A review by hulttio
The Four Profound Weaves, by R.B. Lemberg

2.0

This novella is hailed as an ‘epic queer trans fantasy’… and that may be true, but it did not live up to my expectations. The start is sluggish and I had to prod myself through what seemed like irrelevant worldbuilding info dumps. I can tell Lemberg has put a lot of work into crafting the Birdverse; but given that I haven’t read any of their other works, I was missing a lot of context. They also referenced random details that flew over my head. After I acclimated a bit, it got a little better. By the end, I didn’t mind being in the Birdverse, except that I had a lot of questions. Perhaps there was too much to fit into a novella of this length. Oddly, some passages felt like they could’ve been speaking about real world analogues, which broke my immersion in the world.

The characters are also a bit one-dimensional. Uiziya has but one goal—to weave the final of the four profound weaves with her grandmother. The Nameless Man (AKA nen-sasaïr) wants… I wasn’t exactly sure at first. Then it becomes clear he wants a name from Uiziya’s grandmother, Benesret. Some of his later aspirations and goals are more exciting. These two main characters are friends, but lacking their history, I could not care much about their relationship. Also, the novella is told in alternating perspectives—like many other reviewers have already noted, I found it hard to distinguish them. At first, I didn’t even realize they were different perspectives.

The storyline is decent, but ultimately, not much happens. This is a book about gender, transformation, hope, and death—that is, ideas. The plot is more or less just a thing that happens. This is fine when the ideas are compelling and thoroughly fleshed out. But in this novella, there was more showing than telling. Often times, a specific fact would be repeated two or three times throughout the novel, as if the reader didn’t already read that a few pages beforehand. Don’t treat me like a stupid reader, please, have some faith. Reviews have remarked on the beautiful imagery and prose, but the writing just seemed overly abstract. The focus on gender and transformation was refreshing, and the representation of trans characters was well done, at any rate.

While there were elements of potentially interesting themes and some semblance of an interesting narrative towards the end, this novella left me wanting a lot more than I got out of it. Beautiful cover, though.