Friday, November 6, 2020

Fantasy Novella Review: The Four Profound Weaves by R. B. Lemberg


The Four Profound Weaves by R. B. Lemberg:

The Four Profound Weaves is the debut published novella of R. B. Lemberg and a work in her Birdverse, a queer universe with a Bird deity (literally named "Bird") who comes for souls upon their death.  This novella apparently follows up on a Nebula-nominated novelette, but requires no prior knowledge of any of Lemberg's prior work and has been talked up and praised by a ton of authors online, so I was really excited that my own library actually had ordered a copy.  

And the praise was really justified.  The blurb on top of my copy from Annalee Newitz praises this work as "The anti-authoritarian queer mystical fairy tale that we need right now", and honestly I'm not sure I can put it much better (I have to try, otherwise I wouldn't have a review).  This is a story of two queer people - older people in their 60s mind you - on a journey to find their destinies that puts them against those who would confine them to particular roles, who would destroy and lock away all hope, all for the sake of greed and tradition.  And it's so very good at that.  

Quick Summary:  Uiziya e Lali has been waiting decades in her tent for her past to return.  She's a more than talented weaver, able to weave three of the four profound weaves - to weave from change, to weave from wanderlust, and to weave from hope - but still she longs for the day her Aunt Benesret will return to teach her the way to weave from the fourth weave: to weave from death.  Her friend the nameless man, who gave up his name to change at his old age into his true form as a man waits also for something, maybe Benesret as well, to give him a name that fits now that he has finally changed his body, something that his own people do not do.  For he feels lost in this world with his true body and no idea what to do next.  

Uiziya and the Nameless Man will thus go on a journey seeking out the answers they have pined for for years.  But the Collector who rules an Empire, a cruel man with ties to the Nameless Man's past, is also out there, and his agenda of control and stasis will oppose them and their cores entirely.....

Thoughts:  Centering this story on the protagonists vs the Collector is wrong by the way, but I wanted to put him in the Plot Summary because he's important.  Still he's not the only example of his type here, as the real antagonist are forces in general - of culture, of individuals, of minds being unable to bend - that oppose change and hope and people finding their own destinies to fit their own.  Uiziya seeks to weave from death, to find a way to complete her training despite the darkness that last weave supposedly comes from, and she can only accomplish that (not to spoil here) by accepting death as a part of life and a part of everything else, something others cannot do.  The Nameless Man seeks a name and a way to puzzle out the idea that he is a man, a man who is allowed to sing by his culture (while women are not allowed to sing), even though his own culture wouldn't recognize him really as a man - and how to resolve that contradiction.  

This setup creates a story about hope and life (although the story instead refers to these concepts as hope and death), and about making one's own destiny that is truly wonderful and must be read to be experienced.  I'm sure someone can go deep into how this story takes the queer experience and makes it into a powerful tale of self-understanding and recognition, and it absolutely is, but well this is so short I don't want to go too in deep.  Read this, it's great.  

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