(thanks to Tachyon Publications and NetGalley for granting me an ARC of this book!)
Read if you like: blood magic, an overall science-based magic system, multicultural setting, healing, plants, sibling dynamics, a celebration of queerness, mentor figures, personal stakes, community, mystery, medicine/medical science, competent characters
Triggers: blood, dead bodies, disease, racial discrimination
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.
(Goodreads book profile here)
Novellas have this peculiar innate power that always takes my breath away. They read succinctly—the shorter word count demands a scarcity of words, after all—yet there is such depth to unpack behind this succinctness that it can feel quite daunting as a reader to delve into.
Naseem Jamnia’s The Bruising of Qilwa also has this depth.
Plot and prose take a backseat in this book, thus allowing character, world, and thematic resonance to be the driving forces that hook the reader to the pages.
For starters, this is a book that includes minorities of all kinds. Ethnic minorities, sexual minorities, linguistic minorities, immigrant minorities, cultural minorities, religious minorities, political minorities—all types of minorities. The representation is thorough and consistent, and while we are dealing with minority groups, Jamnia still makes the world feel inclusive to the reader. Natural. As it should be. A large part of this is thanks to the great characterization of the nonbinary refugee main character, Firuz, and the way that we view the world through their eyes.
This is an extremely political book, at its depth, meaning it’s largely about the power of the individual within a group and how groupthink starts with the individual. We have an ideological clash in Qilwa (the main setting) that paints nobody a hero or a villain. Instead, the book invites us to consider the rise and the fall of power. Specifically, it invites us to discuss what it means to be an oppressed people when you were once an oppressor yourself. Jamnia derives from their own Persian heritage for this discussion, presenting the compelling answer of putting aside judgment and joining migrants (and other marginalized people) in creating a brighter tomorrow that isn’t built on fear and otherness.
To this end, the plot of the book is centered on the question of family. Of blood, as the title indicates. Firuz is a refugee practitioner who heals with blood magic. In the world that Jamnia has created, magic has a scientific basis. Magic is, in short, energy. It operates like energy. The transfer of energy becomes magic. In using the energy of their own blood, Furiz can heal the blood of others, for example. There are other types of magic as well. Structural and environmental. And they are all based on the principle of energy transfer.
The plot specifically revolves around stimulated/magicked parasitical blood that can kill (think an autoimmune disease), warping bodies to stay active even after (brain) death has occurred—and that’s all the spoilers I’ll give you.
Lastly, I want to talk about thematic resonance. I want to do so by bringing the title of the book into play. This book is about how blood bruises you—both literally and figuratively. It’s about bruises. About healing. It’s about whether you should hide your blood or use it for good at the risk of pain. It’s about what happens when a minority of any kind is not allowed to be at their best, to offer their best as they want to offer it, and to use their best to help others become better as well.
You will love this book if you enjoy thematic resonance and a character-driven plot, but you might find yourself less entranced if you’re looking for a twisty and unpredictable plot. What truly shines here, as far as I am concerned, is the theme, the world, and the characters.