The Birthgrave by Tanith Lee

Anthony G Williams

Greybeard
Joined
Apr 18, 2007
Messages
1,225
Location
UK
'The Birthgrave' was first published in 1975, and I read it not long after. It made such an impact that it joined the select group of books I've read more than once, and now I've read it for the third time, decades later. I had forgotten almost everything except the general outline, so I was able to enjoy it all over again.

The story is set on another world, with an early medieval culture; small city states, nomadic groups, constant little wars and skirmishes, swords and primitive cannon, and multiple deities. The nameless heroine is the sole survivor of a race of cruel, humanoid, super-beings who had previously ruled this world before being wiped out by disease, leaving their human slaves to carry on. She wakes after a long coma and goes out into the world, where she is hailed as a goddess but finds herself strangely powerless, haunted by dreams of the magnificence and horror of her past. She is controlled and manipulated by ambitious men, and only breaks free right at the end of the book, which suddenly includes a science fiction element to add to the fantasy.

Tanith Lee's writing is rich and strong, powerfully evocative of the cultures her heroine moves through. It is frequently gritty and brutal; the death rate around the heroine – among friends as well as enemies – reaches epic proportions. There is a sustained account of a vicious form of chariot race, in which the tension is gradually built up from the initial preparations, through the training and into the race itself, until its crashing climax. This passage is so well-written and gripped me so strongly that I couldn't put the book down until the race was over.

If there is any criticism I could make of the book, it is that a greater than usual suspension of disbelief is required to accept an almost invulnerable super-race of god-like powers, who can live on air and even survive for years in a coma in an airless environment. There is also an unexplained inconsistency in the basic timeline of the book: the heroine grows from child to adult while in a sixteen-year coma and is supposed to be only twenty, yet the cities of her youth had fallen into ancient ruins and the memory of her race had faded into legend.

One thing which slightly surprised me: a couple of scenes which I recalled from previous readings weren't actually in the book; they must be in the sequels, 'Shadowfire' and 'Quest for the White Witch'. Oh well, they're sitting on my shelf with a rather expectant air…

(An extract from my SFF blog)
 

Teresa Edgerton

Goblin Princess
Staff member
Supporter
Joined
Nov 1, 2004
Messages
13,794
Location
California
I think if I had read this book before I read any of her others I would have been greatly impressed, but having read twenty or so of her books first, I was a bit disappointed. It seemed to me that while the prose was very good, being able to compare it with her later work I could see that she hadn't quite found her style yet.

By the time she was writing the two sequels, she had definitely found it.
 

Connavar

Well-Known Member
Joined
Apr 1, 2007
Messages
8,411
Since im reading this now and i can agree about her prose not being as her later work. I have read a collection that was in 80s okay not many years after this book. But the prose was stronger,more mature.

Only negative i can give the book after having read 1/3 of it is that the romance takes far too big part so far. It started really good with the main character coming to the world and what she kept growing to knowledge about herself. Then suddenly it got less focused on her and more about her "amazing" bandit lover....

I can only hope it gets to be about her again and her powers,her alieness,her people,her curse etc
 

Connavar

Well-Known Member
Joined
Apr 1, 2007
Messages
8,411
Good to know and there is no chance i would not stick with it. Im not to used reading so much romance in my fantasy even if its well done and not childish one,

My christmas holiday from work started just today so i can finally read as much i want.

I will be looking forward to seeing more of the world other than her story. I like how TL sketches the world with simple but effective means.
 

tangaloomababe

Living in Paradise
Joined
Nov 27, 2006
Messages
1,254
Anthony I have never heard of this book or obviously read it. I have not read any of Tanith Lee's stuff, it does sound interesting though. Should I start with this book if I am reading TL's novels or would you suggest something else?
 

Anthony G Williams

Greybeard
Joined
Apr 18, 2007
Messages
1,225
Location
UK
I'm probably not the best person to ask as I haven't read any of her more recent works, so I can't advise on which would be best. I don't think you can go far wrong with The Birthgrave, though.
 

Connavar

Well-Known Member
Joined
Apr 1, 2007
Messages
8,411
Anthony I have never heard of this book or obviously read it. I have not read any of Tanith Lee's stuff, it does sound interesting though. Should I start with this book if I am reading TL's novels or would you suggest something else?
It depends on what kind of fantasy do you like ? She has written many kinds from what i can see. Birthgrave is really good but might not work for you if you dislike S&S/dark fantasy.

If you dont like that type of fantasy then you can check out her other books.
 
Top