Review: The Bruising of Qilwa by Naseem Jamnia

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Thanks to the publisher (Tachyon Publications) for the ARC of this book.

It’s no secret that I am weak for beautiful covers. I was a little wary, wondering if I was ready to read something epidemic-themed (a fear that luckily proved to be unfounded), but it was so pretty and the concept seemed so interesting. Unfortunately, while a good effort, it’s another of those novellas that really should have been novels with how much they try to do to the point the pacing and plot suffer.

Firuz is a healer, a refugee, and also, secretly, a blood mage. They have their hands full with their new job at one of the few clinics that accepts refugees, an unexpected apprentice, trying to come up with a way to help their brother transition, hiding their magic…and on top of it all there’s a plague, too.

Just like Firuz’s life, this is one very busy novella and a bit of a mess. The pacing was wildly uneven with the timeskips, the excellent worldbuilding (Persian-inspired!) was at the same time interesting and a little overwhelming for the pagecount, a number of very complex themes are approached, it takes place over the span of three years…it’s a lot and I can’t help but feel the author tried to bite off more than they could chew by making this a novella and not a novel. You cannot achieve that many things at once in 40k words. Nuance, most of all, requires space.

There are a bunch of other hiccups as well. Afsoneh, the young and powerful apprentice, is often described as hot-tempered but she’s only shown to act that way…maybe once? The antagonist’s villain monologue when they are revealed and their attempt to get Firuz to help them are painfully cliché.

I loved how openly queer it was, I loved the worldbuilding, I loved the attempt to tackle the theme of “what if your ethnicity was once the oppressor and now oppressed?” Naseem Jamnia is definitely an author to watch and I’m looking forward to reading more of their work. I have no doubt that their next work might be quite good. This is just not it quite yet.

Enjoyment: 3/5
Execution: 2.5/5

Recommended to: those intrigued by the concept who don’t mind debut clumsiness
Not recommended to: anyone who, like me, often finds issues with novella pacing

Content warning: epidemic, some body horror

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