God’s War by Kameron Hurley. ★★★1/2
Opening line: “Nyx sold her womb somewhere between Punjai and Faleen, on the edge of the desert.”
I really liked this one, but a few issues hold it back from being a four star or higher book.
The planet of Umayma has been settled for roughly three thousand years. For the last few centuries, it has been consumed by a holy war between two of its countries. It’s an all consuming sort of war that sucks in the vast majority of young men through a mandatory draft and spits out bodies and scarred survivors.
Nyx is a former bel dame, a government assassin who takes the heads off deserters. She is mostly focused on her own survival, but when aliens come to Umayma claiming to be able to end the war, Nyx becomes wrapped up in something she never expected.
I loved the setting and world building. Umayma is a hostile planet, full of harsh sunlight and strange diseases. Its residents regularly have to get cancer scraped off, and replacing body parts is a matter of course. The planet was originally settled by Muslim colonists as a haven to practice their faith, and three thousand years later Islam still has a large impact upon the world.
Centuries of holy war have also shaped the world. The country Nyx hails from has become a matriarchy, since there’s hardly any men around given that the vast majority are forced to the war front. God’s War uses the constant warfare to explore how both societies react and as part of its larger exploration of gender and sexuality (the protagonist, Nyx, is bisexual).
The technology is based of controlling insects, and the people with this talent are known as magicians. Besides the fact of its existence, this skill was not explained, and I wish that it could have been explored to a greater extent.
One of the strongest aspects of God’s War is its characters – they all feel like living breathing people, complete with character flaws. Nyx herself is a wonderful anti-heroine who’s making it onto my lists of all time favorite protagonists. She’s been through hell for duty and honor and now will only risk her life for cold hard cash.
“Nyx had wanted to be the hero of her own life. Things hadn’t turned out that way. Sometimes she thought maybe she could just be the hero of someone else’s life, but there was no one who cared enough about her to keep her that close. Hell, there was nobody she’d let that close. No one wanted a hero who couldn’t even save herself.”
While Nyx was the central character, other’s also had POV chapters. Rhys was the most significant of these. In many ways, he served as a foil for Nyx. While he had a tendency to be holier-than-thou, I liked him overall and found his POV interesting.
However, God’s War wasn’t simple to read. The world is radically different from our own (and often unexplained) and something about the writing doesn’t really facilitate an easy reading. I was constantly reading back over paragraphs and lines to make sure that I understood them. There was another section where I skimmed over a few times to try and figure out if a character was present.
The plot was also thin or confusing in places. I’m still not entirely sure what happened or how certain events were significant.
I would not recommend this for anyone unfamiliar with science fiction. You’ve got to have practice diving into a very different world and trying to pick up context clues to figure it out when it goes unexplained. I just can’t see someone who doesn’t read a lot of science fiction or fantasy having a good time with it.
On the other hand, if you’ve already got practice reading genre works, you may very well want to pick up God’s War. It’s got a brilliantly inventive setting and a diverse cast of well realized characters.