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.
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 the award-winning queer fantasy Birdverse universe.
When I saw this absolutely gorgeous cover on Netgalley, I immediately knew I had to read it. I was lucky enough to not only be approved for it, but also asked to join this blog tour. And I’m so happy to spread the word for this truly one of a kind book! So, big thanks to Tachyon Publications for my copy of this book (receiving the ecopy for free did not influence my rating in any way)!
I’m not familiar with the Birdverse by the author, but it was still possible to jump right into the story. I felt myself surrounded by a poetic, lyrical prose about weaving magic (I had never before read about that, so I loved this unique kind of magic!), and queer characters searching for that feeling of belonging that every human being is after.
We get introduced to this world of magic through the voices of two trans main characters, both of which are already old and have spent their lives – and their transformations – very differently. One was accepted for who she was at a young age and experienced love and acceptence by her family, while the other is still faced with a lack of understanding and acceptance. I found it very interesting that the former, Uiziya, was introduced with her name immediately, while the latter remained nameless and was referred to as “nen-sasair” – son of sandbirds.
I loved how deep this story is. There are so many metaphors at work, and I’m sure with each reread, you’d find something new that was meaningful but hidden right beneath your eyes. One recurring theme in the book is change and transformation. While both main characters have underwent both, we also see it represented in the weaves that Uiziya’s people create from sand and wind.
Right from the start, we learn that Uiziya has been waiting for her aunt Benesret for over forty years. She wanted to follow in her footsteps, and is waiting for her to come back still – to learn from her the final two of the four profound weaves (hence the book’s title). However, Benesret was exiled long ago and is not allowed back. This is where the two main characters’ stories become intertwined. Both go on their way to find Benesret, and when they do, they have to make deals with her. Deals that could mean life or death…
This unique fantasy deals with a lot of themes and is deep and meaningful in a way I’ve not often seen before. Their journey leads the characters on a path to finding themselves, who they really are, and who they’ve been all along. The path is one of hope and love, of self-acceptance and belonging – something that very often starts within oneself. I highly recommend this inventive, queer Middle-Eastern fairytale that offers a unique take on magic and has an excellent world-building.
4 of 5 stars from me – not all my questions are answered yet (but that might be because I’m unfamiliar with the Birdverse, and even though I absolutely loved the poetic language, I did find it a bit hard to get into at the beginning). Highly recommended!
“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, New York Times bestselling author of the Court of Fives series
“Nobody in fantasy is doing what R. B. Lemberg is doing. 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 Lambda winner The Breath of the Sun
“Over the years, R. B. Lemberg, in their prose and poetry alike, has built a world of serpents, deserts, stars, and bones, where transformation is omnipresent and restlessness rewarded. The Four Profound Weaves is a jewel-bright tile in their ongoing mosaic.”
—C. S. E. Cooney, World Fantasy Award-winning author of Bone Swans, Stories
About the Author
R. B. Lemberg is a queer, bigender immigrant from Eastern Europe and Israel. Their stories and poems have appeared in Lightspeed Magazine’s Queers Destroy Science Fiction!, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Uncanny Magazine, Sisters of the Revolution: A Feminist Speculative Fiction Anthology, and many other venues. R.B.’s work has been a finalist for the Nebula, Crawford, and other awards. You can find more of their work on their Patreon (patreon.com/rblemberg) and a full bio at rblemberg.net
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.
Stay tuned for an exclusive insightful excerpt of The Four Profound Weaves by R.B. Lemberg.
Everybody seemed to have gone to the trading tents, and so I made my way there as well. I was hoping to see my grandchildren, always too busy those days to spend time with me. It was true that I did not want to be trading, but if someone was trading, Aviya for sure would be there.
The trading tents were open to the air, supported with carved poles to which the
lightweight cloths of the roof attached festive woven ribbons. People milled under these
awnings, mostly women—Surun’ weavers of all ages, each with a carpet or carpets for sale; and a few of their beloved snakes. The crowd parted as I entered, and in that moment my fears came true.
Three men stood in the middle of the trading tent. They had the gold rods of trade, and
gold coins sewn onto the trim of their red felt hats. The men’s eyes shone; their dark beards were groomed and oiled, and adorned with the tiniest bells that shook and jingled as they bent over the wares. I sensed powerful magic from all three of them. Their magic – multiple short deepnames – shone in their minds, each deepname like a flaring, spiky star. I was powerful myself, but the strangers’ power was that of capturing, of imprisonment, of destruction, held tightly at bay. The vision made me recoil. These men—and it was always men—belonged to the Ruler of Iyar. The Collector.
I had been living here for three months with my grandchildren, among our friends the
snake-Surun’. Almost three months after my transformation, my ceremony of change. I thought I had finally broken free from Iyar. But now Iyar came here.
My Surun’ friends did not seem to feel any danger. They brought forth carpet after
carpet, traditional indigo weaves embroidered with lions, with snakes, with birds, and moremodern designs of dyed madder and bold geometric shapes. The Iyari traders examined the offerings one by one yet chose nothing, their faces still with masked disgust. I wanted to shout at my friends to stop this trade. I wanted to run away, to escape unseen. I wanted to fight, to strike at these men, to demand recompense for all the wrongs the Collector inflicted upon me and mine forty years ago.
But then I saw my granddaughter.
Aviya-nai-Bashri was dressed in her trading best—a matching shirt and voluminous pants of green and pink cloth that contrasted so beautifully with her smooth brown skin. Her fish earrings, fashioned of hammered silver, chimed in tune with her words. Her Surun’ friends, all girls of nineteen and twenty, milled around, giggling with excitement.
“We offer a carpet of wind,” Aviya nai-Bashri all but sang, “A cloth woven of purest
wind caught wandering over the desert—a treasure like this you will never see . . .”
The carpet she offered was small and exquisite, made from the tiniest movements of air
that come awake, breath after breath, as the dawn tints the desert pink and silver. The threads that made the carpet were delicate flurries of blue not so much woven but whispered into cloth, convinced to come together by the magic of deepnames and laughter.
I’d never seen this weave, but knew who made it. My youngest grandchild. Something
like tears welled in my eyes, but I would not allow myself that emotion. I looked around instead, and yes, I saw Kimi, a child of twelve, dancing between two guardian snakes. Kimi laughed, and a flurry of pink butterflies shook themselves loose from the carpet of wind. They sparkled in the air for a moment, then winked out of sight, delicate like my grandchild’s magic. I remembered Uiziya’s words, spoken to me before my ceremony. The first of the Four Profound Weaves is woven from wind. It signifies change.
One of the emissaries leaned forward over Kimi’s carpet. He pressed a finger to the carpet, and a butterfly rose from it, its wings so delicate I could barely discern the movement of pink against the Iyari man’s palm. “What price for this?”
Why did Aviya deal with these men? What was the need, the necessity? We were well
supplied from our previous trades, we were doing well and could refuse any trade, especially such a troubling one—what was she doing? I spoke in my native Khana. “This carpet is not for sale.” “Yes, it is,” Aviya said stubbornly.
I grabbed her by the arm, dragged her out from under the awning, carpet and all. She
glared at me, defiant, and I did my best to ignore it. “What are you doing?”
“Trading. I’m trading, grandfather, that thing I trained for all my life. You trained me.
Before you went through your change.” I grimaced. “This is for the Collector. We did not leave Iyar to trade with him, we left Iyar to never see him again—”
“This is Kimi’s first carpet they wove completely alone,” Aviya said. “Their first trade. Don’t spoil it, grandfather. Please.”
“First trade?” I shouldn’t have gotten so angry, so bitter. “The Collector imprisoned your
grandmother. Killed her. You want Kimi’s first trade to be to this man?”
She propped her fists at her waist and glared at me, half-angry, half-exasperated. “And
yours wasn’t? Your first trade, your second, your third? The weave of song, the greatest carpet ever woven—you sold it to the Collector!”
“Yes, but there was a reason . . .”
“We are traders, grandfather. Khana women trade. Shouldn’t you go sit with the men?”
It would have been better if she’d slapped me.
I turned away. She ran after me, perhaps not wanting to wound me after the spear of her words had already made its way through my chest. “I am sorry, grandfather. I did not mean . . .”
I waited, for a brief moment, for her to say what she meant, but she looked
confused—not because she couldn’t find a way to speak her mind, I thought, but because my existence, the change, had confused her—had confused and hurt every Khana person who loved me, or so I thought to myself. I had thought about it for forty years before I finally changed my body. I thought how my people judged me, how my lovers Bashri had judged me, how my grandchildren judged me, except perhaps Kimi, who did not know how to judge. Forty years. Even in a woman’s body I wanted so desperately to be a man, I was a man—and now, a month after my change, in a man’s body at last, I did not know how to stop flinching from their judgment. At best, their confusion. Aviya loved me, I knew, but her tongue kept slipping.
“It’s fine.” It wasn’t, but I did not want to talk anymore. It hurt too much to talk, again
and again, about the same thing. So I walked away. Something made me look back. Aviya remained standing by the trading tent, the cloth of winds tucked clumsily under her arm. A stray butterfly followed me, pink and translucent; I reached out to it, but it slipped through my fingers, into the air.