Naseem Jamnia’s 2022 The Bruising of Qilwa is a stand-alone secondary universe fantasy novel.
Having fled their birthland of Dilmun for the comparative safety of the Free Democratic City-State of Qilwa, Firuz must find some way to turn their skills into income. They believe Kofi’s Clinic may be key. After all, Firuz may not be fully credentialled, but their healer training is legitimate. Firuz would be a useful staff member at the clinic, particularly in this time of plague.
Despite needing the job, Firuz is very careful not to list all of their medical assets. It’s important that Kofi know Firuz is a healer and that they were trained in structuralist magic. They don’t want Kofi to know about the blood magic.
Back in Dilmun, Sassanians like Firuz are vanishing. Rumor has it that Sassannian blood-magic practitioners are of particular interest to whoever is methodically eliminating the once-powerful minority. Qilwa does not purge blood magicians, but its people certainly do not trust them. The same magic that can be used for good can be used for harm; in the case of blood magic, fear of the harm has eclipsed any good practitioners can do.
As refugees have done in many nations, Firuz works hard and keeps a low profile: Qilwa is as prone as any community to mob violence and refugees are handy scapegoats. The price of this work ethic is time spent with their family. At least Firuz can say they did their bit to manage the current plague into an apparent abeyance. At least they found time to mentor Afsoneh, an untrained blood magician of enormous potential power.
A new plague begins to sweep the city. To Firuz’ trained eye, the bruising plague seems unnatural. The obvious school of magic at work is, of course, blood magic. Unravelling the medical mystery and revealing the culprit is a task for which Firuz is uniquely suited. The personal cost of doing so may be dire.
Qilwa’s issues, challenges, and some social customs map surprisingly closely onto current day concerns. It is almost as though this were a story written by a modern person … as is the case for so many secondary-world fantasies, which seem inspired by real-world cultures and histories.
Quite apropos of current real-world problems: Qilwa’s
A) willingness to open its doors to the desperate and
B) irritation that the desperate are arriving in numbers.
Firuz and her family have found a refuge thanks to A and find it tenuous because of B.
I should note that Qilwa’s claims to democracy seem to be more aspirational than real but … since fantasies seem to skew to authoritarian regimes, I appreciated the author’s nod to aspiration.
Firuz’ situation as a member of an oppressed minority is enormously complicated by the fact that before being subjugated, Sassanians did the subjugating. Their empire may be long gone, but their colonialized victims have not forgotten. Over the course of this work, Firuz must come to terms with being both a victim and the descendent of victimizers.
The resolution of the mystery (who is responsible for the bruising plague?) seemed a bit abrupt. Mind you, the book isn’t long so it is not as if the author could linger over details… Ah, well. That was only one aspect of the book. Otherwise, I enjoyed the work1and look forward to more from this author.
1: I am sure it is a novella but it’s as long as actual novels were back in the day.