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The Four Profound Weaves by R.B. Lemberg

The Four Profound Weaves by R.B. Lemberg

Title: The Four Profound Weaves
Author: R.B. Lemberg
Publisher: Tachyon Publications
Format: eBook
Rating: 4 out of 5
How I got it: I pre-ordered it from Kobo before its launch on Sept 1, 2020

I was first introduced to R.B. Lemberg’s Birdverse stories when their novelette “Geometries of Belonging” was published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies. The prose is striking: delicate and measured, yet somehow pulsing with pain underneath, as we learn more about the main character’s past and how they try to heal both themselves and others from trauma.

Next, I read “The Desert Glassmaker and the Jeweler of Berevyar“, a story with a much more hopeful outlook. However, it deals with similar themes of loneliness and people aching desperately for connection. It ends with the two title characters finding each other and travelling together.

Lemberg’s Birdverse stories have always been imbued with a strong sense of compassion: they deal with questions of how to heal from war, how societies that accept trans-ness do so in different ways, and how to build connections between people. Birdverse is constantly interrogating issues surrounding bodily agency and consent, and how abilities that aren’t traditionally considered “strong” are still vitally important to the shape of the world.

The Four Profound Weaves, Lemberg’s debut novella set in the same world, continues that tradition. However, The Four Profound Weaves also foregrounds two other emotions: sorrow, and righteous anger.

Sorrow: the two main characters, Uiziya and nen-sasair, journey through the desert to find Benesret, the master weaver who can weave from death. Uiziya looks for her because Benesret is her aunt, and was promised forty years ago that she would learn her aunt’s secrets; she’s waited for Benesret’s return to no avail, and is tired of feeling incomplete without this knowledge.

Nen-sasair’s sorrow springs from having to hide his trans nature for a similar length of time. Forty years ago, Benesret helped him by spinning a weave of fabric that would allow him to change his body (female-presenting) to match his self-identity (male). But his lover, Bashri, refused to let him transform as he wished. Now that she’s dead, and he’s used the cloth that was denied to him since his youth, he hopes that Benesret can do him one last benediction and also bestow him with a new name.

Benesret’s sorrow is that she can’t do either of the things that Uiziya and nen-sasair wish: she can’t teach the art of death-weaving, and she can’t bestow a new name. And that’s because her greatest weave was not one made of death, but made of hope.

Righteous anger: Benesret made the hope-cloth at nen-sasair’s request so that he could take it the King of Iyar. The King, a famed collector of art, insisted that this was the only payment he would accept in exchange for releasing nen-sasair and Bashri’s other lover. But he killed her before they could return with the weave, and took it from them anyway.

That hope-weave has been sitting in the king’s vault to this day, its glories hidden from the world. And now nen-sasair and Uiziya have been tasked with retrieving it so that Benesret can regain the hope she lost, pass on the art of death-weaving, and help nen-sasair find a fitting name.

When they return to Iyar, they discover that treasure is not the only thing hidden in the king’s vaults. And when they both realize the true horrors that the king is responsible for, they seek to undo his horrible acts.

Ultimately, despite the sadness, despite the anger, this is a story of hope. Some wrongs can’t be undone. Sometimes, you just need to wait for the person holding you back to die before you can become who you were always meant to be. But change can’t be denied, no matter how long and how hard people fight to restrain it. And I think that core of hope is something central to Lemberg’s work. I look forward to reading more Birdverse stories as they are published.

Still Here. Somewhat Scatterbrained.

Oh hey, four months. Huh.

Lockdown has really fucked up our collective sense of time, hasn’t it? The summer is almost over but I never really got a chance to enjoy it, to luxuriate in it.

I’m still here, still reading, still gardening, and — luckily — still employed. Other than that, things have been kind of a blur. We’ve settled into a comfortable, if somewhat humdrum, routine. Ontario may be in “Stage 3”, but Mr. BooksandTea and I still spend at least 90% of our time at home.

Honestly, I really don’t have much interesting to stay right now. R.B. Lemberg’s debut novella, The Four Profound Weaves, is coming out in a few days and I’ll be reviewing it later on in September. That’s pretty much it.

Living Under Physical Distancing

It’s been about a month since my last post. Not a whole lot has changed about our situation since then. We’re still at home, and it looks like we’ll be staying that way for the conceivable future.

Our saving grace right now is that I work for a company considered an essential service and that my job allows me to work from home. Job stability is a good thing! Plus, due to years of living with family and careful budgeting, I have a good emergency fund set up. Finally, since we don’t have any kids, we haven’t dealt with the burnout and mental gymnastics involved in trying to homeschool anyone. So I recognize that compared to many other people out there, we are incredibly lucky.

But still, holy hell, I am getting bored. I work, I cook, I clean. I’ve tried joining the sourdough bandwagon, with mixed results. (I poured my extremely sluggish starter down the sink yesterday.) I’m baking. I’m playing an awful lot of Animal Crossing.

On the plus side, my herb garden is experiencing some success! The lemon balm failed, but the parsley, basil and mint all sprouted. Now I’m trying to grow some thyme in the places where I originally planted lemon balm.

Left to right: Mint sprouts, basil sprouts, parsley sprouts, and the lemon balm pots that betrayed me. Yesterday I planted thyme seeds there instead.

I’m looking into planters for the balcony so I can grow some tomatoes and some pollinator plants. I have no idea how long we’ll be in lockdown, but I’m going to need some green, living things in my life to keep me going.

What I’m Doing Right Now: COVID-19 Edition

I had vacation days left over from work last year, so I decided in January that I was going to use them up over March Break. I had grand plans of doing my taxes, attending medical appointments, and even seeing Hamilton now that it’s touring in Toronto.

Surprise! Almost none of that is happening. Instead, I’m staying home right now because of COVID-19, and will keep on working from home once my vacation is over. I’m not sick (yet, at least) but since the prudent thing to do is minimize contact with other people, here’s what I’ve been doing to keep myself busy.

TV & Movies

Mr. BooksandTea and I have finally buckled down and started watching Deep Space Nine. We’re not even halfway through the first season yet, but we’re already quite enamored with Quark, Odo, and Garak.

Oh, and a content warning for those considering doing the same: the very fourth episode of the show involves a virus infecting the crew, quarantines, and a race against time to find a cure. Not exactly the kind of escapism I was looking for.

What surprises me the most about DS9 so far is how uninteresting I think Jadzia Dax is. One of my friends is running a Star Trek RPG and I created a Trill character to play, so I was hoping that the show would give me some ideas. But so far, all she’s done is look pretty, fend off unwanted sexual advances, and be vaguely competent at everything. Hell, even in the episode “Dax”, which is all about her character, she mostly remains silent while the other crew members try to save her; we learn more about her predecessor Curzon than we ever do about her. I hope that changes in future episodes.

Other than that, I’m also making my way though old episodes of The Great British Baking Show. We just finished watching season 4 on Monday and started season 5 yesterday. Whether this will translate to me suddenly becoming a Bread Goddess remains to be seen.

Books

I’ve been finishing books at an even slower pace than last year. I’m currently working my way through a Discworld book, a non-fiction book about cognitive fallacies, a book about baking, and a book about gardening. If I end up finishing those, I might continue my way through the Vorkosigan series, or through Squirrel Girl. One of the ironies of being at home indefinitely is that I could read anything I want, but there’s so much available that making a choice is overwhelming.

Other Stuff

I had hopes this year of starting up a small, contained garden on the balcony, and doing some shopping at nurseries. Those plans are on hold, but I did have some seeds I bought last year that I can sprout. Behold the beginnings of my herb garden!

12 small pots of peat and soil. Columns of pots from left to right: mint, basil, parsley, and lemon balm.

The lemon balm pots (right-most) are in the fridge because I need to cold condition them first before they’ll sprout. But I have high hopes for the other three.

And, of course, since I’m off work with nowhere to go, and I’m ridiculously anxious and feeling like I need to do something, I’ve been cleaning. Pro tip: your ceiling fan is probably filthy and you need to do something about it.

The cover of "The Winged Histories", showing a dark-skinned woman riding a large bird.

My Favourite Reads of 2019

2019 wasn’t the best year for me in terms of sheer number of books read. But that doesn’t mean that it sucked, reading-wise. I read stand-alones, books in a series, and even finished an entire series of door-stoppers. Among them all, here are the ones I look back on most fondly now.

The Dagger and the Coin series by Daniel Abraham

One day, when I have the energy, I will write a full post about this series and its point of view about power, war, and the dangers of fascism. For now, I’ll just sell it to you like this: Imagine a series as complex as A Song of Ice and Fire, with books of a similar length. Now, imagine that:

  • The author actually finishes the damn thing, to the tune of one huge brick-sized book per year for 5 years, and
  • There are multiple female POV characters, and yet they face absolutely no threat of sexual violence being done towards them.

Plus, in the end, what saves the world is the development of an international banking system. Oh, and it turns out that dragons are a thing, and they’ve also mastered genetic engineering. If none of this turns your crank, I just don’t know what to tell you.

The Outskirter’s Secret and The Lost Steersman by Rosemary Kirstein

The Steerswoman books by Rosemary Kirstein have quickly become a favourite of mine. Kirstein herself has stated that she’s almost ready to release the fifth book, and that she’s currently writing the sixth. In the meantime, these two, the second and third in the series respectively, draw upon and enhance the worldbuilding of The Steerswoman, the first volume.

What really strikes me is how both books deal with incredibly different aspects of what it means to “worldbuild” in a speculative context. In The Outskirter’s Secret, Rowan and Bel leave the Inner Lands to spend time in the Outskirts among Bel’s people. While they never encounter the clan of Bel’s childhood, they fall in with another clan, this time with Rowan being the newcomer into a strange society, rather than Bel. Rowan’s time with Kameron’s clan leads her to learn more about Outskirter customs and culture, so the book takes on a social/anthropological lens. In this case, the book investigates the idea of world-as-social-construct.

In contrast, in The Lost Steersman, Rowan’s travels lead her into a completely new frontier filled with strange forms of life. This is where astute readers deepen their understanding that while this series contains the trappings of fantasy books, this is really a work of science fiction. She calls men who deal with strange devices in the sky “wizards”, but we’d think of them as scientists. Who knows what she’d think of the word “terraforming” (the act of altering a foreign planet so that it can sustain human life) if she ever encountered it, but it’s a concept that we as readers understand – especially because Rowan is an unwitting participant in a terraforming project herself.

If the second book deals with the idea of the world as a social construct, and the third book with the idea of the world as a physical one, who knows what further territory the remaining books could cover?

This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

Augh, this book. When I read it last summer, I was dealing with mental burnout from work and from moving into our new home. I hadn’t finished a book all the way through in about 2 months. All of the text I was encountering in my daily life was work-related, but I just didn’t have the energy to invest in anything else despite wanting something different. Time War helped me break the slump – short, evocative, stunningly poetic, and super queer. It was the perfect antidote to my reading malaise.

The Winged Histories by Sofia Samatar

This was the only book I manged to devote an entire single review to last year. I still think about the final pages, where Siski and Dasya reunite under terrible changed circumstances. It’s a slow burn like A Stranger in Olondria, but worth the effort.

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