In a narrative that’s as awkward as our protagonist, I appreciated the commentary on identity, probably more than the story deserves.
Unfortunately, I don’t think The Bruising of Qilwa is long enough to meet the expectations Jamnia sets. There is so much to cover; refugees, colonisation, and overcoming history are the first group of big-ticket items we’re introduced to, but this is quickly followed by trans and non-binary talking points. I liked that pronouns weren’t a big issue, but gender reassignment is definitely more complicated – and yet less complicated, depending on where you live in our world. This feeling of more or less or maybe not complicated is one I felt a lot throughout The Bruising of Qilwa. Because, despite everything we’re already juggling, let’s throw in acceptable magics vs cursed/possibly illegal blood magic, a plague, a mysterious disease, a surprise untrained orphan mage, and family problems. Did I mention that book is less than 200 pages?