On the Horizon – reading multiple works from the Birdverse (R.B. Lemberg)

Ahoy there me mateys!  The nice folks at Tachyon Publications gave me an eArc of the first full-length Birdverse novel.  I hadn’t read the author’s novella in the same world so I decided to read that first and then leapt down a Birdverse rabbit hole.  The world building is Jewish-inspired and the Khana people are “secondary world Jews.”  The author’s website has an awesome FAQ page about the Birdverse.  I have to admit that I rather love this world of the author’s and will be reading more works by them. All of these tales are available now!  (click on titles to add the books to yer Ports for Plunder List)

the four profound weaves (Birdverse novella)

This novella won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novella in 2021 and was a finalist in the novella category for both the 2020 Nebula and Locus awards.  I loved this introduction to the Birdverse.

The Four Profound Weaves. A carpet of wind, a carpet of sand, a carpet of song, and a carpet of bones. Change, wanderlust, hope, and death.

In this story, the two main characters are mid-sixties transgendered characters.  Uiziya is a desert weaver who has been longing to learn how to weave using death.  Her famous aunt Benesret was supposed to teach her but was exiled 40 years ago.  The Nameless Man, a trader, transitioned late in life and is longing to discover his true name and how he belongs in the world.  By transitioning, his sex now matches his gender but he does not fit in his culture’s fiercely gendered world.  The bad guy in the story is “The Collector” who takes whatever he wants and rules with an iron grip.  When Uiziya and the Nameless Man set off to answer their questions, they both inadvertently have to deal with The Collector too.

It took me a little bit to settle into how the world worked but it ended up being fascinating.  The world building is lovely.  I loved the deity, Bird, and how it appears differently to each person.  I loved the descriptions of the various cultures.  I adored the desert culture in particular.  The magic system deals with “deepnames” and I find the concept fascinating.  Also I loved the characters so very much.  The writing style was wonderful.  Just be prepared that there is not a lot of explanation for how things work and the reader picks up hints and concepts as they go.

The only minor quibble I have is that the ending was not satisfying to me as it felt a little too philosophical in a way that I didn’t enjoy.  But really I do recommend this one to the crew who like stories that feel like ye be reading a myth or fairytale.  Arrrr!

I loved this review by Matey Andreas.  He explains this book much better.  Check it out.

While reading the author’s note in this book, it referenced other Birdverse works so I read those before moving onto the full-length novel.

“ I will show you a single treasure… ” (Birdverse poem, Goblin Fruit, Summer 2013) – click on link to read poem online

The author says that this is one of the earliest works concerning the Birdverse.  This poem won the 3rd place Rhysling award in the long poem category.  The author warns that some world building has changed since the poem was originally published.  I actually loved reading this and comparing it to the novella.  I am not normally a poetry person but I really liked this one.

“The Desert Glassmaker and the Jeweler of Berevyar” (Birdverse short story), Uncanny, January 2016 – click on link to read story online

This was a pure delight even though it is so short.  It is an epistolary tale between two artists.  I wish I could see the art that both of them make.  The art of the Burri desert sounds particularly lovely.  The story ended perfectly but I can’t help but want more of both of these people.  Heartwarming and sweet.

“Grandmother-nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds” (Birdverse novelette), Beneath Ceaseless Skies, June 2015 – click on link to read story online

This novelette was a finalist for the 2015 Nebula awards.  This is from the prospective of a woman named, Aviya, who appears in the four profound weaves novella.  This story is a prequel of sorts to the novella and deals with grief, autism, transphobia, and societal expectations.  Reading this story recontextualized aspects of the novella.  I loved this and am very glad that I read these in the order that I did.

“Geometries of Belonging,” (Birdverse novelette), Beneath Ceaseless Skies, 2015  – click on link to read story online

This story is about a mind-healer that refuses to “cure” a patient of autism despite the wishes of the wealthy family.  This was a tough read with discussions and elements dealing with trauma, war, discrimination, consent, BDSM, and depression.  I am glad this was one of the later reads because it was hard to handle.  I really didn’t love the relationship between the main character and his lover.  Well-written but unsettling.

the unbalancing (Birdverse novel)

This novel takes place on the islands of Gelle-Geu.  The main character is a poet named Erígra Lilún who does not deal well with people and wants to be left alone to garden and write.  Unfortunately, the ghost of their ancestor is badgering them to become the island starkeeper, a position Erígra knows they cannot handle.  The ancestor claims that the star is failing and Erígra is the only person to save it and the islands.  The official starkeeper is Ranra Kekeri who is trying hard to figure out what is wrong with the island and do what she believes is right.  Then Ranra and Erígra meet and are smitten with one another.  But do they deserve happiness on the brink of potential disaster?

I enjoyed this book but didn’t love it.  So much of this book focuses on the two characters’ inner turmoil.  Not enough of the plot dealt with the island culture and star.  I think the major problem for me was while I loved both characters and sympathized with them, it was hard to watch them make the right choices for themselves and then having such a horrific ending.  I honestly can’t say if I believe the ending was inevitable no matter what Erígra and Ranra did or if they could have salvaged the situation by doing something different.

One of the elements that I had trouble with in this book was Erígra spending so much time pondering what their gender identity was.  I totally understand why this was important to the character but it did not seem important to the plot.  Whatever Erígra chose was going to be accepted by island people.  I wanted the focus to be on the islands themselves, the star failing, the magic system, and the impact on the islanders.  Personal preference.

While the writing is still lovely and I will read more from the author, this novel was the least favorite of the Birdverse so far.  No regrets about reading it though.  Arrr!

To visit the author’s website go to
R.B. Lemberg – Author

To buy the Birdverse works visit:
the four profound weaves or the unbalancing – Books

To add to Goodreads go to:
Yer Ports for Plunder List

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