Today’s Book: “The Four Profound Weaves” by R.B. Lemberg
The Plot: A nameless man and a woman named Uiziya set out in search of Uiziya’s aunt, a master weaver who could weave cloth out of death.
Autistic Character(s): The author!
R.B. Lemberg has been writing stories in the magical setting of Birdverse for many years, but this novella is in many senses their debut – the first work they’ve released as a physical, standalone, single-work book. (Though it’s not their first novella; that would be “A Portrait of the Desert in Personages of Power,” which was published in installments in the magazine Beneath Ceaseless Skies.)
The nameless man – called “nen-sasaïr,” or “son of sandbirds,” for much of the story – and Uiziya are both older protagonists, feeling lost and stuck in their lives until they see some spark in each other that spurs them to act on their dreams. Nen-sasaïr, a trans man who transitioned late in life, wants to rejoin his birth culture – which has extremely strict binary gender roles, to the point of sequestering men completely, and is not particularly trans-accepting. Uiziya, a weaver, wants to rejoin her aunt Benesret, who mentored her at weaving. Benesret could weave wondrous carpets out of all sorts of materials, including death itself, but her powers come with a terrible price.
One of the joys of Birdverse is how interconnected everything is. Like many autistic authors who fixate on worldbuilding, Lemberg has put immense thought, detail, and love into this fictional world, and many of its stories draw on characters or ideas from other stories. Longtime Birdverse readers will note that nen-sasaïr is a character from the novelette “Grandmother Nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds,” who transitioned at the end of that story, and that one of Benesret’s carpets is the same carpet described in the poem “I will show you a single treasure from the treasures of Shah Niyaz.” That Shah himself appears as the story’s antagonist, as the meeting with Benesret balloons into a larger quest. However, to readers who are new to Birdverse, this story explains itself well enough to stand on its own.
Kimi, an autistic child from “Grandmother Nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds,” also has a cameo in this book – they’re twelve now, and it’s delightful to see them happy and building their skills, including having made a magic carpet of their own.
Both Uiziya and nen-sasaïr are trans characters, but with very different life experiences. Nen-sasaïr struggles with a cissexist birth culture and with prior relationships that didn’t accept him, but gender transition is commonplace in Uizia’s culture, and she transitioned in a magical ritual when she was very young. While Uiziya treats gender matter-of-factly, nen-sasaïr has more difficult experiences as he tries to imagine himself in the cultural role that he always longed for. Lemberg describes these experiences with remarkable nuance:
I would be among men.
I had dreamt of this day so many times, ever since I was little. I dreamt of running through one of these gates unnoticed, as a child, sneaking in before my grandmothers could stop me. I would hide among the narrow streets of men, unseen until I learned how to better pass among them. I would sneak into the holy rooms where boys my age learned the writ. I would become a ghost, learning the writ in secret while the boys slept.
Later, after Benesret’s promise, returning from the desert with the small cloth of winds in my hands, I began to fantasize about entering the gate not as a ghost, but as a man who had a right to be there. And that was when my mind would hiccup and withdraw, for how would I prove— how would I fit— even having the right body, but not the lifetime of learning, how would I fit on the men’s side?
The quest that leads Uiziya and nen-sasaïr into the heart of a cruel empire is an uplifting one, despite its dark themes – how to respond in the face of tyranny, how to honor the dead, how to attempt to right wrongs that can never be fully undone. Hope and death, two of the four profound weaves of the title, are inextricably intertwined.
Aside from Kimi’s cameo, there isn’t much direct autism rep in this book, but it’s a wonderful book.
The Verdict: Recommended-2
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