Review: The Unbalancing by R.A.Lemberg

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New love blossoms between an impatient starkeeper and a reclusive poet as they try together to save their island home; a gorgeous tale of the inevitable transformations of communities and their worlds.

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 Semberí to take over the starkeeping helm. Semberí 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.


Dear R.A.Lemberg,

This book was recommended to me at DA by Cleo, one of the commenters. I am honestly quite torn about it. On one hand I really really loved the writing. I read that the author was a poet, so I was a little worried about the prose being too flowery, but for me it really was not too flowery. It was beautiful and painted pictures which were really easy to see in my mind and it is not always easy for me to see pictures drawn by words. So top marks for how much I liked the prose.

If I understood it correctly, the people who inherit the islands in this corner of this fictional world are mostly non binary, gender fluid, maybe some of them were trans as well. Please note that I am not trying to lump everyone under the same definition, I was just not sure who the characters were besides the fact that it seemed easy in this world to pick what gender you want to be at any time of your life.

Also, when one main character meets the second main character for the first time they think that Ranra is a female because she had a single braid. Erigra is using the pronoun they and I don’t think they chose a gender for themselves even as a book ends. I think (again if my interpretation is correct) that Erigra decided that it is not important for them to pick one.

The main problem in this world is basically a climate change problem. I mean, it is described – in a pretty mythological way – as a star at sort of the center of their islands that is hurting and seeing nightmares and somebody needs to heal it, but it causes earthquakes and volcanos and they are running out of time.

The main storyline, besides the building romance between Erigra and Ranra, was them trying to save their home and their Star and their people. If you decide to read the book, I will let you see for yourself if they succeed. I will just say this, I am more than happy to read a book with heavy themes, I am fine with the story being influenced by whatever is happening in the real world, because writers obviously live in the real world and of course their work will be influenced by that.

What I dislike though, when the message becomes *too obvious* and for me here it was. When I cannot interpret the story any other way, for me it is just too much. As an aside, I very much am in agreement with this message, it just for me overpowered the story a bit.

The islanders with Ranra in command (she is not a military leader of any kind, but she has to take charge several times as the story progresses) are trying to heal the star with magic and their magic is something that confused me. I actually went to read some reviews on Goodreads, because I wondered if anybody else was having that issue. One reviewer was wondering about the magic, whether they are basically calling on their names and can do anything? I paraphrased, but that was very much my question, too. I am aware that the idea of names having power is present in many fantasy books, but I don’t have much idea as to how the magic worked in this world after I finished the story.

I thought the romantic couple were both very well drawn. Quiet Erigra who loves to create poetry and to garden and who has to take more upon themselves because of the tough times for their people and Ranra who is struggling with trying to do the best for her people, but also has to change and adapt her leadership style a bit. I actually thought they fit together well, despite romance being pretty fast (first meeting aside, it was basically ‘now we are together’), but again I did not mind because they were trying to save their home and their people.

Grade: B-/B

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