God’s War by (Bel Dame Apocrypha #1) Kameron Hurley

This is a dual-review. The general format is the same as our regular reviews, except that under each sub-heading, each reviewer gives his or her opinion on that topic. We hope that you’ll enjoy this new way of reviewing!

Kameron Hurley’s stellar debut novel follows the bloody life of Nyxnissa, commonly called Nyx, a bel dame (government-funded bounty hunter) trying to survive in a world consumed by a holy war that’s been raging for centuries. When she’s relieved of her duties for doing black work of her own to earn extra cash for herself, she has to adapt and find a new way of living.

To survive, Nyx has created a team of independent bounty-hunters that are willing to take any bounty that allows them to survive another day. Suddenly, she’s summoned into the Queen’s presence to accept a note that could retire her team from the business altogether. Charged with hunting down a missing alien who may be the key to solving the war in her country’s favor, she risks her life, as well as the lives of her team, to capture the alien. In the process Nyx and her team are entangled in a spiral of chaos and political intrigue fueled by hatred and distrust.

Strong Characters
James – God’s War accomplished what very few fantasy novels are able to do—create believable and in-depth characters. Each character got his or her own story, and in each of those stories the reader is brought closer to what makes that character his or her own person. Truly, this is something that astounded me more than anything else in this novel, and it’s something that deserves a great amount of applause. In the end, there were characters that I felt closer to than others, but they all had their strengths and weaknesses, and that’s what made them such a pleasure to read.

Caitrin – The characters were definitely one of the main strengths of the novel. Nyxnissa, our heroine, is not a character that is immediately likable or relatable. Though you may finish the novel disliking her, Nyx is a real character. She is complex; she isn’t afraid to be anything but herself, she does what she wants when she wants, and she is willing to do whatever is necessary to accomplish her goals. Her character arc over the course of the novel is subtle but the changes in her character are always a result of her own will, never of circumstance or other people. Nyxnissa wasn’t my favorite character but she was the most well-fleshed out character and the perfect heroine for the story.

Masterful Cultural Parallels
James – I was amazed with how well Kameron Hurley incorporated cultural parallels with our own world without turning the novel into her own political statement. The problems facing the planet of Umayma are similar to our own. Homosexuality is grudgingly accepted but still culturally despised, similar to how it’s dealt with in many parts of our world. As well, Hurley’s ability to transform the war into a character of its own is phenomenal. You can feel the war’s oppressive hands clamping down on everyone in this novel, and shivers went down my spine as I realized the effects that war can have on people.

Caitrin – The political connotations weren’t as obvious for me as the religious parallels were. The history of the people who landed on Umayma has been lost in the sands of time as the different nations that populate the world were created thousands of years before the novel begins. In my mind, though, I could easily see this as a far-flung future where different followers of God escaped Earth and settled the world. The nations of Chenja and Nasheen had an Islamic feel, while Ras Tiegans and the aliens seemed to follow an evolution of Christianity. I’d love to learn more about the beliefs of Mhoria and Tirhan. Religion is hugely important to all aspects of the novel as it pervades and influences everything. I loved creating theories as I read and learned more about the cultures of the countries of Umayma.

Amazing World-Building
James – The world that God’s War is set in is one vastly different from our own, yet still relatable on quite a few levels. There’s a definite Islamic feel to the world, the two sects being divided into two countries—Nasheen and Chenja—and surrounding those two cultures are previously established civilizations that have been forced to deal with the intrusion of these new people on their homeland. I felt like every single culture was fleshed out beautifully, and because of that, the world was plausible and could be sustained for generations.

Caitrin – Hurley definitely gives the impression that she knows every minute detail of Umayma and it gives the whole universe of the novel a rich and deep feel. She doesn’t pull you out of the story by explaining things that the character would already know. This is a strength but it is also a weakness. You are thrown immediately into the world without a lifeline. I found myself scrambling to understand things like: What exactly is a burnous? Was a bakkie a bug, a vehicle or some weird mixture of both? Were the sisters chasing Nyx actually related to her? Maybe a dictionary in the back would have helped me. Once you get into the swing of things though, you are fully immersed in the story and world of Umayma and it’s a fantastic read.

Not a Page Turner
James – This book was not a page-turner, and that was unfortunate. The world was written beautifully, and the story was definitely interesting, but I felt like there just wasn’t enough suspense in this novel. There was no reason why I couldn’t just stop at the end of a chapter to set it down for later.

Caitrin – I agree that while the book is very well written, until the last third of the book, I could easily put it down and pick it up later. The ending for me, though, was stellar. The action and stakes ramped up and I spent three hours finishing the book because I couldn’t put it down. I never felt cheated by how things turned out. Events didn’t unfold like I thought they would and I was surprised by how emotional I became when a character died. I had to put the book down for a few seconds to fully absorb it. Nyx is never spared a bad experience because she is the heroine, and her story and the overall plot had a complete end. The story could have very well ended there, with the lives of the characters continuing on without the reader ever learning more. I was satisfied by the ending but I wanted more; I wanted to see what else happened in the lives of the characters. I was very happy to learn that two more novels are going to be published. Some of the threads of the story that weren’t wrapped up into a neat bow will get resolution! I can’t wait until December!

Why should you read this book?
While this isn’t your standard fantasy novel, if you don’t mind a sci-fi twist to your reading, then there is absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t pick up this book. If you’re looking for an interesting, fresh story that marries fantasy and science-fiction in an original way, then this is the book for you. This beautifully crafted novel is truly a work of art—bloody, brutal, bug-filled art.

James and Caitrin both received a copy of this novel courtesy of Kameron Hurley.

About James Starke

James Starke
James is 21 years old and has been described as many things in life – pop music lover, book nerd, movie geek, cookie nommer, bookshelf filler, tortured writer, tech dork, television watcher, webcomic addict, fierce supermodel, crazy cat lady, musical fanatic, a loyal Hufflepuff, GLEEk to the Nth degree, pizza eater, future librarian, a horrible procrastinator, Poké-freak, eyeglass wearer, a lover of the arts, and a zombie unicorn that sparkles in the night (well, actually that might’ve just been once). He prefers to describe himself as “a man of odd enthusiasms.”

View all articles written by James Starke.

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