Review: God’s War by Kameron Hurley

God's WarTitle: God’s War (Bel Dame Apocrypha #1)

Author: Kameron Hurley

Publisher: Night Shade Books on January 26, 2010

Source: Purchased

Rating StarRating StarRating StarRating Starstar_half

On a ravaged, contaminated world, a centuries-old holy war rages, fought by a bloody mix of mercenaries, magicians, and conscripted soldiers.

Gods’s War is a complex bio-punk with incredible world-building: magicians control bugs instead of magic, warfare is genetic, and women sell their wombs on the black market. You’re immediately thrown into the world of Umayma, a planet divided by a centuries old religious war and decimated by both environmental destruction and political violence.

Although there are many countries vying for supremacy on Umayma, the most prevalent (and the most violent) are Nasheen and Chenja. These countries are locked in a seemingly endless war driven by religious difference, mainly the interpretation of the same religious text. Sound familiar? Nasheenian and Chenjan societies are similar in many ways, but their differences are pronounced enough to warrant a holy war (apparently). For one, the treatment of the sexes in these two countries is clearly a foil for one another, as Chenjan men dominate cultural life while Nasheenian women run the show with bloody sophistication.

One of these bloody women is protagonist Nyx, a disgraced bounty hunter and war veteran. She and her team of employees work together to cut off the heads of those deemed criminals by Nasheen, primarily deserters. While they spend endless hours with her, none of her team members are really friends with Nyx. She is a hard woman, punishing in her hatred for the Chenjans she fought in the war and all those who’ve betrayed her. I loved her. The other main character, Rhys, was a different story. A Chenjan refugee, he works as a magician in Nyx’s employ despite his sub-par abilities. He’s super pious and I quickly tired of him lording his religious superiority over everyone. I did feel bad for him though, since he is persecuted both because of his nationality and because he’s a man in Nasheen.

Hurley’s attention to detail is obvious here, as she crafts slang for Nasheenians that reflects their political climate. Nyx and many others use the phrase “my woman,” which seems to be the equivalent of “bro,” to address one another. I’d normally be all over this emphasis on matriarchy, but in Hurley’s world it has resulted in the abuse and exploitation of men. All men are required to fight in the war from puberty until they become senior citizens, resulting in what one characters calls “the genocide of a gender.”

The examination of gender and sex doesn’t end there, as LGBT rights also figure prominently. At one point Khos, a member of Nyx’s team, notes the hypocrisy of Nasheenian sexual laws: same sex relationships between women are celebrated while sexual relationships between men are illegal. This is just one of the moments where Hurley brilliantly critiques sexism is all its forms, both misandry and misogyny. There are no easy answers to questions of human rights in Nasheen or Chenja.

In her acknowledgements Hurley states that she wrote this book while she was dying – and it shows. Many of the characters in God’s War – but especially Nyx – attempt to grapple with their mortality and their many regrets. These characters are multi-dimensional and flawed, by turns violent, pious, self-righteous, and avenging. No one is particularly good, but they’re all very compelling. I think that’s what I liked best about my introduction to Kameron Hurley’s writing: her unflinchingly honest portrayal of the best and worst parts of people.

God’s War is grimdark without question, relentlessly subjecting both characters and reader to the horrors of war, sexism, and a multitude of other prejudices. Despite rating this book 4.5 stars, there were times when I just needed to put it aside and think about something else, something less bleak. Still, there was something visceral about it that I loved, and I’ll be recommending it to anyone who likes their SFF dark.

 

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  • Very cool points about the slang terms. I love when world-building is ingrained so seamlessly into characters’ speech like that.

    • There was some pretty amazing jargon thrown into God’s War, both Chenjan and Nasheenian. Kameron Hurley is just brilliant with language.

  • Yeah! Another fan of this one. God’s War is awesome, it’s sequel may be even better. I can not wait to read Mirror Empire, which I plan on starting this week.

    • So much love for this book! Thanks again for recommending Kameron Hurley, she’s amazing. I think I’ll need a bit of a reprieve from dark SFF before I read book 2, but I’ll make an exception for Mirror Empire, since I plan to read that one soon.

  • Tammy

    I haven’t read anything by Hurley yet, but I do have an ARC of The Mirror Empire that I will be starting soon. I’m anxious to see if the tone (grimdark) is similar to God’s War. I have heard from other reviewers that her world building is amazing, so I’m pretty excited to read her books!

    • I agree with what people are saying – Hurley’s world building is unbelievable. Umayma felt like a fully developed setting even before I’d reached the 100 page mark. Mirror Empire is gonna be awesome – I hope you love it!

  • Man, this has been on my list forever. Maybe I’ll read it after I tackle The Mirror Empire this fall.

    ~Mogsy

    • Honestly, I had never even heard of Kameron Hurley before I became more active in the blogging community. So glad I did though, she’s an incredible writer. I have a feeling you’d love this series, Mogsy!

  • Sometimes I like dark, and sometimes I don’t . . . honestly, I haven’t paid enough attention to figure out what the determining criteria are, but I can say that if there isn’t at least the tiniest ray of hope that a better future can be established, it will qualify as too dark for me. Hope? Any at all? B/c this really does sound fantastic. Wonderful review, Danya 😉

    • Jessica, I’m not going to lie, there’s a depressing lack of hope in this series. It was pretty hard on me emotionally at a couple of points, I just wanted to scream out “WHY CAN’T THEY HAVE NICE THINGS?!” That said, there is possibly a glimmer of hope for the future at the end of this novel…just a tiny glimmer, though. 😉

  • I enjoy a good dark SFF read every now and then; sometimes I just need the extreme opposite of HEA, ya know? I’ll keep this one in mind for the next time the mood strikes. Thanks!

    • Oh I totally hear you. I love a good HEA as much as the next person, but I usually find the grittier reads like God’s War much more challenging (and ultimately rewarding). It’s phenomenal, I hope you read it – and love it!

  • I had heard this one was heavy on gender and sexuality themes. I’ll be interested to give it a try someday since I happen to have a copy sitting on my shelf!

    • Yeah, it definitely is. Kameron Hurley is definitely interested in gender and sexuality, and she doesn’t shy away from portraying the horrors of prejudice on those grounds. Not for the faint of heart, but well worth the read!

  • Great review. Been meaning to read Kameron Hurley for ages; this has only made me more excited about finally getting around to it! Sounds like a very thoughtfully built world in addition to a great story.

    • Thank you! Honestly I just heard of her fairly recently – Hurley’s work seems to be very popular among bloggers. There’s definitely some serious philosophizing going on behind the plot, that’s for sure.