The Unbalancing (2022) is a novel written by R.B. Lemberg, author of The Four Profound Weaves. I’m going to insert here the synopsis found from Tachyon directly:
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.
The Unbalancing is rooted in the mystical cosmology, neurodiversity, and queerness that infuses Lemberg’s lyrical prose.
This book is set in an archipelago in a queer Atlantis focusing on many nonbinary characters and exploring the deepnames in the Birdverse present in The Four Profound Weaves with the addition of romance. There are ghosts, there is magic, and many many nautical elements. While the plot has a lot going for it, in this review I simply have to gush over the language.
Reading this book is like diving into the most beautiful language exploring various aspects of human possibility. Everything in this book is so fluid from the words, the setting itself, but also the characters–the way they think, the way they feel, and the way they present. The play on words feels like you’re inside a poet’s playground. The language has flow–it’s mellifluous. The combination of superior language use with all the nautical elements works so well: “I often was tempted to let [deepnames] simply flicker, like tiny lighthouses calling ships to the shore.”
Lemberg creates magic even when they describe a simple act like brushing one’s hair—the act itself transcends and comes across as ceremonial: “found my box of olive wood, edged in brass and rarely used, and I applied potions and powders until my naturally dark hair was bleached bone-white.”
I have a weakness for ships and nautical folklore and this novel very much felt like being inside a dream experiencing these elements while a skilled bard spins beautifully threaded words. This book has a lot going for it and does a huge service to nonbinary representation.