Series: Birthgrave #1
Published: 2015 by DAW
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The Birthgrave by Tanith Lee is the story of a young woman of an unknown race who wakes up in the bowels of a volcano. She’s the last of her kind, and has no idea who she is or where she came from. She only knows that a mysterious and vaguely sinister entity that calls itself Karrakaz has spoken to her, telling her of the atrocities her people committed. Only she has been spared, because she just a child when the reckoning came.
The young woman leaves the volcano and sets out into the world, leaving a path of destruction in her wake. She is unlike other mortals; she quickly finds that she cannot die, and regenerates from wounds. She can heal with a thought, but only if people believe hard enough. Eating and drinking make her feel ill, so she only does it once every week or two. As she travels, she is seduced by a series of powerful men, none of whom have any respect for her. Each of her relationships ends badly for everyone involved.
The Birthgrave was hard for me to read, and for much of the book, I was frustrated. The nameless protagonist kept making the same mistakes over and over again and never seemed to learn from them. It wasn’t until I got to the end of the book that I was truly impressed, for it changed my entire perception of the previous 400 pages. Without going into too many details, at its core, The Birthgrave is a metaphor for the destructive power that the notion of original sin can have on an individual. The protagonist pursued a reckless path of self-destruction because she was spurred on by shame and guilt, and she felt on some level that it was what she deserved. And when she finally rises above that, she is able to see the patterns she’s fallen what they really are. This message resonated with me tremendously. It was just a somewhat painful process to get to it, and I’m not enough of a masochist to be able to say that it was worth the tradeoff. And yet, I still may read the next book in the series.
Despite my frustrations with the plot, I loved Tanith Lee’s writing. Her language is lush and sensual, and the novel’s atmosphere was filled with a barbaric kind of beauty. This is the type of world where lust, passion, nightmares, and death are all intertwined, and at the same time, it had an oddly pulpy vibe.