The Four Profound Weaves has two elderly trans characters at its heart, inspecting how culture impacts gender struggles with a beautiful writing style. Unfortunately, the book failed to make me care about the story it wanted to tell, and beyond initial excitement, it didn’t leave the impact I wished it would.
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.
Set in R. B. Lemberg’s beloved Birdverse, The Four Profound Weaves hearkens to Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. In this breathtaking debut, Lemberg offers a timeless chronicle of claiming one’s identity in a hostile world.
The best feature of The Four Profound Weaves was what drew me to it in the first place, it tells the story of two elderly trans people. Older people are barely ever represented in fiction, especially not as the main characters. For trans people this depiction is so important, it gives our identity history, it reminds us that despite the violence we face growing old is a reality. Especially as one of the characters has only recently been able to transition, it shows us we don’t have to have everything sorted out right away.
I loved how R.B. Lemberg described the nameless man’s struggle with his identity. Unlike Uiziya whose culture allows for trans people to exist, his is heavily gender-segregated. He knows he’s a man, but he finds it difficult to combine that with what is culturally expected of him. His development in this aspect is what I enjoyed most from the story, and why, despite struggling with this book, I’d recommend people give it a go.
The writing is beautiful. I struggle with books where plot and characters are overshadowed by lyrical prose. For people who enjoy this form of writing, you should have an eye on this book. The author has created a rich, vibrant world full of history and magic. I didn’t fully engage with it, but I can appreciate it for what it was.
The Four Profound Weaves is set in the Birdverse, the author’s setting that has featured other work in the past. Unfortunately, at times it felt as if we were expected to understand more about the world than we were given in the book. There wasn’t enough detail to truly understand the worldbuilding, but the specific references to different places, people, and magic left me feeling like I’d missed something.
My biggest issue with the book was that it didn’t have anything driving it forward. There’s a quest, but I couldn’t understand the character motivations. It felt like they were jumping from place to place, having conversations, and moving on. It didn’t help that the two main character’s voices were incredibly similar. I wouldn’t have been able to tell whose perspective I was reading if asked. There was nothing that made me care, worry for them, or want them to succeed.
Overall, this book wasn’t for me, but I don’t want to dismiss its importance. I’ve never seen elderly trans rep before, and I’d recommend people give this book a go just because that’s so unique and wonderful.
CW: violence, death, transphobia, dead-naming, kidnapping
Recommend for: People who love books with beautiful imagery, people who want to read a book with unique representation, people who don’t need to know everything about a setting, people who enjoy stories about culture, people who want to read a story that focuses on trans identity
(Thanks to NetGalley and Tachyon Publications for providing an advanced readers copy in exchange for an honest review)
About The Author
R.B. Lemberg is a queer, bigender immigrant from Eastern Europe and Israel. Their work has appeared in Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Unlikely Story, Uncanny, and other venues, and has been a finalist for the Nebula, Crawford, and other awards.
Get this book
I’d recommend checking out your local indie bookshop! You can also use Bookshop.org which is available in the UK & US.