So to present me with a book proclaiming itself to be a queer fairy tale and expect me not to read it is pretty ridiculous. I haven’t spent much time (yet) seeking out queer fiction, though the pieces I’ve found (or the books I’ve founds pieces in) have all been pretty good so far, and I came into this one with tempered high hopes. Tempered because I did note that this is marked as a debut, though it appears the author has done short fiction before and this is more of a debut of longer work.
I will say that to start, it does the one thing that frustrates me the most about writing: it drops the reader into the world with little to no context for what is happening. I know this is common and plenty of authors and readers enjoy it, but it is eternally a detriment to me. It means that I remember much less about the beginning of the book than the rest (and how long that “beginning” is depends on how quickly the author allows the reader to catch up) because I’m spending all my time trying to remember words and phrases, concepts which have no obvious (and sometimes none at all) correlation to the world we live in. However, since I learned from prior books I’ve read, I don’t let this stop me from trying anymore–though there was definitely a time when it did.
Once into the flow of the book, when you have a feeling for who the unnamed man and Uiziya are, that’s when the deeper concepts of the book start to hit. As someone on the trans* spectrum myself, I saw a lot of my own journey in nen-sasaïr’s walk. To be born in one form and know deep in your heart it doesn’t fit you…but to know that the change itself will be a struggle for those around you, and to be constantly greeted as the person you were before, no matter how much time has passed or how much you’ve changed…it hits hard. And Uiziya as well, deciding that where she is, is where she will always be, and having to fight to give herself purpose again.
As we get deeper into the story and we see how the magic begins to work around Uiziya, and how nen-sasaïr fights to reclaim himself, sometimes from himself, it grows both more poignant and a little more distant. It becomes very obvious as time goes on that while you don’t need to have read Lemberg’s other stories in the Birdverse to read this book, it really would have been incredibly helpful. I couldn’t help but wonder if I was missing more of what was there, because it seemed like there was such depth…and I just couldn’t see all of it. There is so much love and care gone into this world, and that shines through in spades. It just doesn’t necessarily work fantastically as a stand-alone piece in the world.
All in all, I struggle between 3 and 4 stars for this, but for the purposes of the half-star-hating review system, I’ve rounded my 3.5 up to a 4, because of the excellent representation of gender identity and the struggles that can come along with it. We, as a society, absolutely need more writing like that to help educate the world about what’s happening in our minds.
Rating: *** 1/2 – Definitely Worth a Look