R.B. Lemberg has written a number of stories and poems in their Birdverse setting, in which a form of magic reliant upon geometry is prevalent. These stories are widely acclaimed, having been nominated for the Nebula, Otherwise (formerly known as the Tiptree), and Rhysling Awards. Last year, Lemberg published a novella set in this world, The Four Profound Weaves.
Both of the main characters in The Four Profound Weaves are trans: Nen-sasaïr is a trans man, and Uiziya is a trans woman. Lemberg is bigender, and their writing about the journeys of self-discovery Uiziya and Nen-sasaïr go on is authoritative and powerful. One theme that comes through strongly in the narrative is the difference between gender identity and gender roles. Some of the Birdverse’s societies have fairly rigid roles and proscriptions that people are expected to adhere to based on their gender. There are, of course, cisgender people who rebel against these societal expectations, but this isn’t the same thing as being transgender. Nen-sasaïr, in particular, has to deal with people who don’t understand this distinction, and asserting himself in the face of their ignorance is a big part of his character arc.
One of the things I loved about the Birdverse stories “Grandmother nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds” and “Geometries of Belonging” was the magic system. In The Four Profound Weaves, Lemberg explores the social implications of this magic. Who gets to wield it? How is magical knowledge passed down from one generation to the next? How can it strengthen or fray the bonds between family members or friends? How can it reinforce or undermine societal power structures? These are pretty weighty questions to pack into a novella, but they arise naturally from the events and character interactions.
I did feel like the main antagonist didn’t emerge as an important part of the plot until fairly late in the narrative, and this made the apparent transition from one plot arc to another feel a bit jarring. Aside from that, this is a masterful story. I see on Lemberg’s website that they’re working on more long-form pieces in the Birdverse, and I’m hoping we get to see those soon.