The Four Profound Weaves
A Birdverse Book
by R. B. Lemberg
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Pub Date 1 Sep 2020 | Archive Date 5 Oct 2020
"Thoughtful and deeply moving, The Four Profound Weaves is the anti-authoritarian, queer-mystical fairy tale we need right now.”
—Annalee Newitz, author of Autonomous and The Future of Another Timeline
Two transgender elders must learn to weave from Death in order to defeat an evil ruler—a tyrant who murders rebellious women and hoards their bones and souls—in the first novella set in R. B. Lemberg's award-winning queer fantasy Birdverse universe
Wind: To match one’s body with one’s heart
Sand: To take the bearer where they wish
Song: In praise of the goddess Bird
Bone: To move unheard in the night
The Surun’ nomads do not speak of the master weaver, Benesret, who creates the cloth of bone for assassins in the Great Burri Desert. But aged Uiziya must find her aunt in order to learn the final weave, although the price for knowledge may be far too dear to pay.
Among the Khana in the springflower city of Iyar, women travel in caravans to trade, while men remain in the inner quarter, as scholars. A nameless man struggles to embody Khana masculinity, after many years of performing the life of a woman, trader, wife, and grandmother. As his past catches up, the man must choose between the life he dreamed of and Uiziya – while Uiziya must discover how to challenge the evil Ruler of Iyar, and to weave from deaths that matter.
In this breathtaking debut set in R. B. Lemberg's beloved Birdverse, The Four Profound Weaves hearkens to Ursula Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness, and offers a timeless chronicle of claiming one's identity in a hostile world.
About the Birdverse The Birdverse is the creation of fantasy author R. B. Lemberg. It is a complex, culturally diverse world, with a range of LGBTQIA characters and different family configurations. Named after its deity, Bird, Birdverse works have been nominated for the Nebula award, longlisted for the Hugo award and the Tiptree award, placed in the Rhysling award, won the Strange Horizons readers’ poll, and more. The Four Profound Weaves is the first full-length work set in the Birdverse.
A Note From the Publisher
Praise for The Four Profound Weaves
Buzzfeed Best Book Releases of the Week
Foreword Book of the Day
Autostraddle Queer and Feminist Books Coming Your Way in 2020
Publishers Weekly Top-10 Titles of Fall 2020
Book Riot 10 Great Adult LBGTQ+ Fantasy Books of 2020
Ms. Magazine Reads for the Rest of Us
Lambda Literary September’s Most Anticipated LGBTQ Books
[STARRED REVIEW] “Lemberg writes deeply considered, evocative portraits of their characters, handling sexuality and gender especially well. This diverse, folkloric fantasy world is a delight to visit. —Publishers Weekly
[STARRED REVIEW] “R. B. Lemberg spins a world of singing gods, desert nomads, and magic humming in the wind in The Four Profound Weaves . . . Impressive world building renders the shifting hues of the desert sands and the cold stone of The Collector’s palace in tight prose.” —Foreword
“The Four Profound Weaves contains imagery that glows on the page.” —Patricia McKillip, author of The Forgotten Beasts of Eld
“A complex and mystical journey toward friendship, family, and love.” —Jewelle Gomez, author of The Gilda Stories
“R. B. Lemberg’s lyrical skill, combined with unforgettable characters and the magic of the Birdverse makes a stunning fabric over which this story plays beautifully.” —Fran Wilde, author of The Bone Universe
“Go read this story, tell it to your friends, and help us get to that future that we so desperately need.” —Trans Narrative, L. A. Lanquist
“Let this be your introduction to R.B.'s world of song carpets, deepnames, and deserts full of roving lovers.” —Isaac R. Fellman, author of The Breath of the Sun
“I am staggered by the richness and intricacy of R. B. Lemberg’s imagination. The Four Profound Weaves is an intense and emotional story of a journey of change, growth, and courage.” —Kate Elliott, author of Court of Fives
“What a treat: the full-length debut set in R.B. Lemberg’s super-queer Birdverse universe! It’s a wonder of identity, evolution and bravery in a time when we need it most.”—Ms. Magazine
“Both sweet and fierce, devastating and gentle in its truths." —M. Crane Hana, author of The Purist
“The Four Profound Weaves is a jewel-bright tile in [Lemberg’s] ongoing mosaic.” —C. S. E. Cooney, author of Bone Swans, Stories
“In reading this story about recognition and transformation, I felt recognized and transformed. It’s fantastic alchemy on Lemberg’s part, and their love and labor shines off the page.” —Nino Cipri, author of Homesick
“Lemberg’s gorgeous prose sets The Four Profound Weaves apart as one of the most beautifully written fantasies of the year.” —Locus
“The Four Profound Weaves is a balm and a call to arms . . . Thoughtful and deeply moving, The Four Profound Weaves is the anti-authoritarian, queer-mystical fairy tale we need right now.” —Annalee Newitz, author of The Future of Another Timeline
“I highly recommend this inventive, queer Middle-Eastern fairytale that offers a unique take on magic and has an excellent world-building.” —The Artsy Reader
“If the plot is the warp of a story, then the weft of this novella is Lemberg’s exquisitely crafted, luminescent prose.” —Maria Haskins, author of Odin’s Eye
“A brilliantly profound and poignant quest, through haunting desert and intricate city and terrifying dungeon, that's truly about people and change.” —Scott H. Andrews, editor of Beneath Ceaseless Skies
“With elegant prose and an understanding of human nature in all its genders, Lemberg weaves a golden tale of human longing, friendship, and hope.” —Traveling in Books
“Modern speculative fiction at its best, exploring important issues through compelling characters, fantastic settings, and exciting stories.” —The Fantasy Hive
“Powerful, magical, lyrical, and beautifully original” —Beauty in Ruins
“Theirs is a story of survival and triumph, of redemption and transition, and Lemberg delivers it in a deeply woven, and obviously personal, narrative.”—The Novel Approach
“A delightful world, nuanced representation of trans characters and a gorgeous story.”—Chain Interaction
“5/5 stars. This will certainly be touted as a queer nonbinary transformational story (and it is that), but it's so much more.”—Nonstop Reader
“A radical act of self-acceptance.”—Utopia State of Mind
“This was definitely something I needed right now. I love Lemberg’s writing, I love Birdverse, and with everything going on, this was the perfect piece to come back to.” —The Book Deviant
“Lemberg weaves a golden tale of human longing, friendship, and hope.”—Traveling in Books
“It is a work that promotes hope and healing, and it is one of those rare books that can be accurately termed deeply wise.”—The Temz Review
“It amazes me how the author takes the reader on a roller coaster ride of the emotional, physical and intellectual journey of the two protagonists. The magic, spells, musings, dark powers and magical carpets . . . everything felt so real and authentic. A must read.” —The Clipped Nightingale
“This book is one of a kind. The writing is fascinating, atmospheric, drenched in culture and personality. It feels completely immersive.” —Lost In A Good Book
“5/5 stars. The ending and the themes throughout the book are pretty perfect.”
—MI Book Reviews
“I can wholeheartedly recommend this novella and this series as one that's well worth spending time in, packing fascinating, complex worldbuilding and a thoughtful engagement with queer identities”
—Nerds of a Feather
• Promotion at BEA, ALA, and the World Science Fiction and Fantasy Conventions • Features, interviews, and reviews in literary, LBTQIA+, and genre venues • Author events/appearances in Colorado and other U.S. venues TBD • Planned galley distribution/giveaways to include Goodreads, NetGalley, and Edelweiss • Print, co-op, and media TBD • Blog tour and social media (@RB_Lemberg; http://rblemberg.net/)
Average rating from 199 members
Wow. This book was magnificent. The opposing views of the societies on how they accepted, or did not accept, "changers" as they were called in the book felt familiar. The internal struggle for the No Name Man as he journeyed through the change and his desire to feel as tho he fit but struggling with how he was raised.
Without giving away too much I loved the revelation by Uiziya as the book unfolds. I can't share too much without sharing too much of the book.
The way the book describes the world and the magic is inventive and created an incredibly gorgeous land of beauty but also pain in an interesting way.
Hands down recommend this book to everyone. Especially those not exactly family with transitioning and the struggle of transgender people. I loved that this book also included non-binary people.
Wow. This is my first foray into the Birdverse and what a wondrous strange and beautiful world it is. The poetic language seeps under your skin almost unnoticed until you realise you are grabbing every free second to be with it again, leaning against the kitchen work surface, in the back of the car, in line at the post office. It’s a true strength of the narrative that this is a perfect standalone story; I was made aware there was more background but not frustratingly so, more as a glimpse into a place, the richness of which is only scratched at and begs to be explored more.
The subject of gender, the alienation of one’s own body and the chosen changes therein were addressed with heartbreaking immediacy and intimacy. Having lived a life being several kinds of ‘other’, in many kinds of substrata of society and culture, I still came away feeling I understand these things more empathetically, being given a look as a person looking in from the outside.
And the fantastic, magical setting lends itself perfectly to addressing these subjects. What a beautiful world, so tactile, so brutal in some of the classical fairy tale-like subject matter: weaving from bone, capturing soul essence through song, pacts made and undone by betrayal, love lost and made peace with.
I absolutely loved it.
I received an advance reader copy from Tachyon Publications through Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.
This story says so much more in 112 pages than some books can in 900. It follows two transgender elders in a fantastical world where magic and weaving must come together to fight evil and lead the protagonists on a journey through the desert to claim their true identities.
This is one of the most beautiful and touching fantasy stories I have read in a long time. The world build is so rich and culturally diverse and there is a range of family structures and LGBTIQA+ representation. It immediately drew me in and left me wanting more but in a good way. The story is incredibly satisfying from start to finish and makes you care for the characters so quickly. I would read a million more stories from the Birdverse.
The Foute Profound Weaves is a breathtakingly beautiful story set in a lush world with wonderous magic and characters.
I loved the story and the settings a d how poignant and hopeful it was.
I would highly recommend this novela
This story is indeed profound. A hopeful tale of wanderlust told from the perspective of those who are tired of waiting for their lives to begin. I felt lucky to be able to explore this world and would love to return. This story of light also includes a rich darkness that talks of death and hope.
This was my first introduction to the bird verse, and wow! Like most fantasies, this book throws you in fast, with the story told in alternating viewpoints: Uiziya and the nameless man. I read it all in one setting and would love to sit in this world a little longer, as brutal and harsh as it can be. There is a hopeful tone as these two characters seek to better understand their identities and discover freedom for themselves. I’m intentionally vague and I don’t want to give anything away, but suffice it to say that you should pick this up if you love fantasy!
This is a book of great beauty and wit and imagination. In The Four Profound Weaves, R. B. Lemberg crafts a story about growing up and growing old, magic and art, learning and traveling, trusting and transforming. The weaver Uiziya sets out into the desert to to find her aunt, who weaves clothes for assassins from bone, in hopes that her aunt will teach her the last of the Four Profound Weaves: weaving with death. With her travels an unnamed man, who is also looking for a kind of final learning, a name. Lemberg introduces readers to several fascinating cultures and individuals from her Birdverse, whose histories and traditions come together to help a weaver find life and happiness, albeit through betrayal and pain. This is a fabulous, brutal, shimmering queer fairytale but also a story of great truth in terms of identity, gender, sexuality, and sense of self.
A great many reviewers and their reviews will call this novella profound. What you need to know is that when they say it, they’re not dashing out a quirky play on words and they certainly aren’t lying.
This novella is profound.
As a straight, white male I’m privileged in that I don’t have to worry about a great many societal factors. Day-to-day I rarely have to worry about how I view my place in society and even less so how society views me.
This story, as stories so very often are, is a mirror to real life. Though it is a fantasy story the themes, feelings and characters within the Four Profound Weaves exist and play-out all-around us though they are ignored, demonized, dismissed and considered lesser.
The Four Profound Weaves by R.B. Lemberg is so very important. What they have created in this novella, and in their wider Birdverse, is going to be extremely important for those that it is written about, people who live its story. But is also going to be important for people like myself who perhaps aren’t as aware.
These are very much ownvoices to which you can’t help but listen.
The Four Profound Weaves is a very emotional and beautiful tale. The plot though imaginative and well executed was very much secondary to some very sensitive and poignant character development.
It was impossible for me not to become invested in the transformative journey of both Uiziya e Lali and the nameless man. As you’d expect from an ownvoices author the writing is authentic and is emotionally very open, and very raw.
The nameless man particularly, starts off all but broken, I’d noted words such as; sadness, loss, shame and judgement. Genuinely I felt in my gut his pain at each incorrect pronoun and mis-gendering, undoubtedly because of R.B. Lemberg’s craft and their ability to accurately convey the mental and physical reactions to pain.
But to see how they grow, finding their own voice and their own power was revelatory.
The world of the Birdverse is intricate and spellbinding, the descriptions dazzle and the setting sings. Though the story is told over just 192 pages there is so, so much detail in it. Fine strands of exquisite metaphor and simile are magically woven together to create sumptuous passages akin to poetry. Though I appreciate that some readers could find the writing too florid or abstract.
- ‘We were face to face, Uiziya crouching, me kneeling, and between us the finest threads of sand whispered each to each in a language I did not understand. No longer dun, the carpet of sand undulated with every shade of yellow and brown and gold, and between these strands I saw glimpses of sunset and shadow, and bones - always bones - bones of strange, beguiled animals that had once roamed the desert before the goddess Bird brought our people here, and our stars.’
There is a magic system that I so desperately want to know more about. Syllables create deepnames and deepnames create structures that are personal to the individual and confer different abilities. It’s so unique and inventive.
Who would I recommend this to?
This is very much a story for everybody, as there is such phenomenal diversity both in this novella and the plethora of other short-fictions set in the Birdverse.
Truthfully I can’t think of any direct comparisons as it is so unique and fresh.
If you enjoy magical, almost faerie-tale fantasy that while dark is full of hope and growth … you’ll love this particular weave.
Actual rating: 4.5
An achingly beautiful tale by RB Lemberg. This was my first intro to the Birdverse, so it was initially hard to grasp the story and foundation, but the writing was just so lovely and poetic. I loved that the two main characters were elderly <spoiler>and trans; one character, nen-sasaïr, is a trans man struggling to fit into his society's gender roles after transitioning, and the other, Uiziya, is revealed later on in the book to have transitioned earlier in life (as a child? Wasn't quite sure)</spoiler>.
The beginning of the book was a little confusing, as mentioned above, and the point of view shifts rapidly between the two main characters; Personally, I would have preferred slightly longer sections. There is a lot of groundwork laid here with relatively little action, but this book truly blossoms about 1/3 of the way in.
Nen-sasaïr's grapples with gender identity are painful and raw, <spoiler>especially when he reflects on his past lovers, one of whom died at the hands of the Collector, and one of whom held him back from transitioning, letting their relationship wither from the weight of this.</spoiler> Uiziya longs to understand the four weaves from her aunt, Benesret, and the final scene with the weaving of death and bones was unbelievably beautiful and heartbreaking. I would definitely recommend this book as a beautiful fantasy about discovering yourself, coming to terms with grief, and phenomenal writing.
Thank you to Netgalley, the publisher, and the author for an advanced e-copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
This lyrical, poignant novella is an absolutely stunning work of art. Lemberg takes deep feelings about gender, love and family, aging, and death and weaves them together into a captivating tale of two friends’ journey across the desert in search of answers, and so much more. I got to hear Lemberg read the poem in which this novella has its origins earlier this month, but I would still call this my first proper sojourn into the Birdverse, and what a thrilling introduction it was. I can’t wait to read more from this author!
Review cross-posted on GoodReads.
The Four Profound Weaves: A Bird Verse Book will probably be a book like you haven't read before. It's a short but moving and beguiling read about love, death, and hope. The unique story, its powerful characters and its whimsically dark and fairytale-like writing style make this book a kind of heavy but thoroughly entertaining read.
*I received The Four Profound Weaves: A Bird Verse Book as an ARC in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!
Astoundingly gorgeous. The characters were rich and complex, and the world a beautiful and terrible fairytale. I want to read everything Birdverse now.
The Four Profound Weaves : A Birdverse Book by R.B. Lemberg, published by Tachyon Publications , is a story, unique and outstanding, a story like no other.
The story of two aged wanderers searching for magic,art and peace.
The author crafted a wonderful tale, a strange world I could get lost in, a world full of magic and art.
The story kept me in suspense from start til the end, is excellent written, beautifully thought out and beautifully told,
The Four Profound Weaves is the first Birdverse work I have read and I truly enjoyed it. It took me a few pages to get used to some of the terminology being used, but once I got into it I couldn't put it down. I love being able to see things from a different perspective, which is it part why I love reading so much, and this book certainly fulfilled that for me. It is a story of change, realization, hope, death, and awakening. I love the quota attention to detail, I do wish there was a little more description of the different lands/environments throughout, but truly it's not necessary for the understanding or enjoyment of the book. Highly recommended! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
WOW. I was so enthralled by this book I sacrificed three nights of sleep and then slept through two classes for it and am now on a quest to explore more of the Birdverse. If, like me, this is your first exposure to that realm, you are thrown right into this magical world in The Four Profound Weaves, but you learn as you go. It's delicious like that. I have put off this review for three days now because I wanted to write something more intelligent about this than I think I'm probably capable of at this point, but I can't. Mostly I just want everyone who likes this particular genre to read this. I don't want to compare R. B. Lemberg to anyone else because they stand on their own, but I do believe that anyone who enjoys writers such as Ursula K. Le Guin and Octavia Butler will love this. That being said, I also want anyone who wants (or needs) a deeper understanding of queer, trans, and non-binary identity to read it. And also anyone who's ever loved someone whose true nature came out while they were with them. They should read this, too. And also people who would like to see more queer, trans and non-binary characters and people like themselves in books. Read this. The Birdverse is an enchanting place and I am now completely under its spell.
This book is such a good book ! It is truly one of my favorite books of all times !
I love that it tackles queer characters without making it the sole central point of the book but without making it an anecdotic part either.
I love that it was about friendship, identity, self-love and self-care too. The nameless man sets off without warning his grandchildren, a bit selfishly and I love that ! Yes, we can put our mental health before other things ! It's a wonderful tale on finding oneself.
I love that the main characters are old, how refreshing !
I love the wonderful imagery, completely unfamiliar for me (probably inspired by middle eastern tales), so refreshing too, and beautiful !
I love the magic system, wich I never saw anything like anywhere else. It is so interesting and well done, like every aspect of the book.
I love the story, so perfect in every aspect.
It's finally time we have a beautiful queer fantasy like this. It's very clean and wonderfully written (the repetitions were not bothering, on the contrary it added a mystical feeling wich I appreciated). The praises at the beginning talk about a "luminous writing", I did not understand it but now I do, it is truly the right term. I cannot explain it but I can defenitely see the light in the prose.
Title: The Four Profound Weaves: A Birdverse Book
Author: R.B. Lemberg
Genre: Fantasy, LGBTQ+
If you care about someone strongly enough, if you listen hard to their stories, perhaps one day you will find yourself in that place.
I’ve struggled to find the right way to review this. After listening to those whose story is being told here I think I’ve found the right words.
First and foremost I would like to thank Edelweiss+ and NetGalley for a copy of the eARC in exchange for a fair and honest review.
The writing style is stunning, it reminds me of folk tales like How the Leopard Got His Spots. It’s very poetic, which I know isn’t for everyone, but I feel like R.B. Lemberg manages to tread that careful balance without falling into trite cliche’s. It took me a long time to read because, although it was just over 100 pages long, a lot of storytelling was packed into its pages.
I haven’t explored the Birdverse before, but it forms a beautiful backdrop for this story of change. The story follows two elder changers, one from a community where gender roles are strictly reinforced and defined biologically, and the other from a nomadic community where gender is more fluid. As a changer, a man that has gone through the transformation, A Nameless Man struggles to find his place among his people. He travels as nen-sasaïr with his friend, Uiziya, also a changer. They start on a journey to find Uiziya’s aunt. In search of a name, and to learn the final of the four profound weaves: bone.
This story, very poetically, holds a mirror to society. It discusses the nuances of the trans experience and made me assess things I hadn’t previously known or understood. It has had a profound impact on me, made me feel even more compassionate towards transgender individuals. These are the kinds of stories the world needs more of. This is a story of self-discovery, of friendship, of community, of the power of compassion. I’ve really struggled to find the words to express my deep admiration for this work. Truly, this book should be added to the school curriculum. It’s a beautiful, complex story, and it really takes you on an emotional journey.
Do not be afraid to be heard -- yes, even in your death -- for if your voice is heard, it is no longer possible to pretend that you do not exist.
Not to be dramatic, but my final thought is this: the fifth profound weave the way Lemberg takes feelings about gender, love and family, aging, and death and weaves them together into this captivating story.
In short, this is an amazing little book.
It stays in your mind like a bell, echoing long after the last page. It's a worthy addition to R.B. Lemberg's 'Birdverse' mythos, and a certain win for Tachyon Publications.
Absolutely gorgeous novella from, apparently, an established literary world and associated series (prior knowledge of the world or the series is in no way needed). Set in a dual-god magical world with similarities to areas of the middle east (perhaps the author's former home in Israel?) the Four Profound Waves explores themes of gender identity, belonging, love, control, freedom, longing, choice, and art. I'll be looking for more by this author in the future for sure!
"The first of the Four Profound Weaves is woven from wind. It signifies change."
This book left me positively surprised.I was attracted first by the blurb, which I thought was one of the most intriguing and original premises to a story: two transgender elders doing magic and kicking villains' asses? I'm in.
So, yes: I came for the blurb, stayed for the amazingly captivating universe The Four Profound Weaves is set in. I didn't know anything about the Birdverse when I approached this book, but I grasped the basic concepts of that world. Let me just say that this setting - this desert full of life and poetry and strength - is one of the most fascinating things I've read about in quite a lot of time. Here the desert is not deadly, but accepting and encouraging. It's not a place like any other. It's the home you need.
This book will teach you how to accept yourself for who you really are - doesn't matter if you don't fit anywhere. If you don't fit the scheme, you ARE the scheme. Or better, who needs schemes?
It will teach you the importance of change, and why it must always be allowed.
The Four Profound Weaves truly is a wonderful, heartfelt story. I would recommend it to anyone who needs to be reminded there is always a choice, real change is becoming truly what you've always been and hope is the song that arises from silence where all our voices had been.
Beautifully written, and deeply moving. The world is delicately crafted and a truly joyous discovery.
On the surface, this story appears to be a fantasy tale; a well-crafted myth of fictitious people. But it is so much more than that. This story is about self-acceptance, learning to cope when loved ones let us down, encouraging and nurturing a younger generation (and how to make it right when you make mistakes), and having the courage to stand up to corrupt leadership with whatever skills you possess. Most of all, it's about never giving up hope and not overlooking what you DO have in life in your desire for something new/better/different.
I don't know if it was the author's intent, but each of the characters seemed to represent a human tendency that, taken to an extreme, can be wildly unhealthy. Benesret had woven an amazing cloth but it wasn't the one she REALLY wanted to create. Uiziya wanted to learn what Benesret had wanted to teach, but never took the initiative to pursue the promised lessons. The nameless man was convinced that his transformation had been the right thing to do, but couldn't seem to forgive himself for leaving his old life behind. The Ruler of Iyar was so terrified of change that he kept things and people that might cause change locked away. But the overall message that I walked away with is a simple one - you can always find a reason to hope if you are willing to search for one.
This was the first book I have ever read by this author. The imagery was breathtaking. Uiziya and the Nameless Man were crafted in such a way that I couldn't help but feel empathy for the struggles they faced; even the struggles cause by their own choices. It's an impactful story with a profoundly beautiful lesson.
Stories are the fiber that is spun and woven by generations and relationships to make culture. While the weavers themselves may become forgotten, the stories remain. But what of the communities that have no familial ties, that are often hidden and isolated? How can those groups, like the trans community, build their own sustainable culture, if there is such a difficulty in those stories being passed on? R. B. Lemberg, queer bigender immigrant from Eastern Europe and Israel, addresses this very concern in The Four Profound Weaves, a fantasy novella in Lemberg’s Birdverse series that I got the chance to read an ARC of through Netgalley. In The Four Profound Weaves, elder trans heroes Uiziya e Lali and nen-sasaïr/the nameless man go in search of Beneseret, the infamous weaver who was known to have mastered three of the Four Profound (magical) Weaves, and always sought the ways of the fourth Profound Weave, the weave of death. Along the way, the two protagonists contend with their own expectations of their long lives, assassins, the literally haunting past, and the change-hating Ruler of Iyar who has mercilessly killed all who stood in his way. Through the course of the tale, R. B. Lemberg simultaneously shows readers the need for trans-inclusive cultural story representation and supplies The Four Profound Weaves as an example.
In The Four Profound Weaves, there are two cultures central to the storyline: the Khana--nen-sasaïr’s people--and the snake-Surun’--Uiziya e Lali’s people. The Khana exist within the city of Iyar as a minority group who migrated from their homelands long ago. In terms of how they view gender, Khana women travel in lover groups known as oregs while they lead trade for their community. They are notable for their powerful (though not precise) magical abilities and act as protectors to the Khana men, who remain separate from the rest of Khana society and act as artificers. Nen-sasaïr grew up standing outside the walls that held in the Khana men--a place he was not allowed to go as he was perceived to be a woman--while they sang what is known as the Dawnsong. As for the snake-Surun’, they are a group of people who live in the desert, who welcome change and do not hold many restricted views when it comes to gender. They also know a Profound Weave that calls magical sandbirds to the person using it in order to initiate what is only ever referred to as “the change”. It is what both Uiziya e Lali and nen-sasaïr used to transform their bodies.
Since The Four Profound Weaves alternates between Uiziya e Lali’s perspective and nen-sasaïr’s, a sort of dissonance between the two characters’ views often comes up. One such instance is how they view gender. For Uiziya e Lali, coming from an accepting society that does not force individuals to conform to a binary, she often sees nen-sasaïr as overthinking things when it comes to his gender and how he relates to his own people. It seems natural to her that nen-sasaïr would simply return to the Khana in Iyar and ask for them to choose his new masculine name, if he would not choose it himself. But to nen-sasaïr, the restrictions (and traumas) of his long life have manifested into a deep anxiety about returning to Khana and to his people. And so he defers and procrastinates. He wishes to have Beneseret give him his new name and starts this quest with Uiziya e Lali for that reason, without considering that perhaps there is a better way. When the two do go to Iyar and to Khana, his discomfort is palpable, particularly when it comes to the Khana men’s Dawnsong--something that he was not allowed to partake in and that he later could not let himself sing.
This difference between Uiziya e Lali and nen-sasaïr I saw as being because of their cultural stories (or lack thereof). The snake’Surun have built in conceptions of gender and sexuality that transcend a binary. In the third section of part one [Adobe Digital Editions seems to have trouble demarcating page numbers well] Uiziya e Lali thinks to herself about nen-sasaïr that “The nameless man’s people, the Khana, did not recognize in-betweeners. The nameless man’s people did not recognize people like him, either; instead, they insisted that the shape of one’s body determined one’s fate” (18?). This moment of dissonance says quite a bit about the two characters, but it also implies that there are no accepted stories within the Khana of “in-betweeners” and people who undergo “the change”. It’s highlighted further when nen-sasaïr does eventually hear a story about someone like him. He thinks in the fifth section of part three, “I had needed his tale desperately, before—and now, too. And yet I’d never heard of such a thing. I’d always felt alone here, where these tales—these tales existed, stories of people like me, but hushed so that we could not learn about each other.” (63?) We see the impact that a lack of culturally-accepted stories with trans representation can do to an individual: isolation, ostracization, anxiety, and an inability to become one’s authentic self in one’s own home.
At the same time R. B. Lemberg uses their book to show why it is so very important for these cultural stories to exist, they also weave tales of their own to supplement our lack of representation.
In many ways, The Four Profound Weaves mimics the storytelling method of folk tales and epics--some of the earliest forms of cultural-level stories. Certain words (like the Four Profound Weaves and their meanings: wind - change; sand - wanderlust; song - hope; bone - death) and their synonyms appear again and again throughout the story. It did not surprise me that references to the wind made a resurgence at the end of the story, to indicate possibly the ongoing change of time.
As well, the plot of The Four Profound Weaves has a number of stories with broader application, particularly to trans people. While nen-sasaïr has very specific reasons for searching for a name, many trans people have to figure out what their new name should be. There are also stories of gender-based oppression that are applicable to our own world, like the use of the fairly gendered magic system to parallel views of physical strength being attached to biological sex in our own world. These similarities are cushioned within the fantastical world of the Birdverse, a place different enough from our own to feel comfortable.
I also want to point out how the Ruler of Iyar is a kind of archetypal villain who is practically a manifestation of (particularly gender-based) oppression from our own world. He is powerful and does not care for people--particularly not for women and certainly not for trans people. He hates change because it threatens him, and he hoards anything that could be used against him and corrupts it without seeing its beauty. He is capitalistic, tyrannical, colonial, racist, misogynistic, murderous, calculating. He is systemic hatred incarnate. Readers can look at him and see he is bad, and they can look to our own world and see the things that he would want and see that they, too, are bad. R. B. Lemberg uses him as a foil to create a moral framework within the world of the story--much like villains in folktales and children’s stories.
This is all so important because as I read it, I could imagine talking with other trans people about this story in a book club and reading it to trans kids in future library programs. I could imagine the importance it would have had on me as a teen just sorting out my gender identity. I could imagine a future where this story becomes as commonplace as Hansel and Gretel or Goldilocks and the Three Bears. I could imagine a future where I related more to Uiziya e Lali’s experience of gender than to nen-sasaïr’s. A good story, much like the Four Profound Weaves, acknowledges the past, gives hope for the future, shows what we need to change to get there, and makes you want to find that place no matter what.
Would I recommend that you read it? Most definitely. This is, as some of you may have noticed, the longest review I have written in a while. All I will say in response to that is that The Four Profound Weaves came to me at a perfect time. It was phenomenal and made me cry--sob, really--when nen-sasaïr described the sandbirds coming to him and the final song. I immediately recommended it to some trans friends of mine (with the caveat that this story deals with a great deal of heavy stuff; go check out the content warnings below!), and I would absolutely recommend The Four Profound Weaves to cisgender folks as well. This is a universe that will be sitting within me for some time, so it’s a good thing that there’s much more of the Birdverse out there to read!
But really, go read this story, tell it to your friends, and help us get to that future that we so desperately need.
All I can say is WOW.
Loved the writing, the world building was amazing and the magic system so unique.
What more can I say? Highly recommend this book if you're a fantasy lover.
This was such an amazing and profound read. I loved the story telling and the characters. The world jumps off the pages and encompasses your imagination to the point you think of nothing else, but the world this author have woven. Creative. Original and breath taking.
R. B. Lemberg’s first foray into long-form fiction has left me breathless. The Four Profound Weaves is a love ballad sung straight into the hearts of those who most need to hear it. I was instantly captivated by the poetic, lyrical prose and drawn in with dreams of sandbirds. It’s the queer, Middle-Eastern fairy tale we’ve been waiting for.
The story is told via the voices of two trans main characters whose fates are entwined with one another. They are old - their joints ache, and their bodies are beginning to fail them with so many years weighing down on their bones. Uiziya made her transformation when she was very young, as is the way of her people. She has always been loved and accepted for who she is, and her carpet of transformation was woven by her friends and family for her when she needed it. The nameless man, nen-sasair, son of sandbirds, had a very different experience. In his culture, he’s still viewed as a particularly rebellious woman who is interested in manly pursuits. His people, the Khana, view him as a particularly old tomboy and reject his chosen identity.
"It was here, at this very place, in this dust, on the outskirts of the snake-Surun’ encampment, I had stood in my cloth made of winds, the weave of transformation my friends and my grandchildren had woven for me out of love. I’d lifted my arms to the sky and the sandbirds had come to me, sent to me by the goddess Bird and summoned by the cloth of winds. They were birds of bright fire that fell from the sky and cocooned me, until I could see and hear nothing except the warmth and the feathers enveloping me and the threads of the wind singing each to each until my whole skin was ignited by the sun, my body changing and changed by the malleable flame. And when it was done, I sang. I sang as the wind and the feathers dissolved into sand under my feet; I sang because my transformation was complete. I sang the dawnsong—the sacred melody that the men of my people sing, standing on the roof of the men’s quarter every morning."
Change and transformation are consistent themes throughout the novella. The weaves themselves represent it - one thing may be worked and woven into a new form, but at the price of losing its previous form forever. Uiziya’s people, the snake-Surun’, know this well. They are traders, creating beautiful weaves of sand and wind. When they trade their weaves, they understand that this is not something that can be undone. Each weave has their heart and soul poured into it, but to keep it would be to stagnate - much as Uiziya has done.
Uiziya knew from a young age that she wished to follow in the footsteps of her aunt, Benesret. Benesret, however, was exiled from the snake-Surun’ for her crimes against their people. She has waited and waited for forty years for Benesret to return and seek her out, to teach her the last two of the Four Profound Weaves. She waits and waits to no avail. She stagnates, unchanging and lifeless. Benesret does not return. She, too, has stagnated in her own way.
It is not until nen-sasair and Uiziya seek out Benesret by their own volition that they come closer to understanding the final two Profound Weaves. When they reach her in the high desert, they find that she has woven her own encampment of death. By devouring the souls of those who come to her, she steals their essence and weaves their bones into her own designs. Uiziya begs her to teach her again, to teach her to weave from Hope and Bone. Benesret makes her a deal: she will teach her, but only if she gives herself to her aunt. Uiziya agrees, and Benesret’s diamondflies begin to devour the threads of her body. Her body begins to disintegrate, bit by bit, until nen-sasair negotiates to save her life in a desperate plea: he will go and retrieve Benesret’s great weave, a carpet of Hope, from the Collector.
The Collector holds the Khana in a vicious grasp. He rejects change and seeks to freeze both himself and his collection as they are in the moment. The journey Uiziya and nen-sasair must undertake to liberate the carpet of Hope from his clutches is harrowing, and it will change both of them irrevocably. They must face the changes they’ve denied within themselves and accept who they were, who they are, and who they will be. Until they can do that, there is no path for them to move forward. Moving forward is only possible through change.
“Change is the world’s greatest danger. Around the world you and others, old woman, chafe at my rule, forever desiring a change, yet change destroys all. If not for that power of change, we would not need to die. But you people do not understand. You rebel, you wander from place to place, you chafe at my rule, thinking that something else, somewhere else, would be better. It isn’t. But I save you. I am the one who is centered and stable, anchoring the whole world from my rainbow-tiered court, unmoved by world’s wildness, contained in my birdcage throne. The best of the world comes to me, and I save it from change and I save it from you, who know only dirt even as you make treasure. The treasure is only safe in my palace. Separated from your stench and squalor, forever locked in my coffers. Are you satisfied?”
This tale is told with some of the most beautiful, evocative prose I’ve encountered. It creates an underlying, rhythmic fugue beneath the story, allowing the sense that there is an additional, meta layer to the novella. RB Lemberg weaves words into a thick, luxurious tapestry even as the characters it depicts weave sand, wind, hope, and death. The goddess Bird perches atop the fabric, lending it a sense of gravitas and purpose, even as her brother Kimri lurks in the shadows.
This was my first introduction to RB Lemberg’s Birdverse stories, and it served very well in this regard. I’ve left this novella hungry for more, and I fully intend to read her short fiction over the next few weeks. Her world is beautifully realized. I could feel the edges of her short stories peeking out beneath the narrative of The Four Profound Weaves - never so much that it distracted, but just enough to pique my curiosity. It’s the feeling of having eaten a full, satisfying meal… and then discovering that you have just enough room left to take a bite of dessert to finish it off.
Many novellas feel like a novel that was scrunched and shaved and warped to fit into a smaller format. The Four Profound Weaves has not had this treatment. It feels whole - it is one singular piece of cloth. It is not a patchwork. It is not shoehorned into a short format. It is a myth that was embroidered within an existing weave. It is beautiful, delicate, and ephemeral. I can genuinely say that I will be talking about this book for a long time to come. I loved it.
I wasn't sure what to expect from this novella. I love magic and I love textiles, so I figured I couldn't go wrong here and I was right. The Four Profound Weaves is set in a society where magic is woven and gender is not rigidly enforced. People who are transgender are able to make the decision at any age to live as their true selves.
This book follows one mtf and one ftm from vastly different tribes in regards to acceptance of the change of gender. They are both looking for the sign or act that legitimizes them in their own eyes and makes them feel fully their new gender.
I can't say more without spoiling so I'll just say that this beautiful book is a must read for anyone who is moved by beautiful words and people finding their own magic in a harsh world.
I hope the author writes more in this magical world of birds and weaves.
The Four Profound Weaves by R.B. Lemberg was a truly unique and complex fantasy novella. It is part of the Birdverse. I have not read any previous works set in this world but don't think that you have to in order to understand what is going on.
We follow our two main characters, both transgender and in their sixties, on the journey of self discovery. The Nameless man, nen-sesair,is searching for new name. All his life he was trapped in a woman's body. Forty years ago he found a way to finally transform but his lover begged him not to,saying that she could no longer love him if he changed. And so he obeyed. Now,forty years later, after the death of his lover he finally goes through the change and becomes his true self. Only that brings a lot of problems with it. People often use his former name and keep misgendering him. All that abuse was heartbreaking. Nen-sesair has to try to find a place for himself. Before he used to fulfill a role of a woman but now be has to try and fit in as a man while only knowing womanly things. His story was deeply touching and beautiful and sad.
The other main character, Uiziya, waited forty years for her aunt to teach her the four profound weaves, but time goes on and Uiziya is still waiting. Until she is done with that and decides to go and find her aunt. The Nameless man joined her on this search.
It is astonishing how much was packed into this small novella that is only 110 pages long. The gender roles, different cultures, views on magic and death and change, views on in-betweeners, the transgenders, just so many things. And I loved all of it. Some 1000 page fantasies do not have as much stuff packed into them as this tiny book did. Definitely one of the most unique things I have ever read and I need to read other works from Birdverse like asap.
Huge thanks to Netgalley for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review .
The Foute Profound Weaves is a breathtakingly beautiful story set in a lush world with wonderous magic and characters. Thoroughly loved it. Highly recommend.
I am a big fan of everything I've read from R.B. Lemberg's Birdverse series, and particularly their Nebula-nominated story of a few years ago, Grandmother nai-Leylit's Cloth of Winds, so on learning that there was going to be a new standalone novella which was a continuation of that series, particularly focusing on the living grandparent of that story, who joins the protagonist Aviya on her journey and winds up finding the change they have always wanted in the desert. The Four Profound Weaves stands well alone, but Grandmother nai-Leylit's Cloth of Winds is a story that's very much worth reading, so if you want to experience that story relatively fresh I'd suggest going to check it out now before proceeding with this review, as the following will contain spoilers (albeit fairly obvious ones if you're paying attention from the start of that story).The Four Profound Weaves opens in the Snake-Surun' encampment, almost directly after the events of "Cloth of Winds". Having been physically changed from their woman-body into the man they've always been, Aviya's grandfather has fulfilled one long-held wish, but things are still far from easy. His people, the Khana, have a strict social segregation and separation of roles between the genders, and while he had been playing the role of a "rebel woman", engaging in work like the creation of artefacts which was supposed to be restricted to men, our protagonist has little frame of reference for being a Khana man, and fears that a return to his people would be impossible in his current form, without which even taking on a true new name will be impossible. Surrounded by a culture whose social acceptance of "changer" (trans) identities leaves little room for empathy as to why nen sasaïr (the interim identifier he chooses to go by) can't just embrace his transition and go sit with the men, his renewed search thus brings him back into the orbit of Uiziya, a Surun' woman he met during his journey forty years ago and who has been contemplating challenges of her own. Uiziya's aunt is Benesret, once a great weaver of the Surun' and now an ancient exile who has spent decades weaving magical cloaks for the Birdverse's assassin cult, trying to master the ability to weave from bones. Uiziya and nen sasaïr both seek out Benesret for their own reasons, and both are left disappointed but with a joint mission: to retrieve another lost magic weave, this one crafted from song, from The Collector, the fascist ruler of the city where nen sasaïr grew up.At the centre of the Four Profound Weaves are, unsurprisingly, four profound weaves: magical artefacts created from wind (for change), sand (for wanderlust), song (for hope) and bone (for death). Bringing together the four weaves is said to call down Bird, the God of Birdverse, and each requires a master weaver to create them using the magic of this world, where characters gain and use "deepnames" in specific configurations for various effects. The deepname magic system feels at once inscrutably mysterious and straightforwardly practical, and characters have different strengths and abilities depending on their configuration in a way that feels like it puts sensible limits and guidelines on what magic can achieve. In nen sasaïr's culture, deepnames are also highly gendered, and his configuration is one which prioritises power and therefore reads "feminine" in a society where men are kept protected in order to maintain connection to sacred song. While we only meet the Surun', the Khana, and the Iyar - the culture which runs the city in which the Khana live, and to which the Collector belongs - the care put into developing each culture makes them feel like part of a much larger, more diverse whole.Once nen sasaïr and Uiziya get on their way, the plot of The Four Profound Weaves is relatively simple: the two attempt a deal with Benesret, return to Iyar, and despite complications figure out how to overcome the Collector's own plan and leave with what they need. What makes the story so good are the different but interlinked emotional journeys each is going on along the way. For Uiziya, whose meeting with her aunt becomes another betrayal, there is a need to move on from her past and re-establish her faith in her own abilities, while also untangling more of the Collector's motivations. Uiziya is drawn into his attempts to get his hands on a weave of bone, and the awful lengths to which he has gone to assemble the materials for one, and the balancing of the loss and death she witnesses with the pull to deepen her craft is done compassionately and interestingly.Nen sasaïr's journey is even more interesting, particularly as I think this is the first book I've read which deals with a man exploring his freedoms and desires as they relate to his gender identity, and forging a path that remains true to both. Like Uiziya, his journey involves questioning events from his own past, particularly his own spouse Bashri nai-Leylit, who he loved but who constantly entreated him to keep his identity secret and limit his queerness to the "rebelliousness" acceptable on the margins of society. Nen sasaïr's return to the Khana quarter of Iyar is heartbreaking, but less straightforwardly so than he expects - because, of course, nen sasaïr is not the only trans man the Khana have ever seen, even if their society doesn't allow for "changers" in any meaningful sense. As his relationship with Uiziya, and unfinished business of his own with the Collector, links the pair's conclusions together, making for a satisfying end that doesn't provide all the answers or right all past wrongs, but does provide a convincing way forward for both of them which stays true to the queer narrative.If you've not experienced Lemberg's prose before, you're in for a treat with this, as the style brings the meditative story of nen sasaïr and Uiziya to life in a way that's readable and yet really makes the most of the rich fable-like qualities of the story being told. This is closer in tone to its predecessor story than, say, A Portrait of the Desert in Personages of Power, which felt further down the axis of nice prose at the expense of easy reading. Split into sections for each of the four weaves, and then alternating between viewpoints for nen sasaïr and Uiziya, the thread of The Four Profound Weaves is generally straightforward to follow between the characters, although occasionally I found myself drifting between transitions and forgetting whose parts I was reading. That was a minor fault in the reader and not the writer, though - in most cases I can wholeheartedly recommend this novella and this series as a world that's well worth spending time in. I look forward to further adventures in the Birdverse soon!
I have been familiar with R.B. Lemberg's works for a while - Geometries of Belonging and Grandmother-nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds (which should preferably be read before reading this book) are two of those short stories that stuck with me long after I read them. So when a friend brought The Four Profound Weaves to my attention, highly recommending it, I knew that sooner or later, I will end up reading it. Queer books with lovely prose are precisely my kind of thing.
As suspected, I adored it.
The story stars two elderly trans protagonists. Uiziya is a Surun’ weaver whose greatest wish at the beginning is to learn the last of the Four Profound Weaves from her exiled aunt and weave a carpet of death. She transformed very young and has always been accepted. The nameless man, nen-sasaïr, has been living with the Surun’ for three months, ever since his transformation, because his culture isn't tolerant of changers. After a life of denial, he feels unmoored, frustrated, unsure of where he belongs. Together, they go on a quest.
But that's only a part of it. Even though it's a novella, The Four Profound Weaves has so much going on that I don't know where to start. I don't think I can do it justice.
First, the prose is absolutely exquisite. And the story is exactly the sort of fairytale-esque that I'm an absolute sucker for. A quest for the carpets, magical objects, the whole deal. At the same time, the worldbuilding is entirely original and well thought out. Seeing as the author also wrote several short stories set in the same world, this shouldn't come as a surprise.
And then the themes. Someone better at literary analysis could probably write an essay on it. It contains so much. I could say it's about identity and belonging, but that doesn't quite cut it. Or about two trans people with two very different experiences, acceptance, loved ones that smother you, culture clash, of how hard and messy change can be, and how you're never too old to turn your life around...so many things. It's like a tapestry itself, multiple interwoven themes and threads coming together into a beautiful whole.
But to me, by far the biggest surprise was that the length felt exactly right. I found I don't like novellas very much - they often feel as if they're missing something, as if either there's too many ideas or plot crammed into too small of a space or as if there's not enough. Not so here; Lemberg hit the precarious balance perfectly. The Four Profound Weaves feels complete. It needs nothing more and nothing less than what is already there. It's probably safe to say this will be one of the highlights of 2020 for me and I most highly recommend it.
Lemberg’s prose is gorgeous and lush. I found myself devouring it whole. The two central characters, Uiziya and the nameless man, are compelling and interesting. Their emotions were raw and real. I felt like I understood them and that they would understand me too. I truly felt for the nameless man and how he had felt trapped, how he could not be his true self where he lived.
This story was a journey for both Uiziya and the nameless man–they both gained, they both lost, and, beneath it all, there was a sense of hope, of survival past the loss of a loved one, surviving betrayals, living because there is still more out there in the world.
I loved the worldbuilding and I never felt lost, though I did jump into the Birdverse blindly. Gender roles were explored within the different cultures and how magic was impacted by gender roles. (Never would I have thought about how magic would be impacted by gender roles until now. Now I can’t stop thinking about it.)
Hope and grief are intertwined within the weaving of this story, as they are in life. This is a book I did not know I needed.
I loved this. It had a fluidity to it that just hooked me and pulled me in and didn’t want to let me go. The author wove a stunning tapestry of a story about not just weaving but of listening. Listening to yourself and what and who you are as much as listening to who others are. That our lives are a tapestry that we personally weave and it takes someone special to understand and appreciate it for the beauty it is. The gender fluidity and ability to acknowledge as well as physically change was magical and the way the author portrayed it was lovely. They showed that though some were able to accept the change that sometimes those that are closest and whom we love the most are unwilling to accept and that inability to accept who we are is the most damaging. The four profound weaves, the winds of change, the sands to take you where you wish, hope to honour the bird goddess, and death. This was a melancholic tale of love, loss, acceptance, and coming to terms with who we are. It was very emotionally intense and was just so stunningly beautiful. I recommend this to everyone.
I loved this book. Lemberg's deft weaving of two lives and two stories into one overarching tale about the power of hope and change was beautiful and much-needed. There is a good deal of world-building that happens in the first 10% of the book, but don't let that deter you. As you enter the richness of the world Lemberg has built (the Birdverse) you find you want to know more and more about it. The details are sometimes horrifying, sometimes beautiful, but because the four profound weaves are really just the four main elements of life, it makes sense. The emphasis on the insistence of change was what got me the most--I think I"ll be re-reading this one.
This was my first introduction to the Birdverse. 4.5/5 stars.
I loved it so much! It was such a complex, multifaceted and creative story.
I hope to read the rest of the books in the BirdVerse as well.
An absolutely beautiful, poetic, and emotional story! I'll be honest and say that I had trouble fully diving into the first 30% of the story. It almost felt like I had missed the first chapter where everything was explained and that I had just jumped straight into a complex world knowing nothing. However, after picking things up and finally grasping the world, the characters, and the plot the beauty of the story revealed itself.
Not only is this book written beautifully, but it also tackles issues with LGBTQ+ in society (even though it's fantasy it reflects the real world well) and it has a strong focus on the trans community. This book is such an exemplary example of how fiction can be so important to the world.
If you love adventure, magic, and beautiful imagery this is a book you should definitely pick up!
I received the ARC for review from NetGalley. My opinions are my own.
A wonderfully heartfelt story whose metaphors sing and whose themes resonated with me quite a lot. I loved the language and the plot, once I got into it a little, kept me gripped. I came to it without knowledge of Birdverse beyond that it exists, but that didn't prevent me from following the story, understanding the stakes or comprehending the cultures and customs depicted in the slightest.
The protagonists are remarkably complex and written in a way that makes them seem very real and believable; the conflicts are not simple and external but difficult and even heart-wrenching, but never in an exploitative way. I've seen a lot lately about how writing queer suffering (misgendering, deadnaming) is to be avoided (by cis writers in particular, but that gets generalised pretty quickly). I am in the "turning pain into entertainment is often bad" camp, but there is value for me in stories that write suffering in a way that's potentially healing. The Four Profound Weaves isn't cozy, fluffy reading: there's queer pain here, but surely we must have space for well-written queer pain. And while there were some bits that seemed slightly didactic here, especially in the beginning (perhaps because they were also here to explain the verse and the background for unfamiliar readers), later on, the story seemed to me to be written with a queer reader in mind. This wasn't a fluffy read, but it was kind and thoughtful.
Lusciously detailed world-building and gorgeous language shine in this short novel from Lemberg’s “Birdverse.” The magic is inventive, centered on the intricately constructed carpets, each with its own amazing properties.
The Four Profound Weaves: A carpet of wind, a carpet of sand, a carpet of song, and a carpet of bones. Change, wanderlust, hope, and death.
In this world, personal magic arises from deepnames, and gender roles are strictly divided. In certain cultures, men neither sing nor weave. At the same time, polyamorous families are common, as are gender transitions. Transforming from female to male, as one of the viewpoint characters has, takes on the added challenge of overcoming a lifetime of roles, rules, and the expectation of loved ones. If this is a world of impossible choices and cruelty, however, it is also imbued with hope. Images of heart-lifting loveliness brighten moments of dark, even grotesque elements.
“For we are all woven of words,” says the transgender man, “and after we go, it is our tales that remain, wandering around the desert with the wind until our stories are told four times, until a weave is pulled from them – the carpet of truth which is the desert, this weave of change, and wanderlust, and hope, and death.”
This is one of the few books with a really useful and accurate blurb, so I won't add too much in plot summary for you. I found it was unlike anything I've read before, with two elderly protagonist who have full lives behind them still finding themselves, in a world split between transitory desert traders and the immutable city. The desert wanderers welcome change, altering their nature and gender as desired, while that's unaccepted in the city. Uiziya the weaver is set on a journey to find the aunt who trained her in simple weaving, in order to advance her skills, but finds the cost of the profound weaves is high. The nameless man is entangled with her journey, having left behind his life before to live accepted as a man with people who are different from everything he's known before, we uncover the layers of what has drawn him here as the story goes.
The writing is beautiful, pacing very different from your standard fantasy, I loved getting to know the characters, and the journey venturing into a world with bird gods, flying carpets and mountains of bones is so unusual. It takes a slow, thoughtful course, pondering the conflict between change and stability, the cruelty that rigid stability can wreak on the individual. In a novella length this packs a massive punch. I did feel a bit like I lacked pieces of worldbuilding that either already exist in the previous short works set in this world, or could have been expanded on if this were a full length novel, but I look forward to finding out.
(REVIEW TO APPEAR AT www.fantasy-hive.co.uk )
Some novellas are like short novels, others feel more like long short stories. Neither is necessarily better, but The Four Profound Weaves (due 4th September) struck me as one of the latter - and a very good one, too.
The novella is an interesting length for a story. Long enough for the narrative to stretch its wings a bit, but not long enough to allow any excess baggage. Worldbuilding has to be off-stage, for the most part; plot has to be focused. You have to be careful cramming too many characters in, as they won’t all have time and space to breathe.
And yet, a good novella - like this one - can somehow tell a large story in a small space, projecting beyond its boundaries, creating whole worlds, complex narratives, large casts, all despite showing only a fraction of it on the page. I’ve read some great novellas - Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark, or The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson, and of course Martha Wells’ Murderbot Diaries - but I hadn’t read one quite like The Four Profound Weaves.
This is the story of two people from different societies, both older, both trans, both lost and unfulfilled. One, the desert weaver Uiziya, is waiting for her outcast aunt to return and teach her the last of the titular magical weaves. The other, a man with no name, is looking for the place he belongs as a man, after living so long as a woman. Unwilling to return to his rigid, segregated society in an enclave of the city of Iyar, he also wishes to find Uiziya’s aunt, in hopes of finding a name - and through it, maybe a home.
They come together on the journey, of course, and - of course - it is not as straightforward as they hoped. The last profound weave is death, and the tyrant of Iyar also wants it for his collection. There’s magic, mysteries, and marvels, and hints of a rich underlying mythos (this story is part of the author’s “Birdverse” setting, though it’s the first I’ve read). On the surface, it’s quite a simple and satisfying story - but the surface isn’t the whole story, especially here.
As I said before, The Four Profound Weaves struck me stylistically as a long short story rather than a short novel. The prose is simple but elegant, unafraid to use repetition for emphasis or rhythm, or to leave other things to the reader’s imagination (description is sparse, for example). The story wears its themes on its sleeves, so to speak, tackling head-on the challenges of change vs. stasis, and the danger of being chained to a past, or to people who don’t want what’s best for you. It’s a story about trans characters and trans experiences, but a story that (I hope) anyone can understand, relate to, and enjoy.
In conclusion, The Four Profound Weaves is modern speculative fiction at its best, exploring important issues through compelling characters, fantastic settings, and exciting stories. It’s also a gorgeous book, if the illustrations in my digital ARC were anything to go by (thanks to NetGalley and Tachyon for providing).
“I turned sixty-three this year; I would sit like this, until I sat among bones... My life has stopped, like a wind trapped in a fist.”
It seems fitting that a story about change would start at point of stasis.
If you like your prose on the poetic side, you’ll love this artful and heart-ful look into love, identity and change. (If you prefer more straightforward language in your novels, you may wish to look elsewhere.) It is truly a beautiful little book. It contains far more emotion than a reader might reasonably expect; a book three times its size would struggle to hold half as much.
In as much as this story <i>can</i> be summarized, it is about a weaver, Uiziya, who must seek out her long since exiled aunt to finish learning a difficult magical craft. A nameless man who loves his culture, even when it has no place for him, struggles with what it means to find and live a dream; he is a changer, a man who recently changed his body to match his heart after living for decades as a woman. He and Uiziya have known each other for many many years, but now their two stories begin to intertwine more deeply as they set out to find the great weaver Benesret.
Plus a tyrant needs some serious overthrowing. And there are snakes, lots of snakes.
Uiziya - An older woman who must seek her aunt Benesret, the master weaver, in order to learn the final, secret technique for the mystical system of weaving. Bonus points for the fact that, at the age of 63, she definitely marks a type of character you almost never see in literature. She is a skilled older adult woman; not a quirky teen or downtrodden late 20-something—she is just a person who continued to exist past youth and managed, somehow, to avoid that weird multi-media black hole that consumes all women who are not young and conventionally attractive and doesn’t let them appear on the screen, stage, or page again until they fit comfortably in the mold of elderly, grandmotherly wise woman. Man is it nice to find a well developed character who isn’t perpetually 16, 21, or 30.
The nameless man, nen-sasair, son of the sandbirds - A man struggling with the burdens presented by society’s expectations of gender, particularly masculinity. (Another unexpectedly rare character; few trans or gender-nonconforming characters grace the pages of published book and fewer still feature Trans adults who transitioned late in life. And yet this story offers more than one!) The nameless man lived forty years as a woman, knowing all along that that was an ill-fitting identity, that deep down he never had been a woman. He struggles with what his choices mean for his family, for his grandchildren who are supportive but do not truly understand him. He struggles with guilt and an ingrained fear of judgement from others.
I was immediately on board for the concept of this book based on its summary, but a review describing it as an “anti-authoritarian, queer-mystical fairytale” completely had me sold on it. I had to read it. I am glad I did. This short novella is powerful. It is <i>profound</i>.
(I am very grateful that NetGalley and Tachyon Publications approved my request for a review copy.)
The Four Profound Weaves is a transformative fable from the Birdverse about identity, individual transition, society, and good vs. evil, Due out 4th Sept 2020 from Tachyon, it's 192 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats.
This is a weirdly beautiful fantasy novel about identity, culture, transformation, hope, and the challenges of finding/making acceptance (not least from ourselves). It's told in alternating PoV. The voices of the narrators are distinct enough that it never became problematic to see which of them was speaking (but the chapters are also labeled to keep them distinct from one another).
The author is sublimely talented. Being directly cast into the novel and feeling completely lost because the narrative itself is unexplained and without context was confusing and uncomfortable. It took me a while to become comfortable in the story. The writing was so beautifully lyrical and sublime that I felt compelled to stick with it and was rewarded by becoming more and more enthralled as the story progressed until the transformative and uplifting ending.
The author weaves pain and anger and futility and longing interspersed with hope and a not ungentle sardonic humor into a fable which tells truth. This will certainly be touted as a queer nonbinary transformational story (and it is that), but it's so much more. The author writes eloquently for all of us who are outsiders, who don't fit easily into the molds imposed by society culture and our own expectations. It's a melancholy parable but also full of hope. The author's style reminds me of Ursula K. Le Guin and Sheri Tepper in some ways. Fans of those author's won't want to miss this one.
Five stars. This is masterfully written. I don't know when the cutoff dates are for the Hugo, but I sincerely hope this one makes the list. It deserves to win.
Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.
Wow! what a powerful , intriguing & very emotional story set around what in many cultures even today are often regarded as scary & taboo subjects.
This is the first Book I have read by a writer within the LGBTQIA community even though I have several Family members who are part of that community ,& also over my life time I have had many friends who belonged to that community & who added so much more depth to my simple life over the years.
We all know at some point quite early in our lives that eventually one day our life will end & death will claim us to only knows where , to many of us even though we may in the back of our minds think we accept that, it can & is a scary thing to think or even talk about !
R.B. Lemberg has taken this & woven a very emotional, mystical & profound story about this subject set in settlements around a huge majestic Desert.
The Four Profound Weaves remind us about the stages we go through in life but also illustrate that this can be much harder for some than others ,it also reminds us that `Hope cannot be given away! Hope is a Constant' in all our lives how ever we live them. Within the story the Carpets made `Hope, Song, Sand & Death' had me totally enthralled , as did the journey's the main characters Uiziya who is 63 years old & has spent 40 years in her Tent waiting for her closest relative her aunt Benseret to return & continue her weaving instruction , her companion on the journey is Nen-Sasair & they need to find how to make the Carpet of Death which will be woven from the Bones of the dead which the wicked ruler of Iyar has incarcerated so that Bird cannot take their souls to Heaven or the place in which they will finally rest. This is a Book I hope to Buy & add to my Bookcase & one I will most highly recommend many of my friends & fellow Book lovers to buy & to read.
The Four Profound Weaves by RB Lemberg is a novella set in the author’s Birdverse world. I have previously read at least one story, "Geometries of Belonging", which I quite enjoyed. The different stories stand alone and aside from exploring some similar themes, part of the magic system was what struck me as the main link with respect to world building.
The Surun' do not speak of the master weaver, Benesret, who creates the cloth of bone for assassins in the Great Burri Desert. But Uiziya now seeks her aunt Benesret in order to learn the final weave, although the price for knowledge may be far too dear to pay.
Among the Khana, women travel in caravans to trade, while men remain in the inner quarter as scholars. A nameless man struggles to embody Khana masculinity, after many years of performing the life of a woman, trader, wife, and grandmother.
As the past catches up to the nameless man, he must choose between the life he dreamed of and Uiziya, and Uiziya must discover how to challenge a tyrant, and weave from deaths that matter.
This is a poetically written story about two people searching for themselves in different ways. I'm not sure I can explain the plot any better than the blurb does (which makes for a nice change), so I suggest reading that if you haven't yet. The story alternates between the points of view of the two protagonists, Uiziya and nen-sasaïr, and carries the reader with them across desert and city.
Uiziya's story focuses a bit more on the magic she seeks and the meaning of her aunt's magic in the greater scheme of the world. From a more simplistic understanding, we watch Uiziya's knowledge deepen through the events of the story as she is guided by misapprehensions and revelations. Nen-sasaïr, on the other hand, is guided by a more personal quest. The two team up at first only because their goals partially overlap, though their relationship grows over the course of the story.
From "Geometries of Belonging" the world building thing that stuck in my head most was the concept of magic based on deepnames, unique to the practitioner, the concept of which makes a reappearance in The Four Profound Weaves. However, as the title suggests, the main magic here, which Uiziya is — loosely speaking — chasing, involves weaving and magic carpets. Carpets which can fly, yes, but also carpets which can sing or transform people into their true bodies. The latter being related to the strong trans narrative arc for nen-sasaïr.
Overall I quite enjoyed The Four Profound Weaves. It was a gorgeously written exploration of identity with a heady dose of magic to go with it. I am keen to read more stories set in the Birdverse and other stories by Lemberg as well. I would go seek them out immediately if I wasn't so behind on other review books. I highly recommend The Four Profound Weaves to readers looking for fantasy with any of: desert settings, weaving, or trans narratives.
4.5 / 5 stars
First published: Tachyon Publications, September 2020
Series: Birdverse, but I think all the stories so far stand alone
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
A beautifully written fantasy about two queer folk on a quest to find their voices and rediscover hope. I'll absolutely be reading everything else in the Birdverse after this!
The Four Profound Weaves is profoundly beautiful and rich. I read it slowly and returned to passages to take it in more fully. I thought about my ancestry, those that I know and those that I never will know. I thought about the wisdom we attribute to those that have died, thinking they have found a secret of some kind. I thought about self-knowledge, the names we give ourselves and the names we accept from others. I thought about hope and fear and the ways we bounce in between those states of being, each of them earned and each of them misplaced at one time or another.. I thought about journeys and the expectation of destinations and the folly in guessing what’s next. I thought about realizing that the journey and those who come alongside you are more important than the place we finally arrive at.
I thought about the world’s tortures and those who trample on what we spend our whole lives creating. I thought about the pain of living and the joy that somehow accompanies that pain when it is relieved. I thought about my own queerness over and over and over again and felt connected to a tapestry of many who are all trying to discover in their own ways what it means to be, to exist.
The concept that we are to be uncovered, our essence of life is to be known is alive and well as a queer person. The bravery of changing ones name and daring to say that we have a deep identity within is in every part of this work, It was a painful and important journey and I am glad I took the time and the effort to walk it word by word,
This was so good! The poetic narrative was gorgeous and I loved how they explored identity throughout the book. I finished it a few weeks ago and it still sits with me.
I've never read a story set in The Birdverse by Lemberg before, but I found this novella quite enjoyable. A story about trans people in their 60's going on an adventure together, The Four Profound Weaves is a novella I would call simultaneously dreamy and fairy-tale like, while also feeling emotionally raw and real. It's definitely refreshing to read a trans fantasy story about people over the age of 30, and focused community, belonging, and weaving, and I would definitely recommend it.
This is a moving, sad, and sweet piece of work and has served as my entry into the author's Birdverse world.
It's a relatively short novel and you are thrown into the world with little explanation, so it took me a few chapters to get my bearings.
I absolutely love the fact that the main characters are both middle-aged (in their 60's, if I remember correctly), and have lived lives and are still discovering themselves and adapting to the world around them. They set out on a quest together, and their friendship is as lovely as the prose.
The transgender experience is both real and magical in the Birdverse. As an outsider to the transgender experience, I hesitate to speak on the success of the experience as integrated into this imagined universe. However, I will say that as I read the novel, both characters and their experiences for themselves and within their respective societies, felt as complicated, nuanced, and personal as I expect it could be in this short, tightly-woven narrative.
And it is a tightly-woven narrative, a magical and profound weave of its own.
My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
This is a tender book. It’s a story about people trying to figure out who they are. Stories of trans elders are rare in fiction, especially spec fic. The voices of Uiziya and the nameless man, nen-sasair, are woven together, moving back and forth as they set out on a journey together. Uiziya is searching for her aunt to teach her the the final weave of death. nen-sasair is searching for his name, after finally making the transformation into the man he knows he is, but had hidden for so long.
The Four Profound Weaves is a short book, probably more around novella length. I’m impressed with how much culture and worldbuilding Lemberg managed to fit in, but it never feels too much. As you follow Uiziya and nen-sasair, you get more understanding into the different cultures they’re from and their own relationships with gender. Among Uiziya’s people, transformation is not shameful and she chose to make her transformation at a young age. Among nen-sasair’s people, transformation is not commonly done publically, and he struggles with his new roles the cloistered world of men after having lived as a trader, wife, mother, and grandmother for so long.
This is also a story about death. Not in the sense of glorified violence, but of transformation and injustice. I don’t want to get too much into the details because of spoilers. But Lemberg has written a tender story about two people struggling with death, the death of others, the death of their past selves, and the injustice of violent death condonned by the powerful.
There’s also some really interesting magic in this book. Lemberg has written an intriguing system of magic involving magical geometry and deepnames, magical names that a person can call upon to cast magic. I’ve seen on their Twitter that there is more about this kind of magic in their next work and I’m looking forward to reading more in Birdverse.
Recommended for: People who love prose, interesting magic, slow stories, and weaving
Not recommended for: People who appreciate plot and mechanics over prose and characters
One of the best books with trans protagonists that I've read this year.
The writing was beautiful and I loved the world building aspects. Especially since there were no info dumps and you had to figure it out as you went along.
The author did a really good job of capturing the difficult relationships with family and community.
It was a fast paced read that I found myself enjoying throughly. I can only hope for more books like this one.
I received a copy of this book via netgalley. Opinions expressed here are entirely my own
R.B. Lemberg is a stunning author with a beautiful book that I know I will be rereading more often than others. I loved this new piece of the Birdverse universe and can't wait to read more!
I received a free digital copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
This one was a really good reading! I enjoy the plot and I fell in love with the characters.
Such a good book!
I would absolutely recommend it
A stunningly beautiful fantasy. Lemberg creates a rich and complex world full of mystery and wonder, populated with a cast that is as diverse and full of life as the land they live in. I can't wait to read more from them.
Gorgeous, queer, and fascinating. I've never read a book quite like this one before, and I'm so glad I did. What a beautiful world!
I received a free e-copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This has not affected my opinion and the following is an honest review.
I don't really know what to say about this book except that I absolutely loved it and it's the most trans book I've ever read. I felt it in my bones. I loved that both of the protagonists were in their 60s and yet they were still the ones who took up the mantle of freeing their land from an oppressive ruler. I loved that they were both trans, that it was a radically different experience and meant different things to each of them, that they had so much to learn from the world and each other despite their decades of life.
I loved that even though both nen-sasaïr and Uiziya were binary trans, there were nonbinary characters present too, that it was discussed how being nonbinary in this world was radically different again from being binary trans. I loved that both of them were often wrong in their assumptions about each other and their place in the world, that even though they questioned and suspected each other, they chose again and again to trust each other and to stand together.
I loved that even though transitioning was fraught for nen-sasaïr, he was always strong in his conviction that despite the difficulties he experienced and the struggle to find where he belonged, he knew that it was the right course and stood firm in his conviction that he did not need to be the man everyone expected him to be, that somewhere out there he would find a true name and a true place.
In short, I loved every single word of this book and I will for sure come back to it again and again because it's just. Absolutely glorious.
(On a lighter note, the thought I had upon realising that I wasn't going to be able to stop reading until the story was over was "why did I ever bother with Dune when this book exists??" If you have a hankering for a desert fantasy quest novel but Dune was too white-savioury and not queer enough for you, read this book instead.)
Rep: fat disabled trans woman MC, trans man MC, nonbinary side characters, queer-normative and polyamorous-normative world, ff and ff(m) and fmm relationships mentioned. Ownvoices trans rep. (Fat and disabled rep maybe also ownvoices? Not sure though.)
CWs: nen-sasaïr's gender is often weaponised against him ("why don't you go and sit with the <i>men</i>") by his grandchildren and occasionally by Uiziya; near the end of the book he is frequently misgendered and deadnamed; discussion of trans people being accepted or not accepted; the transition of a character is delayed by years bc their lover "could not love them if they were a man"; violence; murder; serious injury; a character feeds off another character's life force; discussion of a mobility aid being a way for someone to control someone else; misogyny (a character is arrested for the crime of being unveiled, even though her veil had been forcibly removed without her consent)
This book was so beautiful and poetic, and the imagery was evocative and beautifully written. It feels like a fairy tale, but told from a wholly unique point of view.
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