Read an ARC from the publisher
Content warnings: blood, surgery, bigotry, xenophobia, hate crime (aftermath depicted), plague, medical racism, corpses
Qilwa is a city-state which is the new home of our healer protagonist, Firuz-e Jafari, who lives with their trans brother, Parviz. A plague sweeps the city, but takes on a more menacing tone when new symptoms appear and the body count increases at the clinic. All the while, their younger sibling wants to transition and the siblings bring a fellow blood magic user into their fold.
This novella has a bit of everything: medical fantasy, slice-of-life, and a mystery, all presented in some of the tightest, most layered writing I’ve had the joy and privilege of reading.
An interview with the author will be posted on August 9th, release day.
Despite being less than 150 pages, this novella has the worldbuilding density of a much longer epic. The primary perspective is that of Firuz, who remembers their life before Qilwa. There is a level of reflection and self-awareness here that lends itself well to readers who want layers and nuance in their fantasies. But Firuz also exudes a charming awkwardness, always trying to balance their responsibilities and what deem is objectively good. This manifests not only in their interactions between the other characters, but also in their reflections on the circumstances and greater political machinations around them. It’s fascinating, and Jamnia creates a world I want to spend more time in.
I also love the presentation of blood magic. Much like everything else in the worldbuilding, nothing is black and white. It can heal as easily as it can harm. There are rules, but I’d classify this one as a soft magic system, as there are regulations and guidelines, but part of the intrigue and moral complexity is about who gets to do what with the power within them and everyone else.
The relationships between Firuz, Parviz, and Afsoneh have all the tenderness and thorniness of a found family. There are disagreements, arguments, and misunderstandings among the three of them, but it’s all driven by love and wanting to keep each other safe. Again, this book is short, and Jamnia injects it with so much depth and character development.
Dense, nuanced, with characters who are trying their best in a complex cultural and political framework that ponders what trying one’s best on behalf of themselves and those around them.