The Four Profound Weaves
by R.B. Lemberg
Expected publication September 4, 2020, by Tachyon Publications
In desert lands where weavers can weave cloth from sand and memory, Uiziya has spent years waiting and then searching for her aunt Benesret, the master weaver who creates cloth from bones for a mysterious order of assassins. Though the search holds many dangers, Uiziya keeps going for the sake of knowledge, though she knows the price may be terribly high. With her travels a nameless man who struggles with his own identity and the expectations of society after spending so many years of his life as a woman, wife, and grandmother. The closer each of the travelers comes to achieving their goals, the more they must questions themselves, their identities, and what it is they truly desire in their lives.
Though science fiction and fantasy are genres that, by their very nature, can allow for a breathtaking array of characters and expressions of self, it’s somewhat rare to come across a story that actually deal with the possibilities, realities, and cultural consequences of non-binary and transgender characters. Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness comes to mind, and after that, there’s little else in the SFF “canon”, save for a transgender character here or a non-binary character over there, with little of their inclusion dealing with the reality of what it might be like, in these strange new worlds, to be someone who does not conform to traditional male or female identities.
With their Birdverse stories, author R.B. Lemberg presents the reader with elegantly written tales in a world where a person’s gender doesn’t necessarily define their destiny. They may begin life as a girl and grow to realize that the gender of their body may not reflect what is in their mind, and vice versa. If they are born into a culture that respects a person’s decision to change, there is a magical process that allows the body to change to reflect who they are. If they are born into a culture that does not respect this, they may spend their lives feeling disjointed, like they’ve been living their lives wrongly somehow– as the nameless man feels. When he talks to people who knew him in his youth, when he was living as a woman, his frustration at not being heard or understood is obvious.
“‘I am not a woman.’
She shrugged. ‘You were brought up to be one. These things are hard to erase, much as you change otherwise.’
This is not the nature of women, but rather the nature of all people who care. Uiziya had told me this once. ‘You can choose to care or not, and that is what people do.’
Sulikhah shrugged again. ‘As you wish.'”
The nameless man’s struggle to be understood is not the only conflict in The Four Profound Weaves, though. Uizya’s quest for knowledge is just as profound, for her aunt Benesret is not a benevolent person. Her knowledge comes with a heavy price. And out in the greater world, a ruler who sees any change as an evil seeks to put an end to progress, to cultural shifts, and to the gender transformations that are a natural part of life to so many people in their world.
The Four Profound Weaves is a remarkable story, and not simply for the heartbreaking and beautiful ways in which it deals with gender norms, cultural expectactions, family, and friendship. In just 192 pages, Lemberg weaves a multi-facted story in which two aging characters still have a lot to learn about themselves, their strengths, and their flaws. Although, while the prose is elegant and lyrical, its beauty can sometimes obfuscate the meaning. But this is a minor issue overall, as it detracts very little from the story. With elegant prose and an understanding of human nature in all its genders, Lemberg weaves a golden tale of human longing, friendship, and hope.
Thank you to NetGalley and Tachyon press for providing me with a free ebook in exchange for an honest review. This did not affect my opinion in any way.