The Bruising of Qilwa, a novella by Naseem Jamnia, is a short story about being trans, immigration, belonging, and how plague/tragedy can change reality for many people. The story is entertaining, heartfelt, and it brings some nice representation to a genre that could always use more. However, while it is both cute and fun it feels like it might have fit in better as a novel where there would be more space to explore the characters and less as a novella where an author should focus on a few core points in their limited page space.
For such a short story, you certainly get a lot of worldbuilding. Set in a queernormative Persian-inspired world, Firuz-e Jafari, a nonbinary refugee named practitioner of blood magic, discovers a strange disease that is causing political rifts in their new homeland. Firuz-e is fleeing the slaughter of other traditional Sassanian blood magic practitioners in their homeland. Despite boiling racial tensions between refugees and natives, Firuz has the good luck to stumble into a job at a free healing clinic in Qilwa where their blood magic can do good unseen. Working with Kofi, a kindly new employer, they begin mentoring Afsoneh, a troubled orphan refugee with powerful magic.
But Firuz and Kofi have discovered a terrible new disease that 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 both their blood and found family.
As you can probably already see, there is a surprising amount of political intrigue and worldbuilding built into this story. Naseem uses it to great effect in exploring how trans individuals interact with the world and how the added layer of being a refugee can make an already difficult situation only more complicated. Firuz is a fun protagonist that tells an easy and empathetic story that would be hard not to rally behind. Yet it feels like their struggles could have been used more surgically to explore more complex and nuanced ideas.
Instead, I find myself with an interesting tale where the core takeaway is that trans representation is important, a blunt but important theme that could have definitely been encapsulated in a larger idea. At the same time, it is simply nice to have more representation of diverse protagonists from a larger and more varied background and that alone made The Bruising of Qilwa an easy and entertaining read that is hard to find fault with.
In the end, I am very happy that The Bruising of Qilwa exists and that I got to read it, even though I think that Naseem Jamina could have used their considerable talents to write a longer and more comprehensive story. Qilwa tells a simple, yet effective, story that you will enjoy and continues to broaden the roster of diversity in fantasy protagonists.
Rating: The Bruising of Qilwa – 7.5/10
I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an unbiased review. The thoughts on this story are my own.