Querteshan guardsman Jamal Fayed is on a routine patrol through the desert area known as the Burning when they discover an injured and unconscious man who looks to be from a nearby country, Perathea. Their two countries have a long history of animosity.
When Nev ran from his master, he was fleeing for his life and any outcome seemed better than the death he was promised. But Nev has secrets, complicated secrets that involve both magic and his physical form. Can he build a relationship with Jamal amidst politics and military dealings?
Overall Rating: 4/10 stars
Matt’s Review: 2/5 Stars
Born Magic is a fantasy novel wherein a soldier, Jamal, falls in love with a mage, Nev, who escapes slavery in an enemy nation.
The worldbuilding is Middle Eastern in nature, which is a nice departure from the usual north European inspirations for such stories. That said, it was very one-sided in that one nation is bad, backward, sexist, etc and the other wonderful and progressive. But for such a short novella, maybe it’s unfair to want more nuance? I don’t know.
What I do know is that the rep was…uncomfortable. It walks straight into the “trans people aren’t human” trap. Nev was created, not born, and deliberately created intersex to avoid gender bias in his magic. Now, it’s never explained what that is. There’s no other sign of magic being gendered at all, so this didn’t make any sense. Nev is also treated as inhuman—he’s viewed like that by his creator, he sometimes views himself that way, both he and Jamal wonder if he’s human, Jamal at least once refers to him as it, he’s childishly wide-eyed about love and sex…it’s really uncomfortable. Eventually he settles into a bigender identity, but how the story gets us there feels awkward and artificial.
It’s also very…preachy. It bashes you over the head with gender roles being bad and explanations of gender identity…but then there’s a line where Nev says he’s unclean because he’s on his period and Jamal just casually agrees. So it feels forced. It doesn’t feel like that’s their genuine thoughts or how their society really works, it feels like that’s how they *supposed* to think.
I was really excited for a Middle Eastern story and jumped for this the minute I saw the cover but sadly, it didn’t live up to expectations.
Laura’s Review: 2/5 Stars