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
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.
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 more modern 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.
You are never too old to start your journey or to fight against oppression.
Everyone has the choice to change, but this does not mean that it is supported. Each weave is another choice. Some weaves are taught and some are just known. Others are learned the hard way. Nen-sasaïr and Uiziya have waited 40 years to start their journey of knowledge. It might be too late.
I have to admit it is hard to write a synopsis of the novella The Four Profound Weaves by R.B. Lemberg without giving anything away. Lemberg continues their Birdverse world in Weaves and it is fascinating. If you are not familiar with it, you do not need to be. Lemberg explains everything in this very non-binary and yet transgender world.
The interesting choice of having two mature characters show that at any age people question choices and decisions makes this a relatable story for everyone. Lemberg also has these characters face off against the great evil in the story with nothing but their own strengths is another moral within itself.
As I was reading this work, I was thinking that this would be a great Book Club or English Literature discussion book. Each character is there for a reason. Lemberg does not waste the ink without a reason. You should not miss a word either.
I received an ARC of this book and I am writing a review without prejudice and voluntarily.
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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.
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Publisher: Tachyon Publications, 2020
Bio and/or Synopsis are from Tachyon Publications LLC.
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