Rumors of a mysterious stranger are being heard across the desert, so when the stranger shows up at the gates of the Old Royal’s city, they decide to let them in, and to allow them to learn from their college, as well as themself.
Why this book?: I loved Lemberg’s Geometries of Belonging, so when I was offered an early copy of this upcoming novella, I jumped on it.
I would like to thank Rose Lemberg for providing an e-ARC in exchange for an honest review.
I may not be able to give this more than five stars on Goodreads or on my blog (I guess it’s my blog so I could give it more stars but I like everything staying lined up with Goodreads so..), but, in my heart, Rose Lemberg gets all the damn stars in the sky.
Lemberg artfully opens up their new novella with a short legend, one of which is truly entrancing. That’s something that you’ll always find in anything written by Lemberg. The way they set up their universe, the way they write so intimately within it, you can tell that these stories will not only be beautiful, but also impactful. I was not even 15 pages in before I found myself crying about consent and pronouns at 1:30 in the morning. That is not a joke. Portrait goes into in-depth discussions about consent, but it also touches on smaller things, like respecting pronouns and trust. There were moments when I would shut off my reader just to hug it to my chest I was so moved with the words Lemberg had put on the page.
The Old Royal is bigender, and that is mentioned not only multiple times in the novella, but it also goes into how the Old Royal likes to shift between genders. Then, there was also a minor character, Marvushi, who had some gender fluidity, as they went from they/them to she/her pronouns and back to they/them. There are multiple nonbinary characters all throughout Portrait, some nb from the beginning, some realizing it later on, and it was wonderful, and so realistic. I especially loved the mentioned Sandbird Festival, where the Old Royal helps nonbinary individuals change their body into their image. Like, holy shit I want that??
In addition to Lemberg’s exquisite writing as well as the diverse set of characters, this piece also tackled heavy topics. Consent, and what it means, pronouns and respecting them (there was one character who “didn’t get” neutral pronouns and instead used he/him and I nearly SCREAMED), as well as sadism, and being a survivor of traumatic events. Lemberg delved into these topics with no hesitation, and that’s not something you see often. Someone willing to discuss these topics in literature.
Final Rating: ★★★★★
Rose Lemberg continues to blow me away. After Geometries of Belonging and Portrait, I know that I have found one author that will never disappoint me. I realize that it’s a stretch to say that, but the #OwnVoices nonbinary rep, specifically bigender, has been flawless, and everything else about Lemberg’s work has been nothing but gorgeous.
Would I Recommend?
Love High Fantasy? Love diversity? Love really cool world building? Or how about being inclusive in experiences, kinks, genders, sexualities, backgrounds, lives, etc? Love just being utterly blown away by an author’s writing? Then read anything by Rose Lemberg.
Trigger warning for kink, edgeplay, and discussions of trauma, mentions of suicide, misgendering.
Published: June 6th & 20th, 2017
Publisher: Beneath Ceaseless Skies
Page Count: 89
Genre: High Fantasy/Fantasy/Romance
Synopsis: via Goodreads
This is a Birdverse novella told from the viewpoint of the Old Royal, who is a bigender trans person.
A queer, kinky survivor and exile who struggles with his ethics meets the ancient bigender ruler of the vast Burri desert…they hit it off.
This has many trans/non-binary people, advanced discussions of consent and sadistic desire, mythic grandeur, non-gratuitous engagement with trauma, a giant flaming bird, and the magical history of Birdverse.