With THE UNBALANCING, R. B. Lemberg delivers a compelling book about real people with LGBTQIA+, disability, and neurodivergent representation

The recently released THE UNBALANCING by R. B. Lemberg continues to receive praise from the likes of Just Geeking By and Maija Reads as part of #booktubesff. Rick Hellman for The University of Kansas interviews Lemberg about the importance of names in the Birdverse. On his ubiquitous site, Paul Semel also interviews the author. For John Scalzi’s The Big Idea, they write about pronouns. And finally at Book Riot, Rey Rowland discusses the Birdverse novella THE FOUR PROFOUND WEAVES in “Weaving Magic: 8 Fantasy Books with Magic Systems based on Art“.

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Cover by Elizabeth Story

Lemberg has written a wonderfully compelling book about real people with LGBTQIA+ representation, disability and neurodivergent representation. This is my first introduction to Lemberg’s Birdverse and I look forward to spending more time in the gorgeous world they have created.

Just Geeking By

More importantly, the author said, as canonized in the Birdverse works:

“Deepnames can be triggered by invocation — either spoken out loud or whispered or even spoken inside the mind. Then you can do magic with it. You have the magical ability to see it. It’s like a star or constellation that floats around your head, and we can use these geometrical structures to affect the world.”

“It’s a neat magic system that is based on language, because in order to acquire deepnames, but also in order to know what to do with the deepnames, you need to understand how language is produced. It really has to do with breath; how you train your breath to produce particular sounds. … I love when readers geek out over this magical system and ask me details. It’s awesome.”

The University of Kansas
Photo by Bogi Takács

As I mentioned, THE UNBALANCING is your first novel, but you’ve written novellas, short stories, and poems. Are there any writers who you feel had a particularly big influence on The Unbalancing but not on anything else you’ve written?

Aleksandr Grin. He is a Russian-language writer and revolutionary from the turn of the 20th century who wrote stories about fantastical Crimea. I am from Ukraine, and my grandmother’s best friend Raya lived in Crimea. We used to go there in the summers when I was very young. Grin’s writing resonates with me both because of my childhood and how fantastical those places were, and because of the strange, fragile lyricism of his work, his unapologetic imagination which is often described as “romantic” — I don’t describe it as romantic necessarily, it’s rather like sea glass to me — muted and varied and lyrical and strange. It’s just very dear to me. The name Gelle-Geu is inspired by one of his fantastical cities, adjusted for archipelago phonology.

The Russian Federation’s violent wars have brutalized the landscapes of my childhood and caused so much suffering to Ukrainian people. It is a source of endless pain and rage for me.

Paul Semel

THE UNBALANCING is the first novel in my long-standing Birdverse fantasy world. Since the very first Birdverse story in Beneath Ceaseless Skies back in 2011, Birdverse has been a place which centered queer and trans people. LGBTQIA+ people in Birdverse do not always have it easy. Some countries and cultures are more accepting and welcoming than others, and people who travel or migrate between different places might be shocked by the differences in language and culture that make space for people like them – or take it away. 

In THE UNBALANCING, I wanted to imagine queer utopia. The archipelago is a place of refuge for people who do not fit in their home countries. The society of the islands is welcoming and carefree, celebrating the many expressions of gender and sexuality. One of the key features of archipelago culture is its recognition of women, men, and ichidar. Ichidi (plural ichidar) is a word which roughly corresponds to our nonbinary gender. But nonbinary gender is not monolithic – neither in our world, nor in Birdverse. The islanders recognize “the five ichidi variations”, which are represented by words and animal symbols accompanied by lyrical sayings for each variation.

The Big Idea
Cover by Elizabeth Story based on initial concepts by Francesca Myman

Last but not least, weaving is a beautiful art form, and I love that this novella uses it to create such a unique magic system that has characters weaving different materials like sand and bone as if they were cloth. THE FOUR PROFOUND WEAVES in “Weavin follows a weaver named Uiziya, who is looking for the master weaver to learn the final weave. Then there’s a nameless man who struggles to find where he belongs. The two travel together to find Benesret — but there’s a price for what they want out of Benesret, and it may be too high for them to pay.

Book Riot