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Review: The Unbalancing by R.B. Lemberg (Birdverse)

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Thanks to the publisher (Tachyon Publications) for the ARC of this book.

Sometimes, you have to stop for a while and think a book over before you can review it and this was exactly the case here. I liked it, I was pretty sure – I read it in one sitting (or lying, as it were) after all – but it’s one of those books that give you a lot to think about. In either case, it made a great conclusion to the 2022 r/Fantasy Bingo.

The star of the Gelle-Geu islands is plagued by nightmares, causing earthquakes and threatening worse. The poet Erígra has a special connection with the star and is begged by the ghost of their ancestor Semberi to become starkeeper, but they’re not willing to take on the role with all the social obligations it involves and wondering if the star would consent to being woken up. The new starkeeper, Ranra, is more than willing to take on the position, but she might not be able.

The writing was a little clumsy at first, which surprised me – I don’t remember having any such issues with The Four Profound Weaves or any of the short stories I read. I did not understand why Erígra was so set on the question of whether the star would consent to being woken up, especially with so many people in danger. But I did, eventually, settle into the story. And there was a lot to like.

In many ways, this is a story about dealing with failure, especially failure to do what everyone expects of you, inability to do what everyone expects of you, which is a theme very close to my heart. I haven’t read Ranra’s Unbalancing, the poem The Unbalancing expanded, until after (I wasn’t even aware there was a poem when I started), so I was a little surprised at the turn of the events, but the more I thought about it…it’s bold. I respect bold.

The other two big themes close to my heart it deals with are neurodivergence and gender. I don’t know why the society recognising five different kinds of ichidi (non-binary) was so mindblowing to me, but it was. Just one of those “oh…oh.” moments. And I loved having multiple neurodivergent characters. I loved the romance, I loved the communication and compromise between someone who is always “go go go” and someone who often has to stop and rest in order to not get too overwhelmed. And of course, I loved getting even more of an insight into the magic and the deepnames.

If you’re up for a short, dense, but still quick read with lots of queerness and neurodivergence and magic and people trying their best, very much recommended.

Enjoyment: 4.5/5
Execution: 4/5

Recommended to: those looking for stories with lots of queer and neurodivergent characters and shall we say, unusual endings
Not recommended to: those who don’t like dense books

Content warning: abuse (not prominently at all, but Ranra has an abusive mother)

 

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