God’s War by Kameron Hurley
|Book Name:||God's War|
|Publisher(s):||Night Shade Books|
|Formatt:||Paperback / eBook|
|Genre(s):||Science Fantasy / Science Fiction|
|Release Date:||January 18, 2011|
“Nyx sold her womb somewhere between Punjai and Faleen, on the edge of the desert.”
As opening lines go, they don’t come much better. It sets the book’s grim tone, establishes the level of desperation within Nyx, the main character (she certainly can’t be called a hero) and shows her absolute ruthlessness in doing what needs to be done in order to survive.
God’s War is sci-fi fantasy at it’s very best. Nyx is a former Bel Dame, a government assassin that cut offs the heads of deserters from a centuries old holy war raging across the planet Umayma. Cast out, she now makes a living as a bounty hunter, collecting marks, dead or alive, and not caring about the rights or the wrongs of what she does. Helping her is the God-fearing magician Rhys, a shape-shifter called Khos and various other low-lifes that have found themselves allied with Nyx.
Hired by the Queen to find a missing alien who has the ability to end the war once and for all, Nyx and her team find themselves attacked from both sides and survival comes down to who wants to live the most.
Hurely has created a very complex world on Umayma. Colonized by Muslims in the far-reaches of space, it’s harsh and unforgiving, a place where death is everywhere. Exposure to the sun can give you an untold number of cancers. All adult men are sent to the front to fight and die for the glory of God and biological weapons bombarded the cities relentlessly.
Careful thought has been given to how cities and their politics would be effected when all the men are fighting at the front, leaving the women to rule in their place. Hurley shows how such a high mortality rate impacts the importance of child-rearing and doesn’t shirk from exploring the knock-on effect that a predominately female society has on sexual relations. And it’s all governed by hard-line Muslim religious beliefs.
Technology is a hybrid of science and the local bug life and magic also stems from individuals’ ability to control the same bugs. Hurley calls it Bugpunk. It is ingenious and so very different from anything that’s come before it.
Magicians on Umayma also have the power to cure most wounds if they can reach a victim in time. Nothing seems beyond their power so, to ensure victims stay dead, corpses are beheaded. If not, there’s a good chance that someone you thought you’d killed may well come back to haunt you.
Ironically, the depth of Hurely’s worldbuilding is, at least initially, a bit of a problem. She makes very little concession to explain things, avoiding any sort of info-dump. Instead, she throws the reader into the world and forces them to work things out for themselves. It’s hard going and, during the early stages of the book, it’s very tempting to give up on trying. But it’s worth persevering because once the book gets going, it’s unputdownable.
Nyx is certainly no hero. To survive in such a hard world takes some tough people and she’s the toughest there is. She’s not very likable and being her friend is almost a death sentence in itself. Most of her family are dead, her former partners are dead and an awful lot of people want her dead. But she has a relentless drive to survive and woe betide anyone who gets in her away, whether they be friend or foe. Khos, who is in love with her, suddenly has a moment of clarity when they are behind enemy lines and sees her true nature for the first time:
“Her burnous was tied only at the neck and hung behind her like a cape, so he saw her without pretense, any added bulk, no deception. Her eyes were hard and black, and she looked at him the way she looked at everything else in her life – with cold determination, a willingness to part with whatever she knew, she saw, she had, to accomplish whatever she set herself to do. She would leave him. She would leave Inaya. He noted the missing fingers on the hand that clutched the scattergun, and the worn hilt of the sword sticking through the slit in her burnous. The world could burn around her, the cities turn to dust, the cries of a hundred thousand fill the air, and she would get up after the fire died and walk barefoot and burned over the charred soil in search of clean water, a weapon, a purpose.”
But, due to Hurley’s skill, you root for Nyx to beat the heavily stacked odds against her. A lot of that though is because, if Nyx wins, her team have a chance of surviving with her. They, at least, still have some humanity left that hasn’t been burnt out of them by the war. Nyx’s rag-tag crew are as dysfunctional as can be but they don’t deserve to end up as lost as Nyx or left for dead in the dust.
Rhys is a devout Muslim and refugee who crosses paths with Nyx when he thinks he has hit rock bottom. Little does he know that being with Nyx is going to take him to new depths. He’s also a magician, just a not very good one. But Rhys is a survivor in his own way, holding on to his beliefs and his innocence despite the horrors he endures. He doesn’t let his lack of skills or his fear stop him from doing his best to save his allies. As selfish as Nyx is, he is the opposite, willing to suffer for the good of the others. He is the beauty amongst all the devastation and perhaps Nyx’s only chance to reclaim some small part of her soul.
Khos is the middle ground. A half-breed shape-shifter who can turn into a dog, he is a man of principles but, while he wants to honor his promises, he’s not willing to let Nyx make casualties of them all.
God’s War isn’t an easy book by any stretch of the imagination. Apart from the initial problems orientating oneself within the world, it’s a nasty, brutal, desperate tale. Just as you think things can’t get worse, they do. The violence is visceral. The sex unloving. A child’s birth is a moment of despair, not joy. However, once Nyx accepts her commission to track down a missing alien, it’s a roller coaster ride that you don’t want to stop. God’s War is the first in a trilogy of stories and I dread to think what Hurley is going to put Nyx, Rhys and her crew through next but I can’t wait to find out.