“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.”
This book does not hold your hand as it drops you smack in the middle of a desert-inspired fantasy in the universe where Bird-deity is worshipped, and magic is tied to deepnames, and Weavers can make magic carpets of the titular “four profound weaves”.
It can be a bit jarring to try and piece together a world without much hand-holding from the author, but I like to think that SFF readers are quite adept at that. Even so, I was left with more vagueness than I would have liked, although that may have been the result of the author trying to achieve that evocative delicate dreamlike narration feel. That feeling succeeded, yes, but at a price of some depth to this world, as it lacks grounding to make it feel solid.
“You see other lives as easy because you don’t see them. You see your story as complex and hard because you know it best.”
We see this world through the eyes of two 60-something protagonists: Uiziya, a weaver who after forty years of waiting is finally looking for her master weaver aunt to finish her training (and finds more than she bargained for) and nen-sasaïr, a trans man who transitioned very late in life and who is now making peace with his identity, coming from a culture of strict gender binary. And between the experiences of these two we focus on the themes of identity, memory and acceptance, the pain of change no matter when in life it comes, and the absolute need for that change nevertheless.
“You make it sound so simple, nen-sasaïr. What your people do, what your people don’t do. What they told you to do. What they did not tell you to do, but you think they told you to do. What you think your lovers thought. What you think they think now that they died. Always you lived in the shadow of these people and their rules. Even forty years ago. But nobody’s world is clear and simple, much as we want it to be.”
The language is poetic and delicate, which makes it seem almost like a fairytale — which is both a strength and a weakness here. The strength lies in creating that surreal-like ambiance. The weakness is, as I mentioned above, in too much vagueness. And unfortunately there was too much similarity in the narrative voice for both protagonists, making it hard to distinguish between their chapters without looking at the titles.
“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.”
But did this story really move me? No, not so much. Intellectually I felt that there were certain moments that were all “aha!” about them, and that there were particularly poetic phrases where I was supposed to go all “oooh!”, not to mention places that expected me to nod along or feel appropriate anger. But I didn’t really feel much of that. I think I was too busy getting through the dreamlike, trance-like narrative and hopelessly trying to figure out how the interesting bits of magic would actually work instead (How was that two-syllable “deepname”broken into a three-syllable one? And how do these even work? Oh, we are not going to get any explanation at all? Okay then!), or which one of our protagonist’s inner world we were privy to at the moment. And in the end I felt that I still knew next to nothing about out characters despite all the journey I took with them. They are older and trans and one of them is a large woman and ...? Yeah, I got nothing. And the villain was so cartoonishly evil with few motivations that made sense that it was almost painful to read.
In short, it was meant to be deep and profound, but a sense of ornamental artificiality nevertheless crept in.
(And another thing that really bothered me: it seemed that Uiziya was less upset about her aunt killing her husband than she was about the aunt not teaching her the magic promised. Priorities?)
Not really to my taste, although still better than a few other Nebula finalists this year.
My Hugo and Nebula Awards Reading Project 2021: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...