Accolades for Birdverse, the diverse, inclusive fantasy series from R.B. Lemberg (The Four Profound Weaves), include Hugo and Nebula nominations for short fiction. In The Unbalancing, the urgent, bittersweet first novel of the series, a charismatic starkeeper and a shy poet confront the past in hopes of saving their home and their people.
Erígra Lilún has no desire to serve as starkeeper to the unquiet Star of the Tides, one of 12 magical stars the goddess Bird bestowed upon humanity. The star has slept tethered for a thousand years to the archipelago where they live, but now its nightmares shake Lilún's island with earthquakes. The ghost of the original starkeeper haunts Lilún and pressures them to bond with the star, but they refuse because the sleeping star cannot give its consent. Ambitious, impatient Ranra Kekeri has no such qualms and accepts both the glory and responsibility of the position. Lilún is smitten, calling her "someone I would write about through words of summer storm and thundercloud," though they find Ranra's high energy and decisiveness disorienting. Starkeeper and poet take the lead in calming the star, but every move seems to bring their home closer to disaster.
This prequel to Lemberg's poem "Ranra's Unbalancing" intimately sketches its protagonists and the culture they inhabit, which accepts gender as a spectrum. Nonbinary Lilún's journey to finding their place on that spectrum feels deep and authentic. Lemberg gorgeously captures the fragility of life, the courage of despair and the uncertainty of nascent love on the cusp of destruction. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads