In this intricate debut fantasy introducing a queernormative Persian-inspired world, a nonbinary refugee practitioner of blood magic discovers a strange disease that causes 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. 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.
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.
[STARRED REVIEW] "Naseem Jamnia's brilliant and insightful novella, The Bruising of Qilwa, explores questions of identity and belonging in a nuanced medical mystery. . . . Jamnia has built an intricate, multi-layered world full of magic and queerness."– Shelf Awareness
"A fascinating medical mystery in a rich, complex world I didn't want to leave."– S. A. Chakraborty, author of The City of Brass
[STARRED REVIEW] "A delight to read. Highly recommended."– Library Journal
"I loved this gorgeous book about blood magic, chosen family and refugees in a hostile city. Naseem Jamnia has created a rich, complex world."– Charlie Jane Anders, author of All the Birds in the Sky
In the early sun-swept hours of the morning, when purples and pinks smeared across the sky like blood, Firuz-e Jafari looked for a job.
It had taken a mere fifteen minutes to walk from the Underdock to their destination. Down unlit streets they stepped, keeping watch for broken glass and wooden splinters, stepping around plumped rodent carcasses, tails run over by carts or feet. The sailors and fisherfolk, up before dawn, filled the air with laughter and chatter and other sounds of their trades, interrupted but not discontinued by the muezzin's call to prayer. The briny smell of the sea and mingled odors of rotted fish and garbage faded as Firuz walked. As the crossing into the next district—the residential buffer between the largest market and the docks—transitioned from broken stones to smooth, wooden planks, Firuz's pace slowed until they found what they sought.
Over the doorway, a painted wooden sign read Kofi's Clinic in cracked and faded letters. Underneath, in a smaller but darker script, someone had translated it into Dilmuni, as if the Free Democratic City-State of Qilwa was still part of the queendom. Firuz's stomach backflipped, rebelled despite their lack of breakfast. Already the humid air was warm; droplets dribbled down the back of their neck. The clinic wouldn't officially open for another few hours, but if the rumors were true, Healer Kofi would already be here, readying for the day's steady stream of those who needed him. Firuz needed him, all right, though not quite in the capacity of a healer.
"The door is open," rumbled a deep voice from within. "Come in."
The voice carried over on a slight breeze, brushing past Firuz's ears like gentle lips. It brought smells of mint and ginger, which should have soothed them. Healer smells. Familiar smells. They reached to tug at a length of hair that no longer existed—they'd cut their hair the day before, in preparation for this meeting, back to its usual top crop—before pushing through, ready to persuade this Kofi person to take them on, no matter the objections.
The clinic waiting room burst with cushions and blankets, a myriad of mismatched chairs. Along the left-hand wall rose a slate board, still smudged with chalk from what might have been yesterday's patient names. The opposite wall framed a tapestry that both set Firuz's teeth on edge and made them want to hug themself. On a crimson background with golden triangles circling the edges towered the eaglelike Shahbaaz, with Ous wings outstretched, orbs clutched in Ous talons. Despite their mother's often frustrating devotion, Firuz had not worshipped in years; still, the emblem of their god was an aching reminder of the home they'd only recently left behind.
How strange, to see it in a Qilwan clinic.
Only one person stood inside, an umber-skinned individual with coils haloing their head, wearing the colorful, geometrically patterned clothes the city-state was famous for—in this case, a yellow piraahan embroidered with a repeating tear-drop boteh pattern in red, oranges, and a touch of blue. "Be right with you," they said without turning, arms kilter as they sorted herbs on a back workbench. Even from the entrance, Firuz smelled the basil flowers, noted the black sticks of licorice root in a pile to the side.
"Of course. Take your time." Firuz sat in one of the front seats, the cushion buoying their descent. They ran a hand over the fabric, soft cotton and bumps of goldoozi, embroidered flowers. No tears, not even evidence of wear. New, or cared for? Firuz doubted Kofi had discretionary funds enough to supply the clinic with new upholstery, not now. The clinics around the city were overwhelmed with plague victims, though Kofi's was the only one willing to treat the refugees fleeing from Dilmun. Refugees who had nothing, who flocked to Qilwa's streets with their terrified bodies, who brought with them—so said the argument—a disease wiping out swaths of the city, leaving behind a patchwork of neighborhoods with the sick and the healthy alike, everyone worrying they would be next.
The herb sorter soon finished, stepping over baskets on the floor toward Firuz: tall, thin, and bowed like a rice plant. Firuz remembered their manners and rose. Qilwans were big on handshakes and eye contact, unlike the Sassanian and Dilmuni tradition of kissing cheeks. "I'm sorry to barge in so early."
The other did not smile, but they did not look annoyed either. "It is no matter, as this is when I am usually here. I am called Kofi."
Did everyone in this place present themselves with only their names? How could someone look at you and assume what you wanted to be called, in a language that designated distinctions? Three weeks in Qilwa and Firuz still wasn't used to it, kept expecting the Dilmuni introduction. Fortunately, they had heard stories, knew Kofi did not care what forms of address people used, but generally acquiesced to moving through the world as a man.
"I'm they-Firuz." Reminding themself to keep firm their grip, Firuz was dismayed at the unexpectedly limp grasp of their own clammy palm. They steeled their countenance and did not wipe their hand afterward.
Kofi jutted out his chin. "Your pendant. May I?"
"Huh?" Firuz touched the golden amulet they'd worn somewhat religiously for the last year, into which they'd etched a short spell to keep bugs away. It resembled a slender dagger, its top curving into a diamond before narrowing at the hilt. The shape, a ward. The runes, a prayer. "Oh, of course." They passed it over, hiding a grimace as they did so; already they could feel the buzz of insects ganging up on them. Their skin crawled.
The healer squinted at the metal, held it up to the light. "Interesting work. Yours?"