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The Birthgrave

(Birthgrave #1)

3.75  ·  Rating details ·  1,468 ratings  ·  131 reviews
She woke from a sleep of countless years, reborn from the heart of a raging volcano. Her body was a masterpiece all men desired, her face a monstrosity that must go masked. Warrior, witch, goddess and slave, she was doomed to travel through a world of barbaric splendour, helped and betrayed by her lovers, searching for escape from the taint of her forgotten race, and the m ...more
Mass Market Paperback, 408 pages
Published June 1975 by Orbit
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Average rating 3.75  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,468 ratings  ·  131 reviews

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Between 4 and 5 stars

A hard book to read and an even harder book to like. And I enjoyed it very much, mostly because I have strange taste in genre fiction and strange books always call out to me, but I think, if the mood is right and you're looking for something with depth, with flesh, to sink your teeth into, you might want to give this challenging book a try.

The writing is subversive and sublime and unexpectedly hard-hitting, and not what I expected from the Conan the Barbarian throwback cove
Jan 31, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Tanith Lee's The Birthgrave is one of the best pieces of feminist speculative fiction I have ever read.

The main character is a woman of the old race- humanlike creatures with apparent immortality and powers above and beyond that which we possess. She awakens in a volcano, and is told by the spirit in the fire that she is the last of her kind and will spread a curse of unhappiness across the land, unless she can unlock the secrets to the power and knowledge hidden within herself. Thus she leaves
Heather *Undercover Goth Queen*
Buddy read with Shelly and Sam on August 1st!

Well, I'm bowing out early on this buddy read. I read about 2/3 of the book before I decided to call it quits. It was just so dense and seemingly random that I had no idea where it was going, and I couldn't bring myself to care. There's no doubt it was inventive and well-written, as many of Lee's books are, but I wasn't excited to continue. The book was too long and plotless.

One thing that interested me in particular was the heroine's apparently hideo
S.E. Lindberg
Jul 23, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed-by-se
The Birthgrave – An Adult ‘Coming of Age’ Novel – Dark, Haunting Adventure

Haunting Release: The Birthgrave is a coming of age novel of (and by) a female goddess. Tanith Lee’s debut novel is adult oriented, dark fantasy. This one is epic, dosed with poetic horror and battle, and features lots of risky writing (entertaining). The 2015 reprint comes with a haunting introduction written in January, just months before her May death coinciding with the paperback release in the US.

The female narrator q
Nov 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
Not a perfect book, but a mighty impressive first novel (or first adult novel; I think Tanith Lee had published some YA books prior to this). Our narrator (who remains nameless until the very end of the book, and whose name would be quite the spoiler) wakes, amnesiac, in a chamber in a soon-to-erupt volcano; she speaks with (and is cursed by) a Dark Power and flees just before the eruption (possibly caused by her flight?). She goes masked, having been cursed with great ugliness, but is also hers ...more
Feb 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I found this book just a touch exasperating in the beginning because the main character makes some very odd and not entirely wise choices and often seems to just let herself be helplessly swept along by events she could potentially have some control over. However, in good time the reader gains a great deal of insight as to her inner workings shedding a lot of light which makes previously senseless choices very sensible and understandable indeed. What I liked most about this book, other than the ...more
Apr 19, 2012 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
May 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
For the first 80% of this book, I did not expect to be giving it 5 stars. For the first 50% of this book, I wasn't sure whether or not I would give it 4. Yet here I am, 5 stars, and teary-eyed.

Haunted by a demon and living in a man-dominated world, Tanith Lee's at-first-unnamed protagonist stumbles forth in some vague quest to lift her curse. It is this vagueness, and the character's self-destructive impulses, that can at times make the story a little infuriating. Yet, reading the text was like
Dec 29, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The voice of the narrator--unnamed but for those given by others--carries a weird calm and intensity, a detachment that speaks of underlying trauma or depression. She seems an observer in her own story, as she is slotted into roles and pushed into actions by the stereotypically dynamic and assertive male characters who would be the usual protagonists. She frequently disagrees with her own actions or second-guesses decisions, as though she wars with her own mind or does not know her own desires. ...more
Jun 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
DAW Collectors #154

Cover Artist: George Barr

Name: Kaiine, Tanith Lee, Birthplace: London, England, UK, (19 September 1947 -- 24 May 2015)

Alternate Names: Judas Garbah, Esther Garber.

Tanith Lee's character's ted to be complex and emotional.

This is Tanith Lee's even her first novel. The story begins in an active volcano. She appears to be a young woman with a weird, deformed face, but it quickly becomes apparent that while the protagonist is inexperienced and female, she may not be young and pr
Juho Pohjalainen
Feb 03, 2020 rated it liked it
Maybe it's the heroine's own amnesiac and somewhat flippant nature - that she's obviously from an age long forgotten - why the entire world of this book ended up feeling a little... dreamlike, oneiric, half-real at best, with a bunch of things happening and people being established, in a relative vacuum, before we move on to a different land where the same then repeats. None of it grabbed me very well, especially towards the end, when things get really weird. And what was up with that lizard?

Oct 24, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Pam Baddeley
This is the first in the Birthgrave trilogy, and the first adult novel published by the author who had previously published at least one children's book. Written at the age of only 22 years old, in many ways it is a tour de force, and yet I struggled to get through the densely written 408 pages.

The story is told from the first person viewpoint of a young woman whose first real memory is of waking up in the dark and finding her way out of what turns out to be a volcano on the verge of eruption. B
Luna Corbden
Sep 03, 2010 rated it did not like it
Shelves: fantasy
I really wanted to like this book. I read it to the end, hoping the lead character would redeem herself. But she never did. She is a goddess, with superpowers, but she allows herself to repeatedly be a victim of any victimizer within range.

I heard Tanith Lee was a feminist fantasy author, so I had high hopes for this... and maybe I missed something... but this book sucked.
Feb 28, 2018 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 21, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy, 2016
The news of Lee's death last year inspired me to read something of hers, and The Birthgrave was at the top of lots of recommendation lists, so I picked this one. I've read one of her books before -- Heartbeast, back in the '90s -- and didn't think much of it, but I like to think that my tastes have matured since then. Still, I went into this book with some reluctance. It's lengthy and has small type, and I wasn't sure if I was ready for a style like Lee's. In the end, I was surprised I liked thi ...more
Grace Troxel
This review originally appeared on my blog, Books Without Any Pictures:

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, becaus
Sarah Mac
DNF, pg 50 (+ final 15 pgs). I gave this three separate chances, but nope. I don't like Tanith Lee's writing. It's not just THE BIRTHGRAVE; I tried her contemp horror & didn't care for that, either. Clearly her voice isn't to my taste.

I will say this much re: content. While I'm aware of the 'pulpy barbarian warrior' type this sprouts from, & also that female-oriented fantasy was in its early stages back then (1975, I believe?), this is a good example of Trying Too Hard. It's shrilly aware of it
DNF @ 44%

I've already spent too much of my life on this book. I'll keep this short, sweet, and to the point.

The story was unfocused. The heroine wanders from place to place with no real end goal (every so often, she'll remember that she's supposed to be going on an actual quest, but it never happened in the 44% I read).

The scenery that was described was nice to picture. I enjoyed the detail that was given to the various cultures of the people the heroine journeys with. I won't fault the book for
 Simply Sam ツ
Jul 31, 2016 marked it as hold-that-thought
Shelves: fantasy
Buddy read with...
I bet you thought I was going to say the MacHalos didn't you?
Well, you smarty pants, you'd be wrong.
Reading to commence tomorrow with Shelly and Heather. And, unlike Shelly who obviously reads things wrong (kidding! sort of), I hope this one is just as good as The Silver Metal Lover. I'm ready Tanith Lee. Show me what you've got!
Allison Hurd
May 23, 2019 rated it liked it
This is an earlier Tanith Lee, and I think it shows. It has a lot of her trademarks - it's dark, it's centered on feminine horror and the cause and effect of the pebbles that turn into the avalanches that propel us. It was also f***ing weird, even for her.

CONTENT WARNING: (no actual spoilers, just a list of topics) (view spoiler)
Mar 05, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
...All things considered, I don't think this is a novel that really deserves the label classic. It is a book that had an impact when it was published, but one with so many flaws that I can't really call it a good book. If I compare this with the short story that made me pick up this novel, Lee must have developed considerably as a writer throughout her career. It is a fairly quick read if you let yourself be swept away by Lee's lovely prose and the emotional turmoil that surrounds the main char ...more
Stuff I Read - The Birthgrave by Tanith Lee Review

I had no real idea of what to expect when I opened this book. I mean, that cover is kind of insane, and I just didn't know. But I've been meaning to try something by Tanith Lee and found this one. The experience was...interesting. From the start it is a bit of a strange journey, a woman waking up in a dormant volcano and flung out into the world to find herself worshipped and feared and used and abused. It is not often a very comfortable journey,
Priscilla Aguilera
May 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
It took me three months to read this book. That's mostly a reflection of my own weak reading habits rather than the quality of the book, the fact that I could never drop it is the reflection of the quality. My mistake was in picking this particular book to read at a time when I'm trying to get back into reading regularly, and I'm not yet very disciplined.

The pacing of the book, which ebbs and flows very appropriately and actually makes it easier to read, also makes it easy to put down when it "
A few years ago, I read Black Unicorn on a whim and fell in love with Tanith Lee. I immediately bought every Tanith Lee book I could find in the used bookstores in the area. Now I have a shelf that is dedicated to Tanith Lee that is probably way more Tanith Lee than anyone needs to read in a lifetime. Occasionally, I wander over and pick a book at random, so I feel like the Tanith Lee TBR pile is getting smaller. Is it smaller? I don’t think it is any smaller.

This was a random choice from my Tan
Melony Breeze
Mar 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
I first read this book a few years ago while I was recovering from a broken ankle. I had read Lee's Dark Dance and Secret Books of Paradys and loved the sinister and fantastical elements of her writing, and wanted more. The Birthgrave did not disappoint.

Overall, this is a wonderful adventure and self discovery story. The narrator makes a lot of questionable decisions, but I think they are often due to her own confusion and subconscious fears. Her strange path is one she chooses herself, even if
Jun 16, 2015 rated it it was ok
Awakening from apparent death with no memory of her past, one women sets out on a fraught journey of self-discovery. What she discovers is a bit trite and has tinges of a deus ex machina, but it exhibits a level of intent which recasts her journey in a far more interesting light--so, despite its weaknesses, the end is satisfying. Unfortunately, the rest of the book is not. In the first three quarters, the protagonist meanders through a joyless* and repetitive world; in journey-centric plot it mi ...more
Tony Manning
Aug 04, 2016 rated it liked it
Tanith Lee emphasizes the uniqueness of being a woman. She does this more than most other authors I've read. She shows some of the unsavory aspects as well as the emotional ones. This novel has an interesting beginning, but then the story meanders a lot. It's well-written, but the word choices and order are a bit odd at times. It's more like a series of short stories combined loosely into a larger novel. They are interesting in and of themselves, but they do very little to promote the overall st ...more
Even though I understood, while I read it, that there were multiple layers of meaning behind everything happening, the whole thing still cracked open like an egg at the end, the story's magnitude overwhelming me. And I thought I was prepared for it, being clever and recognizing things as they happened, but ohhhhhh no. I thought I was smart for picking up on the very subtle clues, when in fact the whole damn point of it all is displayed in every sentence, in every action, in every abuse, plain fo ...more
Dec 26, 2010 rated it liked it
This is long-form Conan the Barbarian from a female perspective, with a whole lot of sexually charged violence, a little sprinkling of Sci-Fi, and a much appreciated Sherlock Holmes-style summation tying up all the loose ends. None of this is a bad thing, but it was a little familiar in style. However, the main protagonists - all dead except for the heroine of the story - were uniquely drawn as the next, creatively and sadistically decadent, evolutionary leap of mankind. Sort of dated prose and ...more
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Darnerys from GoT and The Birthgrave 1 8 Jul 23, 2016 03:59AM  

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Tanith Lee was a British writer of science fiction, horror, and fantasy. She was the author of 77 novels, 14 collections, and almost 300 short stories. She also wrote four radio plays broadcast by the BBC and two scripts for the UK, science fiction, cult television series "Blake's 7."
Before becoming a full time writer, Lee worked as a file clerk, an assistant librarian, a shop assistant, and a wai

Other books in the series

Birthgrave (3 books)
  • Vazkor, Son of Vazkor (Birthgrave, #2)
  • Quest for the White Witch (Birthgrave, #3)

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