Friends, I really wanted to enjoy The Unbalancing by R. B. Lemberg, but it just was not doing it for me. An interesting premise of starkeeping, deepnames, and a home in trouble did indeed call to me. Continue reading to see where things went sideways for me in reading this new release.
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. LeGuin.
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 Lilun mysterious tales of the deliverance of the stars by the goddess Bird.
When Ranra and Lilun meet, sparks begin to fly. An unforeseen configuration of their magical deepnames illuminates the trouble under the tides. For Ranra and Lilun, their story is just beginning; for the people of Gelle-Geu, it may well be too late to save their home
(Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)
I am struggling to figure out how to review this because there are a lot of things I really liked and things I did not. Thus I’m just going to go over it in terms of pros and cons.
First, I loved the queer identity representation that was happily rampant throughout the book. I could see some readers seeing this as being very overt and in one’s face. I saw it more as a very intentional creation of queer spaces with the universe of The Unbalancing.
Along similar lines, the concept of “deepnames” and their associated power was a very enticing avenue to be explored. While I did not exactly understand how they worked or decided, it was unique. Additionally, it seemed to be an allusion to a person’s chosen name rather than their given name. This may just be me since there was not a lot of discussion on how these names were decided in The Unbalancing.
I don’t want to end with the negatives, but unfortunately, here I am. The romantic relationship that emerged with the main characters felt too quick and formed. I did not necessarily understand their chemistry. As a result, I was not invested in this relationship.
Along similar lines, I do not think the characters or world were very well developed. Both being undeveloped left me unconcerned about how the plot was going to end. While I thought the inventiveness of deepnames was cool, I’ve no idea how they work, or how the balancing magic works. I’m also honestly unsure of what a starkeeper does… Why do these stars need keeping?
I do understand that The Unbalancing was a part of an existing universe. This book, however, was the first full-length novel that left me to anticipate much more world-building. Perhaps if this was shortened to be a novella or short story I would have enjoyed it substantially more.
Yes, I would give a sequel a chance. I was disappointed in the world building and not understanding the magic system of The Unbalancing. That does not mean another subsequent book could not remedy the situation. The exploration of gender and sexual identity in this novel was excellent I really enjoyed this aspect and hope to see more of it, but you can’t sacrifice my world building!