The Bruising of Qilwa

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Pub Date Aug 09 2022 | Archive Date Jan 19 2023

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“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

[STARRED REVIEW] “A delight to read. Highly recommended.”
Library Journal

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.

“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


A Note From the Publisher

Author bio: Naseem Jamnia is a former neuroscientist and recent MFA graduate from the University of Nevada, Reno. Their work has appeared in the Washington Post, Cosmopolitan, The Rumpus, The Writer's Chronicle, and many other venues. Jamnia is a 2018 Bitch Media Fellow in Technology, a 2019 Lambda Literary Fellow in Young Adult Fiction, and they recently received the 2021 inaugural Samuel R. Delany Fellowship. In addition to cowriting the academic text Positive Interactions with At-Risk Children (Routledge, 2019), Jamnia's work has been included in the Lambda Literary EMERGE anthology (2020) and We Made Uranium! And Other True Stories from the University of Chicago's Extraordinary Scavenger Hunt (University of Chicago, 2019).

Jamnia is the managing editor at Sword & Kettle Press, an independent publishing house of inclusive feminist speculative fiction. They are also the former managing editor at Sidequest.Zone, an independent gaming criticism website. A Persian-Chicagoan and child to Iranian immigrants, Jamnia now lives in Reno with their husband, dog, and two cats. Find out at more at or on Twitter and Instagram @jamsternazzy.

Author bio: Naseem Jamnia is a former neuroscientist and recent MFA graduate from the University of Nevada, Reno. Their work has appeared in the Washington Post, Cosmopolitan, The Rumpus, The...

Advance Praise

Buzzfeed Best Books Coming Out in Summer 2022
Literary Hub 10 New SF and Fantasy Books to Augment Your August
A Foreword Book of the Day
Book Riot 8 Notable Nonbinary SFF Books You Need to Check Out
Lambda Literary August’s Most Anticipated LGBTQIA+ Literature Reviewer’s Choice: The Best Books of 2022

“I loved this gorgeous book about blood magic, chosen family and refugees in a hostile city. Naseem Jamnia has created a rich, complex world in a very short space, and I am so into it. I’ve read a lot of books lately about empires and rulers and warfare, and it’s so refreshing to read a book that’s about healers. People in this book are trans, nonbinary, asexual and aromantic, and it's never a big deal but does matter to their characters, which I just adore.”
—Charlie Jane Anders, author of All the Birds in the Sky

[STARRED REVIEW] “This debut fantasy novella featuring a nonbinary protagonist sets its intriguing medical mystery within a Persian-inspired world. The city-state of Qilwa has provided a reluctant welcome for Firuz-e Jafari and their refugee family. As a healer practicing forbidden magic, Firuz fears discovery but still offers a helping hand at one of the city’s few remaining free clinics, where they find a friend and mentor in the healer Kofi. But the plague that is ravaging Qilwa increases tensions about migrants flooding the city and creates reams of new rules and regulations for the clinic. When a strange, new disease starts killing people and results in bodies that are preserved while decomposing, Firuz has a medical mystery on their hands that will lead to the greatest dilemma that a healer can face—how much harm is acceptable in the race for a cure? VERDICT The delicately interwoven complexity of the story, along with the loving portrait of Firuz and their found family, makes Jamnia’s fantasy puzzler a delight to read. Highly recommended, especially for fans of Katherine Addison’s The Witness for the Dead.
Library Journal

[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

“Naseem Jamnia is a bold, visionary writer and The Bruising of Qilwa makes for a superb introduction to their nuanced and evocative Persian-inspired fantasy.”
—David Anthony Durham, author of the Acacia Trilogy

“A stunning fantasy novel that confronts questions of belonging: to a culture, to a family, and to yourself . . . Jamnia’s queer-normative world is a welcome break from fantasy trends and tropes: people introduce themselves with pronouns without fanfare, and homophobia and transphobia as forms of oppression do not factor in. Cracking the door to a fresh fantasy world, The Bruising of Qilwa makes an unforgettable first impression.”

“I adored this city, with its vibrant history and super-fresh magic system, but I loved these astonishing complex vivid characters even more.”
—Sam J. Miller, author of Boys, Beasts & Men

“With prose that reads like lush poetry, The Bruising of Qilwa builds an intricate world full of history, magic, and life.”
—Z. R. Ellor, author of Silk Fire

“An incredible experience. I didn’t know world-building in a fantasy story could feel so seamless. That scenes around medical magic could make sense to me and increase my enjoyment of the story is still blowing my mind. The queerness in this book is so natural—no explanations, no phobias, just queer people living their lives.”
—Women Write About Comics

“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.”
—A. R. Frederiksen, author of The Deathsea Dyer

The Bruising of Qilwa transports you to a lushly-described, beautifully imagined world where magic and medicine meet. “
—Neon Yang, author of the Tensorate series

“A tense exploration of weighty themes that can be easily mapped onto present-day issues, but grounded in lovable, sympathetic characters—many of them queer—and fun fantasy elements that are easy to understand but deep in their implications.”

The Bruising of Qilwa is a book with enormous heart, gently and skillfully tackling topics ranging from immigration to racism to colonial history.”
Every Book a Doorway

“A quick, engaging read with real heart and a thoughtful subtext to its immersive setting.”
—Christopher East

“An incredibly timely story, told by a deft hand that manages to weave a fascinating magic system together with all-too-real issues into something truly, wonderfully, not seen before. Equal parts slice of life, fantasy tale, medical drama and mystery blend into a book not soon to be forgotten, one that should be on everyone’s tbr!”
—Alice Scott, Barnes & Noble

5/5 stars. “This novella has a bit of everything: medical fantasy, slice-of-life, and a mystery, all presented in some of the tightest, most layered writing I’ve had the joy and privilege of reading.”
Jo Writes Fantasy

“The characters were complex. The story and the emotions were complex. The way the book ended was perfection. It was messy. It was heartbreaking. It was exactly what I wanted and needed.”
MI Book Reviews

Buzzfeed Best Books Coming Out in Summer 2022
Literary Hub 10 New SF and Fantasy Books to Augment Your August
A Foreword Book of the Day
Book Riot 8 Notable Nonbinary SFF Books You Need to Check Out

Marketing Plan

National marketing plan to include prepublication endorsements from leading authors, review, and media outlets, and general publications for both fantasy and LGBTQIA+ audiences

Author tour to include Bluestockings Bookstore (New York); the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center (New York); Boskone (Boston); the World Science Fiction convention (Chicago); Wiscon (Madison, Wisconsin); Sundance Bookstore (Reno, NV); the Portland Book Festival; and Writers with Drinks (San Francisco)

Online features to include Instagram tour, blog tour, Reddit AMA, and author and publisher social media campaign

National marketing plan to include prepublication endorsements from leading authors, review, and media outlets, and general publications for both fantasy and LGBTQIA+ audiences

Author tour to include...

Available Editions

EDITION Paperback
ISBN 9781616963781
PRICE $15.95 (USD)

Available on NetGalley

NetGalley Shelf App (EPUB)
Send to Kindle (EPUB)
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Average rating from 119 members

Featured Reviews

An incredible and lush world featuring a non-binary refugee, blood magic, and a plague that seeps within a city. Naseem Jamnia weaves an exquisite tale within a short span of pages. From protecting found and blood family, to unexpected turns, this story is a must-read. The afterword perfectly wraps up the story

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The intersectionality and complicated themes within this book made for an intriguing and incredible read. My only complaint is that it was too short. Yet, they were able to make it impactful. I want this to become a longer work or series. It had such great potential for an already stellar work.

I received a complimentary copy of this book through NetGalley. The opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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Thank you to Tachyon Publishing and Netgalley for an eARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my owb.

This was freaking fantastic!! Loved it so much. I hope Naseem continues to write fantasy and maybe something similar to this but a full length novel. I will wait 😌

The Bruising of Qilwa follows a nonbinary refugee as they leave their home in order to find a safe haven for their family. When they arrive in Qilwa, they find a job as a healer in a free clinic, working for Kofi. As they settle in to their new life, Firuz finds an orphan, Afsoneh, who is also a powerful blood mage and takes her under their wing. Firuz promises to teach her what they know, but only in maximum secrecy. In addition, Firuz and Kofi find new signs of a disease cycling through Qilwa. Rumors of blood magic abound and Firuz is terrified for their family and the consequences of the disease.

This novella was amazing!! I loved it with my whole heart. The way Persian culture influenced this book was beautiful. I loved that the whole cast is QPOC, we need more books and novellas like this one. Also, who doesn't love blood magic!? Sign me the heck up!

The other thing about this world that I think needs to be adapted in every other book stat is the way people introduced themselves. Pronouns were always included. Firuz introduced themselves as "they-Firuz" and I just love seeing pronouns normalized in fantasy. I need more books like this.

I loved the scientific aspects to this! It was so well done and while there is still some magic involved, it never felt like the science was completely unfounded. Which is something important to me as a scientist myself. I really loved seeing Firuz explore their magic and how they investigated the new disease.

This felt like a complete story. I wouldn't mind if it had been longer, mainly because I want more time in this world. The ending made sense and though the pace definitely picked up near the end, it didn't feel rushed. All in all, this is a must read!

The author has a rep breakdown and their own CWs here:

Rep: 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.

CWs: medical content, medical trauma, racism, xenophobia, mental illness (c-PTSD), blood, vomit, violence, death, child death, plague. Moderate: dysphoria, colonisation, genocide mentioned, disordered eating, self harm (pricking fingers/hand for blood), past mentions of child abuse, body horror, descriptions of corpses, trauma.

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“Blood would tell, as it always did.”

THE BRUISING OF QILWA is a queer fantasy novella set in a Persian-inspired world about family (birth and found), caring for the oppressed, and the nuances of imperialism. The story begins when Firuz, a nonbinary blood-mage-in-training, finds work at a free clinic in Qilwa soon after their Sassanian family flees there for safety. They are employed by Kofi, a generous healer and practitioner of environmentalist magic. In his presence, Firuz must perform only structural magic, as their traditional practices are viewed with suspicion. They soon take Afsoneh under their wing, a younger Sassanian girl who has her own exceptionally strong blood magic. As tensions in the city rise over an influx of refugees and a deadly pandemic, Firuz notices that a strange new disease they deem “blood-bruising” is on the rise. They seek to identify the cause and find a cure, all while supporting their family and caring for the many marginalized people who can only find care at Kofi’s clinic.

Y’all. I knew I wanted to read this when I heard “nonbinary blood mage” and this novella totally delivered for me. Jamnia has created a compelling fantasy realm inspired by Iranian history with various cultures and religions, realistic socio-economic conflicts, and an intricate magical system. It’s a queernorm world: Firuz is asexual and aromantic, they were supported in their transition at a young age, their brother Parviz is also trans, gender-affirming care exists as a blend of surgical and magical interventions, and there’s a pair of sapphic moms. There are clear contemporary parallels with how refugees are treated in Qilwa, and Firuz, who is intensely compassionate, wrestles with how their responsibilities to their kin and their broader community are in conflict. The magical healing processes and medical mysteries are fascinating. At the core of the story is a very tender blend of birth and found family with incredibly loyal siblings; both Afsoneh and Parviz are captivating side characters. And I loved how Jamnia leans into the complexities of empires as power shifts between them over time; as the author asks in the afterword, “What does it mean to be oppressed when you were once an oppressor?”

It’s a riveting mystery story that’s deeply queer and centers families who migrate to protect each other in a beautiful way. Thanks to Tachyon Publications for the eARC! This novella is out 8/9.

Content warnings: illness/injury, death, dead bodies, medical experimentation, some gore, gender dysphoria, xenophobia

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The description of this story as “intricately layered” is truly so accurate. Through the characters, setting, and plot the themes of colonization, the stigmatization of immigrants, and how people respond to disease are explored in such a profound way. The representation of SWANA people as well as queer and non-binary folks is so well done!

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I really enjoyed that Naseem Jamnia used their heritage as a way to write, it created a beautifully done scifi story. The characters were wonderfully done characters that I wanted to know more about. The author had great themes going on in the book and I enjoyed thinking about the themes of the novel and it left me thinking after. The story was weaved in such a way that I fully enjoyed from start to finish. I look forward to reading more from the author.

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I need a full length epic novel series after reading this novella. I love Firuz as a character and their struggle to balance their family, being a healer, and being an adept. The characters are fully fleshed out even given the brevity of the book. Each character is three dimensional and there is something readily identifiable in each. The author did an amazing job highlighting delicate issues of occupation, refugees, disease, and body autonomy. So many complicated issues well defined and handled for the world we were given. I would like to see more from this world and I would love to see how Afsoneh grows in her power. Looking forward to more works from this author in the future.

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If I could give “The Bruising of Qilwa” more than 5 stars I would! An extraordinary debut fantasy by Nadeem Jamnia this a book you will read in one sitting and be left thinking of the characters, world, and how it weaves with our own history.
Inspired by the authors Persian roots this queernormative fantasy weaves the complicated layers of the immigrant experience, imperialism, gender, class and race in a nuanced story.
Firuz-e Jafari has escaped the slaughter of their native Sassanian people and immigrated their family to the free state of Qilwa. In this world magic is everywhere but blood magic, the cultural magic practice of the Sassanian people, is feared and outlawed. Firuz, trying to hide their affinity for blood magic while still supporting and protecting their family comes to know the city of Qilwa is not as free as they once believed and that the subjugation of people runs deep in many histories.
A stark look at the fears and reality immigrants face while showing the fear countries have for “the Other”.
Naseem Jamnia has written a beautiful and heartbreaking story of immigration and the socio-political issues that divide and create fear among the people of a land.
Gorgeously written and intricate world building leaves you thinking of these characters long after you’ve finished the book.

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Content warnings: blood, surgery, bigotry, xenophobia, hate crime (aftermath depicted), plague, medical racism, corpses

Qilwa is a city-state which is the new home of our healer protagonist, Firuz-e Jafari, who lives with their trans brother, Parviz. A plague sweeps the city, but takes on a more menacing tone when new symptoms appear and the body count increases at the clinic. All the while, their younger sibling wants to transition and the siblings bring a fellow blood magic user into their fold.

This novella has a bit of everything: medical fantasy, slice-of-life, and a mystery, all presented in some of the tightest, most layered writing I’ve had the joy and privilege of reading.

Despite being less than 150 pages, this novella has the worldbuilding density of a much longer epic. The primary perspective is that of Firuz, who remembers their life before Qilwa. There is a level of reflection and self-awareness here that lends itself well to readers who want layers and nuance in their fantasies. But Firuz also exudes a charming awkwardness, always trying to balance their responsibilities and what deem is objectively good. This manifests not only in their interactions between the other characters, but also in their reflections on the circumstances and greater political machinations around them. It’s fascinating, and Jamnia creates a world I want to spend more time in.

I also love the presentation of blood magic. Much like everything else in the worldbuilding, nothing is black and white. It can heal as easily as it can harm. There are rules, but I’d classify this one as a soft magic system, as there are regulations and guidelines, but part of the intrigue and moral complexity is about who gets to do what with the power within them and everyone else.

The relationships between Firuz, Parviz, and Afsoneh have all the tenderness and thorniness of a found family. There are disagreements, arguments, and misunderstandings among the three of them, but it’s all driven by love and wanting to keep each other safe. Again, this book is short, and Jamnia injects it with so much depth and character development.

Dense, nuanced, with characters who are trying their best in a complex cultural and political framework that ponders what trying one’s best on behalf of themselves and those around them.

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trigger warning
<spoiler> torture, gore, grief, trauma, dysphoria, genocide, racism, plague </spoiler>

Faruz is new in the city, and a healer, so they are one of the few immigrants lucky enough to find a job in a world where nobody wants them. And their work is badly needed.

I love fantasy novellas, if there are queer elements to it, all the better. But in this case, I am very, very intrigued by the setting that is persian-inspired. So many cultures in one place, constant unrest, people trying to find their place. It felt real, like I could just hop on a plane and go there.

I liked the plot as such, of which I don't want to say too much because discovering what's going on is an important part of the experience. And Faruz is similiarly just thrown in.

The only regret I have is that I first picked it up in the middle of the night, and only managed a few pages. If you can, dear reader, read this in one sitting. It's the perfect length for that.

Will read more by the author, full recommendations, but please look at trigger warnings if you need them.
The arc was provided by the publisher.

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I really enjoyed this novella. My only complaint is that it’s too short. Some things just felt too rushed. However, I thought the writing was impeccable, which makes up for the rushing. Also, how the author handled the main character’s pronouns was terrific.

Jamnia created quite an imaginative world that was complex and intriguing. The world consisted of non-binary, transgender and asexual beings, which was great to see. The characters are fantastic, and you’ll want to immerse yourself in their world. Although this was a full, complete story, I wanted more. I know… call me greedy.

Overall, this was a fantastic way to be inclusive and tell a unique story. However, I think authors should note how to handle pronouns from book. This was fantastic, and I would love to read more from Naseem Jamnia!

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The Bruising of Qilwa by Naseem Jamnia

I didn’t know what to expect from this fantasy novella. The description was intriguing- a Persian inspired secondary world fantasy with blood magic? I decided to give it a whirl, thanks to an eARC from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I really enjoyed this book! The writing style was both lyrical and down to earth, if that makes any sense. The descriptions of the different kinds of magic made just enough sense without feeling like you were being weighed down with a Player’s Handbook. I got a little bit squeamish about some of the medical descriptions during an autopsy, but it wasn’t anything over the top. The mystery fooled me - I didn’t see who the perpetrator was until only a page before the reveal, and I liked how the author and the narrator both acknowledge that the antagonist doesn’t necessarily have to be evil. I think the author mostly handled the cast of characters well, although the mother character was such a nonentity that she could’ve been excised easily. I also really appreciated both the realistic sibling relationship and the well-realized trans, ace, and non-binary characters. I definitely recommend this book and will look for more from the author in the future.

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Review forthcoming on Dragonmount in November 2022 (will update link when it is posted). Interview and excerpt published in khōréō.

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Read this book!

I absolutely loved The Bruising of Qilwa. From the excellent world-building to the blood magic this book manages to enchant and capture the readers attention. Part refugee story, part medical mystery this story manages to have several subplots while seamlessly weaving everything together. Firuz-e is a complex main character who works so hard to not only provide a better life for their family, but also those around them in the city. I loved the family dynamics, the magic, and the world in which the story was set. The only thing I wanted was more! Hoping for a full length novel set in this world so we can see more of the magic, world, and politics.

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This book is an absolute gem.
It's an engrossing quick read, that I wish I had more of cause I love the world so much.
It is a wonderfully Persian inspired and queer normative fantasy, which is enough in itself, but it also has some intriguing blood magic and science that actually coincides, and I can't get over that. It just mixes so well!
I was completely enthralled from the beginning, although towards the ending the pace picks up and it becomes even more enthralling. I couldn't put it down! I had to know what happened!
I would definitely love to see more queer normative fantasy books like this one!

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You know, I’ve started this novella so many times over the past year, and I struggled to get into it every time. Not sure what was going on in my life then, because when I picked it up again less than a week ago, it was suddenly exactly what I needed. The high fantasy, the world building, the magic: suddenly, it all clicked, and I LOVED this story.

The Bruising of Qilwa is (get this) a medical high fantasy addressing very uncomfortable topics around war, refugees, and caregiving. Naseem Jamnia brought a new perspective to my views of contemporary issues, and also challenged me to delve into a new, unknown world that I had never seen on a video game or a movie.

I don’t completely understand all the workings of this world, but I do know that I want more of it.

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This book is soooo good. I love the idea of blood magic. It is at once unique but also very familiar. The story is engaging and heart stirring. Wonderful piece of art!

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