberg, the publisher, Tachyon, and NetGalley for the advance reader copy of this book.
The short version of what may be a behemoth of a review: If you’re looking for lyrical prose, an action-packed magical fantasy reminiscent of the legend of Atlantis, protagonists that focus on the facets of trans identity and neurodivergence, found family, queer romance, emotive worldbuilding, an original magic system, ghosts, and a wholly unique voice in the speculative fiction landscape- this is THE book you need. If you’re looking for a traditional fantasy story that won’t rock the boat or make you think a lot- this might not be the book for you, but still try it just in case.
“The Unbalancing” impacted me in such a strong way that I feel nearly incapable of doing it justice in a review, but trust me when I say that this will be one of my most recommended novels of the year, and perhaps my favorite novel of 2022. I want to yell about it from the rooftops. I want to re-read it. I want my book club to read it, I want my pastor to read it, and I want every librarian in my state to read it and put it in their collections.
Lemberg dumps the reader into the universe of Birdverse with relatively little introduction, but I appreciate how some of the mythology and history of the culture is explained via oral history sharing between the characters in the novel. Although some reviewers have complained about the lack of visual descriptions of the setting or straightforward explanations for the universe the story is set in, I think Lemberg does an excellent job of providing us just enough information to follow the plot while keeping the novel moderately cerebral. If you’ve never read any of Lemberg’s Birdverse works, you should have no problem still following the plot of “The Unbalancing.” Personally, I think that the Birdverse setting is more approachable and easier to conceptualize in “The Unbalancing,” compared to another Birdverse novel, “The Four Profound Weaves,” especially for those of us who have not read Lemberg’s extensive number of other Birdverse works.
What stands out to me about “The Unbalancing” is the descriptions of the protagonists’ internal experiences throughout the novel. Rather than focusing all of their energy on the plot, Lemberg delves deep into the narrators’ identities, and you can truly see Lemberg’s own life experience shine through in the lyrical expositions of each protagonist’s story and the way their identities intersect. This is an Own Voices novel of genuinely astounding quality. I’m not sure if I’ve ever before felt such an intimate connection with a narrator.
The overall plot of “The Unbalancing,” of two people figuring out how to love and how to save their home and culture at the same time, was exciting and kept me seriously engaged. The couple of twists at the end- when we learn more about the star’s magic and creation, and how the protagonists act during what is effectively the apocalypse- answered many of the questions I had from earlier in the book.
In conclusion: Read this, as soon as possible, and then read it again.
The Unbalancing is a book about survival and being realistic (even in a world of magic) and consent and neurodivergent life, all set in Lemberg's fantastical Birdverse. There's a lot here that is philosophical and intellectual, but Lemberg always manages to keep the storyline moving forward. The book nods to the traditional Western shape for storytelling--intro, conflict, crisis, resolution--but also avoids this form, making the book somewhat circular and focused on personal decisions, sharing, attraction, and action. It's also a different way of approaching climate fiction, and is meditative and full of beautiful language even when describing catastrophe. I love the pace of the novel, the way the characters become involved and care for one another, and the introspection of the narrator. I'd love to read this with other people who know Lemberg's other BIrdverse work; having said that, though, I think it can stand on its own with newcomers to the author's writing.
An immensely enjoyable read that wears its Le Guin influence on its sleeve. With thanks to R. B. Lemberg, the publisher and NetGalley for this ARC.
There is a rich world here to be immersed in, painted poetically with a light touch and free from heavy-handed description. There are compelling characters that I was keen to know and spend time with and a plot that builds energy into a dramatic third act that resists being put down. My only complaint is that we don't get to spend enough time in this world and with the characters - there are issues with pacing and the character development in particular feels very rushed. This is a story that deserves to have been longer.
I particularly enjoyed the notes of Ursula K. Le Guin's work that are woven into the tapestry of the world and characters. Erígra embodies some of Le Guin's taoist philosophy and her character feels like a natural continuation of Le Guin's later exploration of feminism and the different types of power. I'd highly recommend this to fans of Le Guin.
I will be pre-ordering a physical copy of this for my shelf and paying attention to future work from R. B. Lemberg and their Birdverse. There is so much potential here and I'm excited to see what comes next!
This novel explores what it means to come together as a group for the common good, and what to do in the aftermath despite the outcome. It was beautiful! My favorite aspect was that the ichidi, or as we would call them nonbinary people, were so normalized and accepted in their society, it’s amazing to see such positive nb rep!
There's no entry into the Birdverse, You just open the book and you're there. The way the Birdverse unfolds before and around me is part of what is so rich and magical about it.
I was hooked on R.B. Lemberg's work after reading The Four Profound Weaves,. Both books drop you right into the Birdverse and leave you to sort out the details as you go. There's no time to decide whether this is a world you WANT or not. It's a world you're in, and now you have to see how it works. There's something very, very good about this (I do feel as if the Unbalancing is a bit smoother with this process, but that's what happens when authors keep writing books - they get even better).
R.B. Lemberg is a skilled worldbuilder, and the Birdverse is a perfect and rich example of what speculative fiction is meant to do. The world they've created is one in which "they" is a given: there's room for all kinds of fluidity, neurodivergence, sexual preference (or not) and gender expression. Chances are that if any of these things are especially important in your life, you'll feel seen here in a way that is joyous, powerful and necessary.
Anyone with the power to distribute literature to people who need it should have R.B. Lemberg's work in their library.
An exquisitely crafted story about love and deep magic, about people coming to terms with the past and their own powers, set in a community and a landscape that faces total destruction. I've been a fan of Lemberg's Birdverse stories for years, and this book delves deep into the magic that helped create the world and create the magic woven into that world. There's a love story here, twined together with the story of a place and a people shaped by, and tied to, the star that once fell into the sea near their island. Lemberg's prose is a thing of beauty as always, and there's a quiet fierceness to this story that I found absolutely mesmerizing.
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