Book Review: The Birthgrave Trilogy

On my mission to read more Tanith Lee books, I’m just going in chronological order for the books I own, so I started with the first adult novel she ever wrote, The Birthgrave and then continued on to the other two books in the series.

The Birthgrave
By Tanith Lee

My Edition:
Paperback, 408 pages
1975. DAW
ISBN: 0886771277

A woman wakes deep beneath a mountain with no clue who, or even what, she is. She discovers a strange being who tells her she’s the last descendant of a god-like race and if she chooses to live out her life and leave the mountain she’ll be cursed. She decides to leave and begins her new life running from an erupting volcano. Arriving in the remains of a small town, she’s hailed as a local goddess and begins her journey through the land. Goddess is just one of the roles she finds herself in- witch, slave, partner and mother being some of the others-while she tries to discover who she is and wants to be. 

As usual, Tanith created a character who is complex and emotional. Our main character, known in parts as Uastis, annoyed and entertained me. As she learned of the powers she possessed and struggled through various relationships, I varied from wanting to slap her to wanting to hug her. When she was being a badass, chariot-riding warrior-babe I was rooting for her to dominate the world. There are a lot of classic fantasy elements in this book, enriched by Tanith’s writing style and spiced up with surprising sci-fi elements towards the end. It’s a somewhat heavy read-not something you can fly through in a day or two-but worthwhile for fantasy fans. I also have to mention the lovely cover art by Ken Kelly, which captures one of my favorite parts of the book and is everything you could want in a vintage fantasy book cover. It’s my favorite cover of the three.

+ Vocabulary Alert +
manumission – formal emancipation from slavery

Vazkor, Son of Vazkor
By Tanith Lee

My Edition:
Paperback, 220 pages
1978, DAW
ISBN: 9780879977092

Tuvek is the son of a tribal leader and somewhat of an outcast due to his mother’s “out-tribe” status. Growing up, he began to notice his body could heal itself and that he required very little nourishment. More powerful than the men of the tribe, he is viewed as potentially dangerous competition. Once his mother becomes pregnant again, he learns he is not a true member of the tribe and he sets out to discover his real parents and true heritage, learning more about his strange powers along the way.

This novel is told from Tuvek’s point of view as he comes to terms with his powers and his history and struggles to understand his real parents, both of whom are missing from his life. He has dreams and visions and swears vengeance against his mother, who he believes wronged his father. His hatred for her shapes who he is and with his incredible powers he becomes a very arrogant character. I didn’t find Tuvek (who also goes by many names, like his mother before him) to be as intriguing of a character as Uastis because he was a little one note. Tanith does showcase more of the world Tuvek and Uastis are in though Tuvek’s journeys and I enjoyed reading about the different locals he encountered.

+ Vocabulary Alert +
incohate – not completely formed or developed
pusillanimous – weak and afraid of danger (what a fun word to say!)

The Quest for the White Witch
By Tanith Lee

My Edition:
Paperback, 317 pages
1978, DAW
ISBN: 9780879973575

Tuvek, now known as Vazkor continues his quest to find and destroy his mother. Through conquered cities, across the ocean and into strange magical lands, he discovers and shapes his powers, brooding on how he will end his mother’s life and avenge his father. 

To be honest, this book didn’t hold my attention the way the previous two did. It still centered primarily around Vazkor and his journey, and while he did progress as a character, I was more interested in his mother. I found myself getting impatient, just wondering when he was going to find her. Vazkor spends a decent amount of time in book two and three in the same city and I grew bored – none of the more minor characters were very compelling. I wanted to know more about the race Vazkor and Uastis were descended from and less about the people living in the land now. I also expected the sci-fi elements to come back into play and sadly they didn’t, making their appearance in the first book puzzling and mostly useless. The ending was a let down too, though there was one little twist. I don’t regret reading this book but it certainly didn’t live up to the quality of the first two for me.

+ Vocabulary Alert +
argot – the language used by a particular type of people
febrile – including or caused by fever
titivate – to make smart or spruce
hypocaust – an ancient Roman central heating system
cicatrix – a scar from the formation and contraction of fibrous tissue in a wound

Overall this is a solid series and a good start to Tanith’s writing career. I’m hoping there are other books that touch on the sci-fi elements she mentioned in this series, or the god-like race she mentioned. If, like me, you’re trying to read as much of Tanith’s work as possible, I’d say don’t skip over this series.

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