Wednesday, 7 September 2011

God's War by Kameron Hurley

Bugged Out
Woman who's so tough she took one look at The Expendables and pissed herself laughing? Check. Mysteriously robed dude with his little creepy crawly friends? Check. Plus the dismembered head and gorgeously tiled background make this a double cover win for being both beautiful and specifically relevant to the story. Extra special bonus points for featuring dark skinned protagonists (because, you know, the characters are dark it would be nonsensical to have white people on the cover, they may as well have a picture of a roller coster) especially considering the picture they nearly ended up with.

The Angry Angry Caterpillar
On a desert planet with multiple suns, two powerful countries, the heavily religious Chenja and the 'ungodly' Nasheen, have all but wiped out each other's menfolk fighting their centuries old holy war. Nyx is trying to scrape out a living in Nasheen, a country now run by women while all the men are sent to the front to fight. After losing her coveted position as a Bel Dame assassin and finishing a prison sentence, she runs a small bounty hunting service with the help of her rag tag crew featuring a shapeshifter, a teenage weapons expert and her subpar magician Rhys, a man capable of controlling the ubiquitous energy all their technology runs on. Bugs. 
Accepting a suspiciously well paid mission for the Nasheen Queen, Nyx is trailing a missing off worlder who claims to possess the power to finally end the war. But in which side's favour?

Entomology 101
What an incredible world Ms Hurley has created here! We've all seen desert based worlds before in sci fi and fantasy, they can be (ironically) rather fertile settings for writers to explore, although too often you are left with a Dune or Firefly taste in your brain. What I enjoyed about God's War was the way she completely embraced this arid environment as her world, and then fully mapped out of all the problems it would cause with things like travel, health and food and how civilizations would adapt to these difficulties. No hermetically sealed underground cities or widely available flying machines here. Here people deal with the deadly environment with nothing but the basics. They develop cancers as easily as we grow our nails, with a war-zone choking on deadly gases clean organs are freely traded for cash and male children are smuggled across neutral borders to save them from a lifetime fighting at the front. Weirdly it seems so alien and at the same time familiarly human.

Personally, my favorite part of this world was the technology. Everything on this planet, from weapons to cars to radios, is run using bugs. Creepy crawlies spill out of exhaust pipes on organically run cars and seal up wounds. They can be controlled to varying degrees by the magicians, men and women born with this ability that sets them apart and, they seem to think, above everyone else. Nyx's magician, Rhys, is not exceptionally gifted but as a devoutly religious Chejan man in very prejudiced Nasheen, he's got little option but to stay with Nyx and aid her on any mercenary work she picks up. Regardless of how much he may disapprove of the work and, especially, the woman herself.

"Nyx sold her womb somewhere between Punjai and Faleen, on the edge of the desert. Drunk, but no longer bleeding, she pushed into a smoky cantina just after dark and ordered a pinch of morphine and a whiskey chaser. She bet all of her money on a boxer named Jaks, and lost it two rounds later when Jaks hit the floor like an antique harem girl.  
Nyx lost every coin, a wad of opium and the wine she'd gotten from the butchers as a bonus for her womb. But she did get Jaks into bed, and - loser or not - in the desert after dark, that was something.
"What are you after?" Jaks murmired in her good ear. They lay tangled in the sheets like old lovers: a losing boxer with a poor right hook and a tendency to drop her left, and a wombless hunter bereft of money, weapons, food and most her clothing.
"I'm looking for my sister," Nyx said. It was partly the truth. She was looking for something else too, something worth a lot more, and Jaks was going to help her get it."

Nyx is a deeply complex character and I loved her complete honesty in everything she did, even when telling an outright lie. It's fair to say she's not your average 'kick ass heroine' (which is a good thing, no tight trousers and an alpha male for her) she's barely even heroic, except maybe in her ability to withstand punishment. Nyx deals with all types of pain in this book and it gets pretty graphic at points, but then I love those stories where the protagonist spends most of the book just barely surviving and trying to pull bits of themselves back together, so it wasn't a problem for me (see also the brilliant Samuil Petrovich by Simon Morden). Her former Bel Dame sisters made for incredibly effective villains, they are ruthless in their pursuit of Nyx and her crew and I found myself truly believing that they wouldn't stand a chance against the trained assassins.

God's War is a beautifully scenic story about violence and desperation on a planet that's learned to live around the constant every day horrors of war. It's characters are flawed and imperfect but lovable, and the reluctance to admit trust between Nyx and Rhys was just so much more satisfying to read then the usual pinned on romance that a lesser writer would have shoe horned in here. The next installment, Infidel, is out next month so now is the perfect time to pick this diamond up.


Tina said... [Reply to comment]

Wow, your review is so lovely and eloquent. It sounds like the author has really built up a multi-faceted world with complex, three-dimensional characters. Your review's got me sold on the book.

Thanks! I'm definitely following for more reviews.

xTina (

HollyG said... [Reply to comment]

@TinaThank you so much! I really loved this book, Nyx is such great refreshing character, a strong woman where tough females are the norm. Let me know what you think if you get a chance to read it!