God's War

Kameron Hurley
God's War Cover

God's War

Parnassus Reads

On a planet with two suns, two nations have been at war with each other for almost as long as each has existed. Centuries of war have affected each country differently, though both continually loose generations of men to the endless war. In Nasheen, women rule; The Queen's word is God's word, and her laws are carried out by highly skilled female assassins known as bel dames. In Chenja, women are the veiled property of men who are to be cared for by fathers, brothers, or husbands. Each country has specialized breeding compounds to provide a continual stream of fresh bodies for the war, but In Chenja, a woman doing anything other than staying at home and veiled is considered indecent and punishable by laws seemingly based on Sharia law. The women in Nasheen at least get to choose what they will do with their life: breed or fight. Nyxnissa so Dasheem has chosen the latter. A stint at the war front left her half dead, but she was "reconstituted" and joined the law and order of the bel dames, carrying out government-contracted bounties and assassinations. The book opens with her crossing from Chenja to Nasheen after a failed contract kills her partner, selling her womb (quite literally) for a ticket across the border. She is broken, bleeding, and completely out of options.

It's a situation Nyx will find herself in many times throughout God's War, Kameron Hurley's bloody take on religious wars and the damage they inflict on those who suffer them. The titular god bears significant resemblance to the god of the Qur'an, which in Hurley's world is called the Kitab (which means book in Arabic; kitabullah is also used in the book, and this is a direct reference to the Qur'an as kitabullah means "the book of God" in Arabic). No one remembers why the war started, but it continues to be fought over religious and ideological differences (different interpretations of the Prophet's words) between the two nations. None of this really matters to Nyx; the only thing that matters to her is bringing in her notes, assassination contracts handed out by the bel dame council and sometimes even the Queen herself. The main story takes place several years after the opening sequence and concerns a note handed out by the latter behind the back of the bel dame council. Nyx takes the note in hope of redemption, but instead opens a can of worms that could obliterate Nasheen's enemy, Chenja, or even Nasheen itself.

Speaking of worms, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that the tech on this world is mostly organic and relies almost entirely on the use of bugs by magicians and others who can manipulate organic matter. Cars have organic, living hoses and are powered by red beetles. Organic filters surround entire cities and act as doors, but are tailored to let only certain organic matter through. The war is largely fought with organic bursts, biowarfare that unleashes plagues, disease, and other contagens on anyone not inoculated or caught outside the filters (God help them if something explodes inside the filters). Nyx's world is harsh, and anything organic is profitable, including, and sometimes especially, genetic material or body parts (hence the womb). Also on this world are shifters, people who can shape-shift into various animals. Explaining some of this is worth while because like any good SFF writer, Hurley drops you into the middle of Nyx's world and you had better hit the ground running if you want to make heads or tails of anything. She also uses exposition only when necessary, and parsed out in as little space as possible. A line or three here and there, rarely a whole paragraph. And yet it's easy to inhabit Nyx's world; Hurley is thorough without being pedantic. Nyx is a completely likable yet frequently feckless anti-hero. In this she reminds me a bit of Mal from Joss Whedon's excellent but short-lived tv series, Firefly. She's a lot harder than Mal, but just as bumbling sometimes. She's aslo pretty damn kick-ass; just the kind of SFF heroine I like.

While I wouldn't feel comfortable saying that gender politics is a main point of Hurley's story, it plays a significant role. But the novel isn't as skewed as one might expect as she gives voice to the Chenja view of women and the world in the character of Rhys, a Chenjan magician hiding out in Nasheen. The narrative form used allows for Hurley to explore multiple perspectives, and while the novel is certainly tilted in favor of Nasheenian views of women and the world through Nyx, it was nice to be given multiple views. If Hurley can anywhere be accused of too much exposition, it's in the sections from Rhys's POV, mainly because he frequently comments on the differences between Chenjan women and Nasheenian women.

This book stayed with me long after I finished it, and I frequently found myself thinking of Nyx's various horrible situations-how she could get out of them, etc. After I finished God's War, I immediately downloaded the next in the Bel Dame Apocrypha trilogy, Infidel. I just finished God's War today, and I'm already half-way through Infidel. The third book in the trilogy will be released in early November, but I've got a NetGalley advance of it, so come back for a review of the next two books soon. This is exactly the kind of hard SF with a female heroine I look for and rarely find. I highly recommend the Kameron Hurley's Bel Dame Apocrypha.