Genres: Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Representation: Refugee BIPOC nonbinary aroace MC with c-PTSD, BIPOC trans male side character, queer BIPOC female side character with c-PTSD, QBIPOC supporting cast, nonbinary side characters that use neopronouns, WLW side pairing, muslim inspired religious characters, chronically-ill side characters
PoV: Third-Person, Past-Tense
Published on: 9th August 2022
In this intricately layered debut fantasy, a nonbinary refugee practitioner of blood magic discovers a strange disease causing political rifts in their new homeland. Persian-American author Naseem Jamnia has crafted a gripping narrative with a moving, nuanced exploration of immigration, gender, healing, and family.
Firuz-e Jafari is fortunate enough to have immigrated to the Free Democratic City-State of Qilwa, fleeing the slaughter of other traditional Sassanian blood magic practitioners in their homeland. Despite the status of refugees in their new home, Firuz has a good job at a free healing clinic in Qilwa, working with Kofi, a kindly new employer, and mentoring Afsoneh, a troubled orphan refugee with powerful magic.
But Firuz and Kofi have discovered a terrible new disease which leaves mysterious bruises on its victims. The illness is spreading quickly through Qilwa, and there are dangerous accusations of ineptly performed blood magic. In order to survive, Firuz must break a deadly cycle of prejudice, untangle sociopolitical constraints, and find a fresh start for their both their blood and found family.
Powerful and fascinating, The Bruising of Qilwa is the newest arrival in the era of fantasy classics such as the Broken Earth Trilogy, The Four Profound Weaves, and Who Fears Death.
I received this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
~blood-magic as hidden science
~allll the found-family love
~gorgeous Persian-inspired setting
~so many delicious treats!
The Bruising of Qilwa is a beautiful, slow-paced novella with an intricate setting and big found-family vibes – to say nothing of it being casually and frankly queer. The Persian-inspired, queernorm setting is a wonderful change from the white cishet quasi-Medieval Europe aesthetic we see so often in Western fantasy, and Jamnia’s prose is lovely and descriptive, making that setting come alive for us in these pages.
The main character, they-Firuz (and I loved how pronouns were handled here!) is a half-trained blood-mage who fled their homeland with their family, just a few of the many refugees that have flooded into hostile Qilwa. Firuz is lucky enough to get work in the local free clinic, but they have to hide their blood-magic, which is forbidden and feared in Qilwa. That becomes even more complicated when Firuz discovers and adopts a powerful young blood-mage who’s completely untaught, and who desperately needs training Firuz struggles to provide. And all of this takes place against wave after wave of anti-refugee hatred, with unjust laws passed and riots in the streets all trying to drive the refugees away.
The Bruising of Qilwa is a book with enormous heart, gently and skillfully tackling topics ranging from immigration to racism to colonial history – and of course, there’s the mysterious plague that Firuz is trying to isolate and cure. It’s all a little bit too complicated for the book’s page count, however; I wish Bruising had been written as a novel, with twice as many pages, so there would have been room for everything Jamnia wanted to do with this story. As it was, it felt ever-so-slightly cramped.
It’s a beautiful book, asking some tough questions while giving us a perspective my white, middle-class demographic doesn’t typically get, with a wonderfully human cast I fell completely in love with. The scale of the story is quite small and zoomed in, which does come at the cost of a lack of urgency in the plot; I didn’t feel glued to the pages until the very last part of the book. On the other hand, it brings us much closer to the characters, and I think for this story that was the right trade-off. Bruising is much more a book about people then it is some magical disease that needs to be tracked down and stopped, really.
I did think some of the worldbuilding was got across a little awkwardly (although the worldbuilding itself was exquisite) and I was very disappointed by the ending, which not only had a (in my opinion) pretty cliche ‘ah hah!’ reveal of the villain, but also left the biggest mystery of the book unsolved: who or what was killing Sassinians in their homeland and making them flee, creating the refugee ‘problem’ in the first place? Who was behind the attempted genocide? We don’t know, and the lack of an answer left the book feeling unfinished to me. Will there be a sequel where we learn more? I can only hope so.
That doesn’t change the fact that it was still a beautiful read, and a book I’m glad to have read – I won’t be cancelling my preorder! And I’ll definitely be following Jamnia’s career to see what they write in the future. My feelings about Bruising‘s ending might have cost it a star, but this is still a fabulous book I very much recommend.
The Bruising of Qilwa releases in August, but you can preorder it from all the usual suspects already!