Night Shade Books
January 2011, Trade Paperback
Government assassins, organ removal and resale, and bugs – lots and lots of bugs, set on a distant post-apocalyptic wasteland. Sound interesting? Then Kameron Hurley’s debut novel, God’s War might be the book for you. The narrative follows an anti-heroine who goes by the name of Nyx, short for Nyxnissa. On this bleak world of Umayma, Nyx is a bel-dane, a bounty-hunter funded by the government. Nyx gets mixed up with some disreputable people as she journeys across the landscape ravaged by a centuries-long holy war, a war which few can remember the reasons behind it.
Hurley pulls no punches with God’s War and this is no clearer than in the beginning of the novel when Nyx sells one of her own organs – her womb. Our heroine is soon drafted by the Queen to track and hunt an off-world pirate that could help sway the long war to the Queen’s side of victory. What follows is a breakneck narrative with swerves a plenty as Nyx tries to survive the harsh world, complete her mission, and determine the truth of much of what she’d assumed for her life.
With the ‘bugpunk’ aspect of the novel, two authors immediately came to mind. Adrian Tchaikovsky with his Shadows of the Apt series which features Insect Kinden and Steph Swainston’s much overlooked The Year of Our War. Hurley’s novel is a thicker mix of fantasy and science fiction, with ‘magicians’ on a war-torn distant planet and alien pirates.
The magic that fuels everything on the planet is bugs, and those who can manipulate the bugs to power the technology are the aforementioned magicians. The old Clarke-ism of “sufficiently advanced technology being indistinguishable from magic” could really apply here. The Far Future setting peppered with fantasy tropes also reminded me a bit of Rosemary Kirstein’s Steerswoman novels. Another strong aspect of Hurley’s world-building/storytelling is the world of Umayama itself. Hurley’s playing with standard religions provides a different flavor, as Umayma the planet on which the action takes places was settled by Muslims. I also thought the Nyx’s ‘sisters’ and the whole power sects Hurley set up to be fleshed out nicely.
I found the first few chapters a bit jarring, I couldn’t really get a foothold on the narrative. Outside of Nyx and her partner Rhys, the supporting characters don’t have much depth. Once Hurley settled into the story; however, the novel moved along at a much better pace. On the whole, the novel was inventive, grotesque (in a good way), weird, and fascinating. Hurley’s got a tremendous imagination and more importantly, a knack for conveying that in this novel.
A recommended debut.
© 2011 Rob H. Bedford