Book review: The Four Profound Weaves by R.B Lemberg

Title: The Four Profound Weaves by R.B Lemberg

Publisher: Tachyon Publications

Publication date: 4 September 2020

Genre: Adult | Fantasy

Page extent: 192 pages


Goodreads blurb: 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.

I’ve been having such a good year for novellas, I haven’t read a single bad one and this was no different! Queer novellas are pretty much the only thing giving me life right now.

The Four Profound Weaves is a novella set within R.B Lemberg’s Birdverse series. It follows a nameless man who has recently transitioned, as he searches for a name; and his friend, a weaver, who is searching for her Aunt so she can be taught how to weave from death, the last of the four profound Weaves.

As a newcomer to this series, I won’t lie, I did find the first half quite confusing. There is so much history, mythology and worldbuilding that needed to be crammed into such a small novella and I think I probably would’ve benefited by reading some of the Birdverse series prior to jumping straight into this, just so I had a better understanding of this world. But by the second half, I felt much more comfortable in the world and really enjoyed this!

My absolute favourite thing about this novella is the magic system. Interesting magic systems are of one the best parts of reading fantasy because they’re all so unique, and the fact this one was all about weaving was so cool?? I need more crafts and magic in my life! Weaving magic can be created through four elements: wind, for change; sand, for wanderlust; song, for hope; bones, for death. The way these magics influenced the story and world were so interesting. I found the carpets of change, made from wind, particularly amazing: that these carpets are used by individuals who wish to change their bodies to match their identities is just so cool?!

Which leads me to my second favourite thing about this novella, the exploration of gender, expression and identity. God I really just fucking love books that have magic systems that allow for trans and nonbinary individuals. We have evolved past the need for binary magic systems!! I loved how the nameless man explored his new identity but in a way that took into account the fact he’d lived life as a woman for 60 years? The way he embraced the fact he was a man but also that he’d been raised to trade and explore the world, which would usually be a woman’s role. It was so great to see that acknowledged? That yes he was a man, but you don’t just lose everything that made you who you are for the last 40 years after transitioning?

This was a really great novella. Given the subject matter, there is a great deal of transphobia, dead-naming and misgendering so do be aware of that going in. But I’m definitely very interested in reading more of Lemberg’s work set in the Birdverse!

30 Days of Pride: The rise of the queer novella

Hi everyone,

Happy Day 24 of Pride! Today I’m talking about a type of book I’ve only very recently started reading (just this year!) but have been overwhelmed with the brilliance of writing we’re seeing: the queer novella.

Novellas (generally books under 200 pages) are short, quick reads that I really feel are becoming more common and visible in the mainstream. Which is great, especially when so many of them are incredible, diverse books that kick as big a punch as books 500 pages long do. And what’s more, whilst I couldn’t tell you the name of a single cishet novella, I am hearing about a ton of queer novellas! They really seem to be leading the charge in this new wave of publishing, so here’s a few of my favourites and some I haven’t read yet but which sound pretty fucking epic. And because there’s so many, the list is longer than the 10 I’ve tried to keep the rest of this months posts at, for which I am not even the tiniest bit sorry for how this may affect your TBR. And I apologise to any contemporary fans – every single one of these is spec fic. I’m sorry, I have a type when it comes to books clearly.

The Seep by Chana Porter

If you want a kickass trans woman who stomps about in big black boots and leather, then this is the book for you! This is a weird and wonderful science fiction novella about an alien invasion. The alien seeps in through the water supply and into the human brain. In The Seep, everything and everyone is connected: so capitalism breaks down, barriers are thrown away. Anything is possible, as long as you can imagine it. Trina and her wife, Deeba, have been living under The Seep, until Deeba wishes to be reborn as a baby. And of course, The Seep can grant her that wish. This is a very odd, surreal book, that combines both deep social commentary on issues like bodily autonomy, capitalism, death and grief, alongside a humourous and punky writing style.

The Deep by Rivers Solomon

Rivers Solomon is an absolute pioneer of speculative fiction and their novella The Deep is no different to their novels. This is a book about the water-breathing descendants of African slave women who were thrown overboard, called wajinru, who have built their own society in the ocean waters. In order to cope with the trauma of their past, one wajinru, a historian, holds the memories of their history so the others do not have to. Yetu is given the honour of being historian, but the role is destroying her and so she runs away to the surface, leaving the other wajinru trapped remembering all the memories that have burdened Yetu for years. This is a novella about intergenerational trauma and a community who come together to survive that trauma, and about Yetu, a young woman trying to find out who she is outside of her community. It’s a powerful and moving novella that brings hope to those suffering from a dark and traumatic past.

Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey

The first of the Sarah Gailey novellas on this list, Upright Women Wanted is set in a Western style dystopia, full of queer librarian spies killing fascists. It’s a story of found family and rebellion. Esther is a stowaway who has snuck into the back of a librarian’s wagon in the hopes of escaping her town, where her girlfriend has just been executed for treason. But when she travels with the librarians, she realises not everything she’s been told about them is quite true. The whole ‘distributing illegal material and killing fascists across America’ thing was a bit of a surprise. This is an absolute bundle of fun, I adored it and am absolutely dying for more books set in this unvierse. Each and every one of the characters is a DELIGHT, though I particularly loved Cye, a rough and tumble nonbinary librarian who’s tasked with watching over Esther to make sure she doesn’t get up to any mischief whilst they travel across the US. It’s action packed, has a wonderful slowburn romance and is just so fucking cool.

River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey

If Upright Women Wanted didn’t convince you that Sarah Gailey writes epic Western-style speculative fiction, then maybe River of Teeth will! River of Teeth is a historical fantasy that imagines what would happen if the US government decided to import and raise hippos in the South in the early 20th century. In hindsight, this was a terrible plan because now they’ve had to hire a group of hippo ranchers to deal with all the feral hippos killing people. The fact that is based on an actual idea the US government had is even better.

Finna by Nino Cipri

Trying to beat “queer librarian spies” for most awesome pitch is Finna, a book where two queer IKEA employees are ordered into the multiverse by their capitalist overlords to hunt down a missing customer. Oh, and these two employees just broke up a week ago so this is going to be an absolute riot of fun for them both. Not. This is such a bundle of fun, all the different IKEAs are so creative (my personal favourite being the one where you have to pay in blood). It’s a humorous take down of capitalism wrapped up in a fun queer adventure with two individuals who don’t want to be anywhere near each other in the normal world, let alone in several murderous parallel universe IKEAs. A sequel to this novella has already been announced and I am ecstatic!

This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal el-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

One of the most talked about books of 2019, This is How You Lose the Time War is an epic sapphic time travel war story about two agents on opposite sides of the time war who start corresponding through letters to each other. At first, it begins as humourous, battlefield taunts, but develops into an intense and personal relationship that will change the direction of the very war they fight.

The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo

This novella combines so many elements which I love: period drama check! Asian inspired check! A take on an Atwood story check! Talking animals check! Angry empress check! Nonbinary main character check! Does that not sound incredible? The Empress of Salt and Fortune is powerfully told in just 112 pages. Chih, a cleric documenting a coup, meets an elderly woman, called Rabbit, who narrates to him the story of the Empress In-Yo, to whom Rabbit was a personal handmaiden. Combining the feminist powerhouse writing seen in the comparison to Atwood, with high fantasy and a harsh critique of monarchy, The Empress of Salt and Fortune is not to be missed!

The Monster of Elendhaven by Jennifer Giesbrecht

Dark and gorey, this is a novella full of murder and revenge! The city of Elendhaven has been wracked with a plague, industry has vacated the town, and they have been forgotten and left to die. But the monsters of Elendhaven want their revenge. This is a bloody gothic horror about a magician who loves murder and monsters and yes, that does sound brilliant.

Silver in the Woods by Emily Tesh

Silver in the Woods is the first in a novella duology about Greenhollow, about a mysterious and not-quite-normal man called Tobias who lives near the woods. When he falls in love with the handsome stranger, Henry, who moves there, Tobias must reckon with secrets about the forest and himself. Lyrical and fairytale-esque, this is the start of a lush debut which continutes in….*drum roll*

Drowned Country by Emily Tesh

In this follow up to Silver in the Woods, Tobias’ mother is calling for him and so he and Henry must journey to Rothport, a town where the ancient forest that used to be there was drowned by the sea. Along with some monsters and a missing girl, this continues a beautiful, unique and mythical world.

The Order of Pure Moon Reflected in Water by Zen Cho

This gorgeous novella just published yesterday and I was so excited to read it (and not just because of that stunning cover). This is a found family wuxia fantasy about a nun who joins a group of bandits, with a focus on identity and spirituality and with a nonbinary lead, yas!

Yellow Jessamine by Caitlin Starling

I hope you’re ready for this incredible novella coming from the author who brought us one of my favourite horror novels, The Luminous Dead. A reviewer on Goodreads described this as if Mexican Gothic, which is pretty much my favourite book of the year so far (and so fucked up, it’s amazing), had a baby with The Monster of Elendhaven, so gorey murdery monster goodness. Thus, this sounds incredible. It’s coming out in September, and follows a shipping magnate, who has a ship where the crew is coming down with a mysterious illness – one that causes obsessive behaviour and then catatonic stupor, and it all seems to be focused on her. She escapes to her family’s estate, but the sick are coming for her and she needs to work out how this illness is connected to her before it destorys everything she’s built.

To Be Taught If Fortunate by Becky Chambers

Sci-fi extraordinaire Becky Chambers of the Wayfarers series has now released this fantastic novella, not set in the series, but still a very fun space romp. In To Be Taught If Fortunate, instead of humans terraforming planets to be suitable to them, they terraform their bodies, changing them to be suited to each new environment. Adriane is an explorer, she goes to sleep during the travel between planets and wakes up changed. It also has a whole cast of queer characters, including trans, ace, bi/pan and poly rep.

A Glimmer of Silver by Juliet Kemp

This novella is described as what happens after first contact: when the humans have colonised a far away planet, what happens next? On this world, Ocean is alive. If Ocean talks to you before you turn 16, you become a communicator. Jennery does not want to be a communicator, xe wants to be a musician. But Ocean is angry about the humans colonising the planet and Jennery must decide whether to listen or not.

The Ascent to Godhood by JY Yang

The is the fourth installment of the Tensorate novella series, but this one features a sapphic villain romance which is just amazing. It follows the series villain, and a courtesan she had a relationship with. So read the first three to get this, or just give this one a go!

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

I haven’t actually read any of Seann McGuire’s very popular Wayward Children series but I’ve read her work as Mira Grant and adore it so I’m pretty confident these will be just as brilliant when I finally get around to reading them. These are set at a home for wayward children, who sometimes disappear in a magical land and come back changed.

The Four Profound Weaves by R.B Lemberg

This book is publishing in September this year and I am very excited to have an ARC for it. This is a trans epic fantasy, set in a world with very strict gender roles and a man who has changed between them and struggles to embody the masculinity required of his new role after years performing the life of a woman.

Thank you for your help in pushing novella publishing into the queerest realms possible. I’ve been really enjoying reading lots of novellas, but I do admit, I often fall in love with the world so much I want full books set there! Do you prefer to read novellas or novels? Do you have any favourite queer novellas I didn’t feature on this list? Let me know in the comments!