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 he’s 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.
Meta: isfdb. Nominated for the Nebula Award.