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Profile Image for Nataliya.
784 reviews12.5k followers
January 2, 2022
“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.

2.5 stars.

My Hugo and Nebula Awards Reading Project 2021:
Profile Image for Miranda Reads.
1,589 reviews157k followers
March 30, 2021
description, I don't know if it was just me but I felt lost from the start...and only got progressively more lost as the book went on.

From what I can tell, this book had two main perspectives - Uiziya e Lali and a nameless man - and they go on an adventure together.

Magic is dependent on weaving cloth and there's a pretty important plot of delivering a weave of death.

Annnnd...that's pretty much all I got from the book in terms of plot.

So, there is a lot thrown at you in the beginning and the lore only built from there.

From what I could tell, this book was part of a series (but not the first) and this one depended quite heavily on details from the first (BUT those details weren't mentioned in Four Profound Weaves - it seemed as if you were expected to remember them). (which did not help me as I came into this book with no prior knowledge of this world).

The two main characters....I really wanted to like them. To cling to them in a sea of wildly surging plot lines but that never happened.

I just struggled with distinguishing them.

If I was given a passage/quote and told that my life depended on identifying which of the two main characters the quote belonged to...I would just roll over and die.

I constantly lost track of who was talking and whose life we were following purely because the characters felt so similar.

There were elements I liked - like how gender fluidity was represented - but those moments were few and far between.

It just lacked that essential "sparkle" that makes a book change from a series of words to an amazing tale.

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Profile Image for Bogi Takács.
Author 55 books579 followers
October 17, 2019
I was a first reader of this as a manuscript and I loved it!! Awesome trans epic fantasy, carpets, bones :) Now I can finally add the book to Goodreads too!
Source of the book: The author (who is my Spouseperson)
Profile Image for Ari.
848 reviews186 followers
October 4, 2020
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Thank you NetGalley and Tachyon Publications for this ARC. All thoughts and opinions are mine.

"I would make the Four Profound Weaves and then bring them together,
to reveal the greatest secret of all; that the Four Profound Weaves
would bring the gods themselves at my bidding, for the desert had revealed itself to me.
And everything in it was made of death."

Sometimes the actions in a story lack the life necessary to charm the reader, no matter how interesting they may seem. And sometimes the action begins so prematurely and so suddenly that it leaves the reader completely lost at sea from the start.

Maybe it's because this seems to be the second book in this universe and I have not read the first, but the author seemed to think that I was supposed to know what they were talking about from the get-go. No explanation was given for events, people or terms and I found myself grappling for a good deal of this short volume so that I could understand the references being presented. By the time I had a somewhat weak grasp on things, I was done reading. The Four Profound Weaves is quite short in length, but context nonetheless lacked even though there was plenty of room for including it.

This story is told from twin POVs: Uiziya e Lali and the nameless man's (who later gives himself the title of “nen-sasair”). Both have a reason for leaving the settlement they currently inhabit, and go on their “epic adventure” together for support as well as need. It was often difficult to tell one POV from the other, because neither of these two characters stand out in tone. Had it not been for the fact that their sections are titled with their names, I would have had no trouble believing it was the same one leading the narrative for most of this book. Only near the end, when the two arrive at the court of the Ruler of Iyar, do they become slightly more distinguishable—and that's only because their paths are forced apart.

The idea of how those who are weavers use their magic, however, was inventive. Uiziya e Lali's creation of the carpet of death, especially, was absolutely incredible. That was the one instance when I felt the time was truly taken to flesh out this story and make us connect with the somber atmosphere of the scene while she discovered and developed her skill—albeit rather fast despite the fact that she'd never done it before. And the myth of what comes to pass when the carpets of sand, air, song and death come together was intriguing even if it didn't develop into much other than finally seeing a vision of the goddess Bird.

I appreciated and respected the representation of the characters' need and ability to change their gender when the time and moment arrived for them. For that alone, the book is worth a try—and it will speak to many. But, overall it was weak in its ability to dazzle or even entertain the majority of the time.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Allison Hurd.
Author 3 books750 followers
January 31, 2021
I wanted to love this so much. And I thought, given the first couple chapters, I couldn't NOT love it. Alas, it turned quickly into tropes without exploring why someone would turn into this person, and when you're talking about self identity and use the word "profound" in your title, I kind of expect a profound look at self-identity. Is that a me problem? I'm not sure.


Things that were promising:

-The world. Who doesn't like a world with present and active gods, especially if those gods are birds? Who doesn't want to explore hidden jewels of cities in the desert, with assassin schools and mysterious caves of contemplation?

-The magic. I was really interested to learn more about deepnames (even a cool name!) and how the weaving worked.

Where things came apart:

-Editing. I think this is one of those books where you can feel the editing very heavily--the beginning most worked on as the author read to catch up to where they left off the previous session, and then the end a bit more prettied up, with a morass in the middle. Spelling and grammatical errors, overuse of words and phrases (often within the same sentence) and a really weird later addition of an all caps aside? All caps, different font, a screaming in my mind that said nothing terribly consequential. Who okayed that?

-Neither form nor function. I can find joy in beautiful words that say wonderful things even if it's a slow, thin plot--Night Circus comes to mind. I can also find joy in character-driven works and quests. When I find something that's beautiful with a solid plot and well drawn characters, I'm enraptured. But here's the thing: you do need at least one thing you can pin your hat to. I feel that the author rushed here where they should have allowed this story to mellow and mature. The Collector is cartoonish, the motivations clunky, the resolutions faint and the word choice went from poetry to "oh no this paper is due in 3 hours" quality in less than 200 pages.

Character/caricature. Eesh. So...deadnaming is a big effin' deal okay? Like, drives people to suicide, and observers to violence. Deadnaming often starts a path towards physical confrontation that not infrequently ends in someone's death, either by their own hand or murder. This isn't just an ouchie, it is soul murder and I dislike seeing it used frivolously. How, in a world with actual, known, divine intervention that brings on an entirely new body, could the transphobia be so pervasive but also so...calm? I'm also trying to think of people I have seen in the world being that oblivious to correction without it becoming aggressive. But also...this character isn't JUST their transformation? Right? They're a full person who's had children and a career and a relationship with God? Unfortunately...we get glimpses, but I feel we set the identity on the fact that their true self isn't how they were born and I'm still trying to figure out what exactly bothers me about that. Ditto the others: The Collector who was just about status quo, the aunt and Uiviya...I'm not sure what to do with all of them, since their identities, also, seemed somehow tied to the transition, and more or less ended there. Don't even get me started on how all these characters really came into place and their entire story revolved around the man's quest.

-Gender. Hm. So...we still have basically a binary here. We have men. We have women, and we have in-betweeners, which are in between men and women, rather than being its own separate gender, it's literally called somewhere between the two black and white genders. Anyone else feel a bit uncomfortable with that? This is ownvoices so what the hell do I know, other than when I read these books, I look for my friends in the characters, and I watch to see if they would be cherished or silenced and I am not sure I feel they were well treated here.

-Relationships? I'm still figuring it out. Men stay in the men's quarters, women get to travel, everyone's bi? If men can't leave their rooms and women can't enter, and marriage, though polygamous is sacred, and cis-women's primary partners are other cis-women, how does this society...exist? I guess the men are allowed out veiled? But we know some husbands are never seen by their wives? So do husbands also have primary husband partners? Then the relationships we see themselves are all very abusive and dark about how we waste our authentic selves for our lovers, or kill them to be free, and that's bleak, man.

Yeah, I'm not really sure what I'm supposed to have taken away from this, other than trans people are the gender they claim, whatever that is, and frankly if that's what we're going to explore, I'll read more Neon Yang, thanks.
Profile Image for Para (wanderer).
379 reviews200 followers
September 2, 2020
ARC received from the publisher (Tachyon) in exchange for an honest review.
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.
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 Erio 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.
“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.”
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 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.

Enjoyment: 5/5
Execution: 5/5

Recommended to: fans of literary fantasy, those looking for non-western and/or LGBTQ+ books, those looking for a shorter read, anyone who likes fairytale-like stories
Not recommended to: those who don't like introspective and theme-focused books...?

More reviews on my blog, To Other Worlds.
Profile Image for Mel (Epic Reading).
917 reviews283 followers
January 30, 2021
A very complex first person narrative with deeply personal sentiments woven in. R. B. Lemberg gives us an OwnVoices story from the perspective of someone trans. We are dropped into a fantasy world with multiple cultures and beliefs with varying magic interspersed between. Four Profound Weaves is the type of book you could write entire English papers on given its depth, subject matter, and complicated core two characters.
While a wonderfully put together book; I personally found the writing style a bit challenging. It was repetitive in places and yet much too vague in others.

First Person POV
There are advantages and disadvantages to a first person narrative as used in Found Profound Weaves. While on one hand we get a deeply personal perspective from the characters and have an opportunity to experience their thoughts and true feelings; we also loose a lot of context and description of the world around us. Especially when the author writes like Lemberg and leaves out the details about the world that a normal person living their life wouldn’t “explain” to themselves. This technique often used in teen novels cheapens the first person narrative to a degree but also helps give context and description to the reader. It’s a difficult balance to find for any author; and for me Lemberg goes too far into the true personal thoughts of the characters and I felt like I didn’t really ever understand the fantasy world they live in.

Personal Insights
The huge benefit of the POV of our two main characters, however, is that we truly feel and know their most intimate thoughts. This allows Lemberg to share with the reader a lot more about how someone trans thinks and feels. There are revelations in here that feel so personal and yet are very insightful to someone on the outside like myself (I am a bisexual female). If you want to truly appreciate an OurVoices novel and learn something new I would highly recommend diving into Four Profound Weaves.
”I did not fit among women, among men. Even far from home with only myself for company, I did not fit.”

Fantasy and Magic
The reason why this didn’t resonate for me is that I wanted to know so much more about the cultures, magic, and set-up of this fantasy world. In such a short novel we are given so little to truly give the reader more than a notion of what this world encompasses. I know there is a whole collection of books set in this world to search out and read; but I just craved more each time I learned a new perspective or use of the magic. Lemberg has setup a fantasy world with my personal favourite type of magics; ones that have consequences. Not only draining strength of the user, but also misfiring or causing unintended harm. Near the end of the book more of this is seen and understood but I wanted so much more and struggled to stay engaged without this larger context at times.

This is a special story given its insights into the thoughts and feelings of someone trans. As a fantasy book it lacked a certain detail and context I personally crave. There is a lot of potential in this fantasy world; and even for our two lead characters to continue telling us their stories. If the narrative were slightly different and more depth given to the actual fantasy world I think I would have loved this. As it stands now I struggled in places to keep going. I’m glad I did as the ending is wonderful and I do think there is something special to this book. Definitely one of those try it out and see if you like it books; especially if you want an OwnVoices trans representation. I’m confident anyone will find something to think about from the thoughts our characters share with the reader. Kudos to Lemberg for giving such a huge personal chunk of themselves over for the reader to experience and understand.

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.
Profile Image for Lisa.
Author 26 books47 followers
December 12, 2019
The most deeply satisfying book I’ve read in years. Solace, recognition, humanity, inspiration. I feel as if I’ve just returned from a spiritual quest.
Profile Image for Roxie Voorhees.
Author 17 books107 followers
January 21, 2020
"The desert had revealed itself to me. And everything was made of death."

The Four Profound Weaves takes us to the desert sands around the city of Iyar to meet two elder changers. In this world Lemberg has built, gender roles are ridged and strictly defined. 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 seek Uiziya's aunt, Benesret. They travel via sand-skiis and a dun and yellow carpet woven of sand by Uiziya. Uiziya wants to learn the skill of weaving with bone; nen-sasaïr to be given his new name.

Exiled in the Great Burri Desert, Benesret, the Master Weaver, agrees to teach Uiziya how to weave with bone, for a price. In order to pay this price, the travelers must return to the city of Iyar. Women are not allowed to have magic in the city and many are killed by the Ruler of Iyar, The Collector, one of them being the lover of nen-sasaïr.

Because the dawn is never far away.

Will nen-sasaïr find his new place among his people? Will Uiziya learn to weave with bone? Will Benesret hold her end of the bargin?

Lemberg has written a beautifully magical world here. One of hope and change and acceptance. I am excited to read more about the Birdverse. I have so many questions about the backstory and Bird and Kimri.

Thank you Tachyon Publishing and NetGalley for gifting me a free e-copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Jason Sanford.
Author 56 books61 followers
October 4, 2020
It’s been a rough year. For far too many people in the world, it’s been a rough few decades capped by an even worse year. And when we say 2020 is painful what we’re really saying is that not only are we hurting, we’re being actively harmed in a time of crisis by those with power.

I’ve been reading as many stories as I can this year as a form of something I can’t even describe. As escape? Therapy? A search for wholeness or meaning? So many great stories have been published in 2020, almost as if life understands that fictional creations — that fantasies and myths and dreams — are a powerful way to not only to heal each other but the very world itself.

And the stories I’ve read have helped. Some. A bit. Because I’m still making it through. Still alive.

Now I’ve read The Four Profound Weaves by R.B. Lemberg. And when I finished this novella I cried because it was so joyful and beautiful and moving that for the first time in a long while I caught a glimpse of the path forward.

The Four Profound Weaves is set in the Birdverse, a diverse world of feathered gods and mysterious deserts and magical names which bind people together and tear them apart. The story follows the lives of two people — Uiziya e Lali and an initially nameless man — who are in their sixties and trying to change their lives. But they’re up against a world which far too often believes change is a bad thing. That life should remain static and unyielding. That who others believe we are at one single moment of our life is who we must be for all our lives.

This is a lyrical, poetic, mystical journey which features some of the most beautiful writing I’ve encountered recently. In Lemberg’s hands a simple phrase like “The dawn is never far away” gains added depth and resonance to both stir the soul and make you pause your reading to reflect on what has been written. And the story also features two extremely endearing and relatable characters who you can’t help rooting for.

The Four Profound Weaves is queer as hell and fluid as hell and refuses to let anything stand in the way of what we can be, no matter is that means going up against an all-powerful dictator, the gender expectations of our family and friends, or even the world itself.

This is both a joy of a book and a joy of a reading experience. I came away feeling more healed than when I started. I won’t pretend one book can solve all the world’s problems, but The Four Profound Weaves was definitely the book I needed to read right now in my life. I think many other readers will respond the same way.

I expect I’ll reread The Four Profound Weaves over and over in the years to come. The novella will also be among my nominations for the upcoming Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Awards.

There is always a path forward. Unfortunately, many times we can’t see it until something brings our eyes back to where we’re walking.

The Four Profound Weaves illuminates for all of us the path forward.
Profile Image for Charlotte Kersten.
Author 3 books467 followers
February 7, 2022
“New weavers will rise among our peoples, new weavers who will raise their voices even if that music is made of their bones.”

So What’s It About?

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' 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.

What I Thought

My brief description for this is “Kind of like Patricia McKilliip, but make it trans.” If that sounds like a winning premise, that’s because it very much is! The language is beautiful and there is plenty of magic that isn’t ever really explained, as well as an ambiguous ending that involves a revelation from higher powers. In addition to never really being explained, some of the magic is incredibly interesting, such as the torturer’s rod that absorbs its victims, which Nen-Sasair is able to heal, and the voices of the murdered rebel women that Uizita weaves together before releasing into the desert. There is beautiful art to accompany each section break, and I love the message of creativity, hope and artistry forever rising against forces of tyranny, control and greed.

The exploration of trans identity as also a definite strength - Uiziya and Nen-Sasair are both trans but have very different relationships to their identity because of where they grew up. Nen-sasair couldn’t transition because of his partner’s control and we see him grapple with the pain of someone he loved not wanting him to be himself along with his struggles with relating to his grandchildren, living as a man, and being misgendered and deadnamed. At the start of his story, he thinks that his identity will be affirmed if he lives in his people’s men’s quarters, but ultimately he realizes that his belonging to himself is something that he takes with him wherever he goes.

My quibbles are fairly minor - there is some amount of unnecessary repetition in each protagonists’ thoughts that feels almost like repeated exposition as if Lemberg wasn’t sure readers would remember what had been previously established about each character. And while the weaving magic is fairly self-explanatory, I never really understood what deepnames were and everything about them was very confusing. Other reviewers have complained about feeling like they were dumped in at the deep end but I didn’t find this to be especially true here (at least any more than it is in any fantasy book that doesn’t infodump) except for everything with the deepnames. Overall, though, this was beautiful and I can’t wait to read more from the Birdverse.
Profile Image for Izzy Wasserstein.
Author 30 books25 followers
November 25, 2021
I was fortunate enough to get to read this in advance of its release. It's a lovely, powerful, deeply moving story of aging, taking risks and embracing truly transformative change. Lemberg's genius for setting, their finely-crafted characters, and their tale full of grief and hope will all stay with me for a very long time.
Profile Image for laurel [the suspected bibliophile].
1,502 reviews449 followers
March 22, 2023
Where the narrator 100% makes or breaks the audiobook, and in this case, Paul Boehmer breaks it.

I did not like his choices. I did not like how whiny he made the narrators (I didn't realize that there were actually two POVs until just now—they both sounded so alike and he made not a single distinction in their tones).

The world-building was cool, with weaving magic, but the overall story was just kinda meh. I should have DNF'd and I regret not doing so.
Profile Image for Andreas.
482 reviews139 followers
January 2, 2022
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.

Synopsis: The Four Profound Weaves follows a nameless man and Uiziya, two 63 years old transgenders, who are both on a quest. The man, using "nen-sasaïr” as a placeholder, searches for his true name, Uiziya wants to learn to weave the greatest magical tapestry in the world, the carpet of bones resembling death.

They travel to Aunt Benesret who was Uiziya's teacher forty years ago to get name and learning. But she doesn't help them as they wished, they have to finish the quest to become the people they set out for years.

Their antagonist is the Ruler of Iyar, nicknamed "The Collector", who hates change and therefore collects the greatest items in the world. Both main protagonists are all about change, as testified in their magic change of gender using the carpet of wind. 

Hope and death are intertwined, inseparable like the sibling gods. That is the secret of the Four Profound Weaves.

Review: This novella is set in Lemberg's Birdverse, a series of poems and short stories which they’ve been weaving since 2011.

Birdverse features magic through multi-syllabled names, feathered gods, a wonderful desert landscape, and many different cultures. Also, it is queer to the (n)th degree, gender-fluid, escaping each and every preconception of traditional gender roles that you can think of. No, that was wrong - there is the traditional male dictator, but he is from a different culture than the main protagonists.

I have to confess, that the queerness overwhelmed me first before feeling natural. What sucked me in was the desert, the magic, and the quest. After I while, I fell in love with the evocative narration, its wisdoms embedded in a mystical journey through the desert. 

There is a lot of tension in the characters, most obvious in nen-sasaïr. His people don't change genders, but he did, and now he doesn't fit to their strictly separated gender cultures anymore. He waited fourty years for his lover's consent to change (featured in the novelette Grandmother-nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds) which is a relief but burdens his relation with his relatives. Just like hope and death are intertwined, his pain and love are tangled. 

Other characters, like the Collector, his torturer, or Aunt Benesret devour what they love to reach personal goals. But Uiziya learns that you can care about the dead without devouring them. Without using them. This is my story, and my weave. Instead of devouring 

you had to listen to the dead. To know them deeply, to attend to what had been silenced, to care enough to help the dead speak again through every thread that made up the great work.

Sometimes, poetry bleeds through narration without suppressing the pacing: “The dawn is never far away” evokes a song in the reader which resonates with the protagonists' songs.

Nen-sasaïr's magic is much about healing. Somehow, this escaped the pages and healed me as well, I felt better after closing the book. Now, I need to read more of the Birdverse.

Highly recommended for Fantasy readers who like magic and powerful insights but don't need much sword dancing.
Profile Image for Oleksandr Zholud.
1,118 reviews112 followers
May 25, 2023
This is a fantasy novella set, as its author states “Birdverse is an LGBTQIA+-focused secondary world with a Bird deity.” This novella was nominated for Nebula and Locus Awards in 2021.

The story starts with a man, Uiziya e Lali, who was born a woman but was able to transit (magically) in his old age (sixty-three this year). He lived in quite a gender-segregated society - Khana, where women weave (magic) and trade while men sing and construct artifacts. Now he has to travel into the desert to his aunt and teacher – Benesret. Years ago she tried to teach him the four profound weaves (technics) - a weave of change, of sand, of song, and of death. His aunt is an expert in weaving the fourth and thus is linked with the local assassin order. Uiziya now has to save his love from the Collectors – a rival urban culture that hoards magic…

The writing is strong and poetic, and the author definitely has talent, but the story hasn’t grabbed me – it was like a hand-woven carpet – it took a lot of effort to create but if you don’t need one and lack sight to admire all ornaments. Therefore my rating just shows how I liked the plot/message of the novella.

Profile Image for Hsinju Chen.
Author 2 books215 followers
December 31, 2020
Content warnings: heavy theme of trans rejection (misgendering, deadnaming, general transphobia), blood, death, bones, loss of spouse

“Are you ready to weave from death?” — Benesret

This story deserves a better rating for its theme and execution, but given that I was close to DNFing due to the heavy transphobia one of the main characters was going through, it was a very uncomfortable read that I simply couldn’t rate it higher.

The Four Profound Weaves is an adventure of Uiziya e Lali (63, trans) searching for her aunt Benesret to teach her the craft of weaving from death and the nameless man (64, trans, polyam?), nen-sasaïr, wanting Benesret to name him after his change.

Being transgender is one of the most important things in this novella. While the word “trans” is never used in the fantasy setting, it is clear that both characters are binary transgender. Told in both first-person POV, neither character is particularly likable, and at times, reactions to events and dialogues were slightly abrupt, yet the narration was very slow. Though this is part of a series, reading it as a standalone, as I did, wasn’t confusing.

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.

I admit that I reached my limit a little before the 50% mark and semi-skimmed the rest of the book. It also took me two more days than I had anticipated because I had trouble pushing through. The misgendering and trans rejection running throughout the whole story had made it painful and discomforting to read. The worst thing is that there is no found family, only the two mains who accept each other. It certainly doesn’t help that nen-sasaïr couldn’t/didn’t do much about that. He delayed his transition for a woman he loved, someone who couldn’t accept him for who he is, and I am still very angry about this.

“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.” — Uiziya

The struggle of socially growing into who one is meant to be is very real and strong in The Four Profound Weaves. I love that this story with two trans main characters in a fantasy setting exists, but reading it was too upsetting for me to rate it as it deserves. I rate on the enjoyment and love I have for a book, and honestly, it probably should be lower. Yet this story is important, a depiction of trans struggle, that I do not want to rate it solely on rereadability. Read at your discretion.

The Four Profound Weaves is about finding one’s true self, Uiziya for her craft and the nameless man for his manhood, within oneself and not seeking validation from the outside. While the journey is difficult, everything is guaranteed to come full circle.

I received an e-ARC from Tachyon Publications via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Kristin B. Bodreau.
295 reviews50 followers
March 7, 2021
Repetitive to the Nth degree. Meandering. Somehow too many details without actually making anything any clearer. Not a ton of coherency. A magic system that wasn’t even fleshed out enough to be called hand-wavy.

There are certainly things to appreciate. If you’re looking for fascinating imagery, LGBTQ+ representation, 190 pages worth of metaphor to unpack and you aren’t bothered by the previously mentioned things, then this is a solid read. There’s an interesting look at how culture plays a role in our identities and if you don’t squint too hard, the magic is fairly cool.

I can appreciate all of those things. I can also see how some people would absolutely love this. It just wasn’t for me.
Profile Image for C.L. Clark.
Author 20 books1,222 followers
January 6, 2022
I wanted to start the year with a hopeful book that was a little quiet, beautiful, tender--this seemed like the right one and I wasn't disappointed. I also found out that a story I loved years ago, just as beautiful and queer and tender, is also by RB Lemberg and is set in the same universe--check out the story "The Desert Glassmaker and the Jeweler of Berevyar" at Uncanny Magazine.

Anyway, I loved this story, especially from perspectives we don't often get to see being heroic. Highly recommend if you are looking for hope or home.
Profile Image for DivaDiane.
974 reviews94 followers
May 27, 2023
I enjoyed this, but, since I listened to the audio, I had a hard time keeping track of who was the POV character. The narrator didn't vary the voices quite enough, and it seemed I missed the name, which was said at the beginning of each section.

The prose was beautiful and the focus on identity (also sexual identity) and life's Purpose was interesting. The magic of the profound weaves and the Deepnames, which permeated everything was also fascinating, but I don't think I understood it well. I would like to eye-read this, to understand it better, but I probably won't.
Profile Image for Christine Sandquist.
186 reviews63 followers
March 14, 2020
This review and others can be read on my blog, Black Forest Basilisks.
I sat alone in my old goatskin tent. Waiting, like I had for the last forty years, for Aunt Benesret to come back. Waiting to inherit her loom and her craft, the mastery of the Four Profound Weaves. I wasn’t sure how long I’d been sitting like this, and it was dark in the tent; I no longer knew day from night. When the faded red woven tapestry at the entrance shifted aside, I drew my breath sharply, waiting for my aunt’s thin, almost skeletal hand—but it was not Benesret. Of course not. Instead, one of my grand-nieces stepped in, plump and full of life, bedecked in embroideries and circlets hammered with snakes. Her eyes shone like stars in the gloom.

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. 

Truly, it's not just accepting change that matters. It's also about listening to those around you. It's about voices being heard and woven into the fabric of your own, personal worldview. In order to master the last of the weaves, it's not death that Uiziya must master. Rather, it's the ability to listen and amplify voices that have been silenced. In listening, she can help them change into something new.

I shifted, relieving the pain of sitting too still. I was not done listening to bones, but my listening acquired a lilt, a shape, a feel. I needed to make a loom from my sisters, and I needed a yarn made of them. I needed to give them a shape which the goddess Bird could not give, for she came to look for these souls and was thwarted, and then she sent mortal birds to find out what went amiss, and they all died here as well.

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 their short fiction over the next few weeks. Their world is beautifully realized. I could feel the edges of their 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.

Many novellas feel like a novel that has been 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 into 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.

Recommended for fans of:

The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander
Los Nefilim by T. Frohock
The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

This review and others can be read on my blog, Black Forest Basilisks.

Profile Image for Maija.
587 reviews165 followers
August 31, 2020
In this beautifully written desert fantasy, two trans elders go on a quest. There's weaving magic, three-dimensional older characters, and bones! I read a review copy from Netgalley.

Uiziya is from the Surun' tribe. She's been waiting for decades for her aunt Benesret to retun and teach her the final weave, how to weave from death. The nameless man, nen-sasaïr, is from the Khana tribe, where women are traveling traders and men remain in the inner quarters as scholars. He is now living in the desert among the Surun' tribe, because the Khana culture is strict about gender, whereas the Surun' have men, women, and what they call inbetweeners, and transitioning is done with carpets woven from wind. Together these two leave to find the master weaver, Benesret, and end up on a dangerous quest to challenge a tyrant.

I loved the magic in this story. You might know that desert fantasy isn't one of my buzzwords, but weaving magic is. The four profound weaves of the title are wind, sand, song, and death. Uiziya travels on a floating carpet woven of sand. Assassins use cloth woven from death to conceal themselves. The different sections of the novella were also named after the different weaves, which I loved – and those title pages were really beautiful with small spot illustrations.

Even if the magic is not explained in much detail to the reader, it feels coherent and I found it very fascinating. People have deepnames, and how many names they have and how many syllables are in the names correspond to magical power. Different combinations of syllables are called different things, for example having two deepnames, one-syllable and three-syllable, is called The Weaver's Promise. I was so into it.

Apart from the weaving magic and having older people as the main characters, what made me request this book was the pull quote from Patricia A. McKillip on the cover that says “Imagery that glows on the page.” (This pull-quote was changed for the final cover.) I love McKillip's writing style, so I trusted her words. And I was not disappointed, I loved Lemberg's lyrical writing style! It was very atmospheric to read, and I loved picking the book up and spending time with it. The world felt full and complete, and I liked the main characters a lot. Apart from the main two, I found Benesret especially to be a really cool figure. Like, "welcome, here's my tent surrounded by bones".

This novella tackles themes of tradition, change and stagnation. For example, in the city of Iyar, there is a ruler who hoards magical artefacts and tries to stop change of any kind. The story also focuses on finding out what you want and finding your own place in the world. Nen-sasaîr wants to find his name, and if he wants to go by the Khana tradition and join the men in the inner quarter, or do something completely different.

The author, R.B. Lemberg, is a queer, bigender immigrant from Eastern Europe and Israel, and they have written short stories in this world before. The world is called Birdverse, after the goddess Bird. I have never read any Birdverse short stories, but didn't feel like I was missing anything. This novella is a whole story on its own. So you don't need to read them in order to read this - but you'll probably want to read them after you finish! I certainly want to.

I gave the novella 4 stars. It's actually one of my favourites of the year so far!

Content warnings: dead-naming and misgendering.
Profile Image for Elliot.
622 reviews37 followers
January 5, 2022
I wanted to love this novella more than I did. The setting was rich and interesting, I loved how queer it was, and the magic captured my imagination. There were sections I reread because I had never heard certain feelings expressed so eloquently before, especially on the subject of trans identity. At the sentence level so much of this book is gorgeous. However, the writing on a larger scale kept me at arm's length. The passivity of the characters, the similarity in voice, the disjointed feel, and the odd pacing all made this book a bit of slog despite its short length. This is one of those books I didn't enjoy reading but I'm glad I read all the same. I'm left curious about the Birdverse but not certain the author's style resonates with me.

Book Club: 12/21
Profile Image for Renee Godding.
641 reviews633 followers
September 6, 2022
This is a difficult one to review... On the one hand I was completely mesmerized and intrigued by the world, concepts and themes introduced. On the other hand i wasn't a fan of the way it was introduced, and the particular story the author chose to tell.
As the reader, we are dropped into the middle of the story without any introduction or explanation, which makes it difficult to keep up at first. Although that's usually fine for me, in this case I struggled a little more than comfortable, for the eventual outcome.
Profile Image for Serena.
17 reviews
December 18, 2020
This book touched on some themes I've been thinking about all these long months of quarantine: death, change, the desert. I have a rather grim outlook on what the future holds these days, so this book was like a balm, it made me think hard about hope too. I don't really know what to do with that at the moment, but I'm glad for it.
Having read some of R.B.'s work before, I knew I was really going to enjoy their writing, it evoked vivid images and the characters felt truly alive. I hadn't read their previous Birdverse work because I have this bad tendency to think "I will leave the best for later", but if not now when? Is also something else I've been thinking about a lot lately (I don't know what to do with it much either though ^^U). If you enjoy singing prose, vivid characters and a story full of hope, give this a read :D
Profile Image for ReadBecca.
831 reviews85 followers
September 12, 2022
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 previous life 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. It is a very bleak journey that leads us to hope.

The writing is beautiful, pacing very different from your standard fantasy. I loved getting to know the characters, their 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 by seeking out more work from the author.

I requested and received a copy of this book for honest review, thanks to Netgalley, the publisher and author.
Profile Image for Jukaschar.
205 reviews6 followers
October 18, 2022
This novella reminds me in its tone of the old Nordic sagas, it's poetic and full of imagery, at the same time it is truly human, beautiful and brutal at the same time.
I don't think I've ever read something that feels as distinctly queer as this, which is something I greatly enjoy. The age representation is another big plus for me, there just aren't many fantasy books told from the perspective of older people. The worldbuilding is superb and I will surely visit the Birdverse again.

The primary reason why I don't give all five stars is because I felt the editing was a bit clumsy at times and the author couldn't unleash the full potential of the tale - for whatever reason, something from the outside or a more internal, personal reason. [I don't feel so good writing this, but as it is a rather strong impression of mine I will let this stand as it is.]

I also think the torturer's death was somehow out of tune with the rest of the tale. I cannot even specify this any more, I have no idea what I would exactly want to be different. It's no more than a tiny personal opinion.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
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