Tuesday, February 21, 2012
Bastard Reaction: God's War by Kameron Hurley
God's War by Kameron Hurley was a top read of mine last year, and my favorite novel from a debut author with a tough competition. Been meaning to write something about it for some time now, but was struggling with what I wanted to say given that it's been a year since I read it. Details are currently a bit fuzzy. Just found out that the novel has been nominated for a Nebula for Best Novel in 2011, so seems like a good time as any to say a few things about it. It's the first book in the Bel Dame Apocrypha series, in what I understand may be a trilogy from which two novels are already released.
Nyx is a former Bel Dame, a government sanctioned assassin among other duties, surviving amidst a war. She's now a bounty hunter, leading a group of specialized misfits, who has been tasked by the Queen to bring the head of an individual who holds the secrets to a weapon that will change the balance of the war. In a violent and cruel world, filled with bug magic and technology, Nyx has an uphill battle in her hands while former allies and current enemies try to kill her in a game which Nyx is not aware she's a pawn in.
Months before it was released, I was sold in pre-ordering a copy with the cool cover and a short description that included something about cutting heads. Later on I read Mad Hatter's review, in which he labels the books as a bugpunk and I knew I had to read it as soon as I got my hands on it. Needless to say that I wasn't disappointed.
God's War is not an easy book to read. Though there's some complexity to the plot, it seems evident to me that the author doesn't have much interest in spoon feeding the reader. The experience through the novel was one of playing catch-up. I personally liked this aspect of it, but I can see some readers get frustrated or have trouble getting into the rhythm of things. In addition to that, the book has plenty of crazy violent and disturbing scenes. Awesome, right?
I recall being asked a few months ago who was my favorite female character in fantasy, and the clear choice was Nyx. Well, a tie really with Kate Daniels, but in any case Nyx is just great. She's a walking contradiction and tough as they come. I really don't know what to make of her, she's allover the place. One thing you can count on though is that she'll be hard to kill and kick some ass in the process. But I still don't know what to make of her. Is she patriotic? A rebel? Loyal? Untrustworthy? Selfish? Compassionate? Dependable? Crazy? Well, we know she's a bit nuts, but other than that you can make arguments for and against any label you try to apply to her, which makes her a very interesting character to me.
Nyx aside, the biggest strength of God's War is the interesting and unique world building. The society we focus on is Islam influenced, but with a reversal of gender roles in various ways. It's matriarchal and males are sent off to the front-lines of the war, where chances are they won't return. A cool dynamic which was handled quite well without centering on gender differences, but on circumstances which has led them to their current situation where the male population is decreasing at a rapid pace and females hold the power of the governing bodies. There are other countries in this world that have their own distinct circumstances, but our action was mainly focused on the civilization depicted above.
I made mention of the the book being described as a bugpunk. Insect manipulation plays a big role in this world. They're used in their technological advances, for medical procedures, as weapons, transportation, among other uses. Those who manipulate them are called magicians. There's just a good combination of unique and weird elements with an interesting society which breaks away from what may be deemed comfortable and usual.
Topics wise there's a lot going on here, though I think the main ones have to do with power, sacrifice, and lack of communication, and the cost that comes with them. Loyalty is a constant dilemma particularly when it faces off against distrust and self-interest. Of course, religion plays a big part in here in both the shaping of civilization as well inner struggles from some characters. War and violence have their claws in just about every aspect of this society, it's not a pretty world and there's a constant struggle between what's necessary and excessive; regularly placed on a balance of individual vs. the benefit of the many. Plenty more to be found here, bravery vs. cowardice for one.
I thought the collection of characters were great. Maybe a few were underused and not developed as much as I would've liked to see, but just a consequence of the novel really focusing on the POV of its two main characters, Nyx and the magician Rhys. But cool characters all around, and certainly multidimensional and they all serve their role in the events quite well.
I can't recommend God's War enough. Plenty to like here particularly if you're patient and not frustrate yourself when the events and narrative get a bit hard to follow. It's fresh and it should satisfy those that constantly complain that they keep reading more of the same. Above all for me, this is simply a kickass, fast moving, action packed novel with tough people going at each other, scheming and cutting heads. A very strong debut for Kameron Hurley, and congratulations on her Nebula nomination. Already read the sequel, Infidel, which was another great installment to the series. Anticipating eagerly the next one. Give them a try.
Buy God's War from The Book Depository.
Please visit Kameron Hurley's website for more information.