This is a series I’ve heard a lot about – and took the opportunity to get hold God’s War at Fantasycon last month. Would it live up to expectations, after winning the Sydney J. Bounds Best Newcomer Award of 2012 and being shortlisted for every prestigious science fiction prize going?
Nyx is a bel dame, a bounty hunter paid to collect the heads of deserters – by almost any means necessary. ‘Almost’ proved to be the problem. While the centuries-long war rages on only one thing is certain: the world’s best chance for peace rests in the hands of its most ruthless killers…
That is a potted version of the blurb, as the first big plot progression is embedded in the chat – and as I found that progression was part of my rather shaky bonding process with Nyx, I decided not to throw in that spoiler. There are some books that have me hooked right from the first page, and there are books that steadily grow on me as I keep reading… God’s War fell into the second category. The world is brutal and Nyx, a bounty hunter, is a kickass protagonist you wouldn’t want to meet in an alley on a dark night – come to think of it, you wouldn’t want to meet her on a sunny day in the middle of a field, either.
Kameron tips us sideways right into the middle of her ferocious, war-torn landscape on the colony planet Umayma, where each side has had to adapt to live alongside this conflict. Women end up running things, as the handful of men who return from the front after serving from their teens until they are forty are often too traumatised or infected with something biological and nasty to be much use. But while acquiring clean water and decent food is a constant struggle, healing technologies are advanced thanks to the magicians – who are also genetically predisposed to be able to harness and use swarms of bugs, to power a form of car, for example.
Nyx is on the side of Nasheen, who are engaged in fighting Chenja. The world has clearly originated from a Muslim society and some of the place names in both countries are close to cities and towns from the Middle East. The manner in which Hurley has shifted clothing and religious customs in different ways is clever and nuanced – each of the viewpoint characters circling around Nyx have varying opinions about her behaviour. Rhys, a Chenjan refugee and second-rate magician, would like to be a lot closer to her – but is also repelled by her coarse, aggressive attitude. Nyx curses, fights, gets drunk and high and ruts as she sees fit. And she’s not the only female who is defined by her violent response – the antagonist Rasheen is every bit as bad.
Hurley doesn’t back off from depicting the world in all its gory, bleak nastiness. There are unpleasantly graphic descriptions of dead bodies, torture victims, bomb-blasted landscapes. The wonder is that the characters eking out a living in amongst this devastation don’t just give up… It was this savagery that initially dented my enthusiasm – but I was sufficiently intrigued to continue and I’m glad I did. While I’m not completely convinced by the final outcome – I came to care about a number of the supporting characters to want to get to the end. As for Nyx? Still don’t like her much. But since I finished the book, the strange, shattered planet Umayma won’t leave me alone and I shall be tracking down the sequel, Infidel for another disturbing slice of Hurley’s world.