Why I Read It: I’ve been eyeing this book since its original release, but put it off because at the time, I was trying to control my TBR pile and didn’t want to add to it. It caught my eye again when it was nominated for a Nebula, so when phoenixreads sponsored June’s theme with Small/Independent Presses, I was excited to see God’s War on the list of suggestions, and pleased when it won.
The premise: ganked from BN.com: Nyx had already been to hell. One prayer more or less wouldn’t make any difference…
On a ravaged, contaminated world, a centuries-old holy war rages, fought by a bloody mix of mercenaries, magicians, and conscripted soldiers. Though the origins of the war are shady and complex, there’s one thing everybody agrees on–
There’s not a chance in hell of ending it.
Nyx is a former government assassin who makes a living cutting off heads for cash. But when a dubious deal between her government and an alien gene pirate goes bad, Nyx’s ugly past makes her the top pick for a covert recovery. The head they want her to bring home could end the war–but at what price?
The world is about to find out.
Spoilers, yay or nay?: Yay. As with all book club selections, both my review and the comments will be riddled with spoilers, so if you’re spoiler-phobic, please skip to “My Rating” and you’ll be just fine. Everyone else, onward!
Discussion: My brain has been completely and totally and irrevocably scrambled, and it all happened in the month of June. The good news is that after the struggle I had finishing Downbelow Station in May, I decided to read God’s War early this month. The bad news is that despite all of my plans to do so, I waited to write the review until now. As in fifteen days after finishing. Which is roughly two weeks, which isn’t horrible, but it isn’t ideal either. So sorry about that, folks.
This book was…. utterly unique. And difficult to read in its own way. Even after finishing and letting the book simmer for two weeks, I’m still not sure what I got out of it. I admire it, certainly, so let’s start there.
The following is my take on how I interpreted everything. Bear in mind I may be wrong or have it backwards, but this is what my brain latched onto as I was reading.
God’s War takes place on the planet Umayma, where rival factions Nasheenians and Chenjans are locked in a bitter and never-ending holy war. Both practice a form of Islam, but both practice very different forms. Hence, the holy war. And it’s my understanding that this story isn’t history (as in, all of this happened before they discovered Earth and populated to the world we know today), but rather, a future, where Earth colonizes the stars and following generations are so far removed that other humans are totally and utterly alien. Why do I think they all come from Earth, instead of the opposite? Just a hunch:
Most of her schooling consisted of adding and subtracting bullets and calculating the trajectory of burst guns, interspersed wtih some theology from the Kitab and exaltations about the power of submission to God — dead wordsfrom some other dead world.
And this planet, Umayma does something to humanity. It creates the magicians, but the magic on this world isn’t something sparkling and medieval. No, it’s bugs. BUGS. Bugs that serve to power technology and all kinds of interesting and strange things. So the book has a feel of a science fantasy, and yet also, thanks to the warring societies, a feeling of dystopian post-apocalypse as well.
I can’t stress how fascinating all of this is on paper. Hurley shows instead of tells, forces to the reader to swim or drown in all the little details that build the bigger picture. Gene pirates were probably the strangest and hardest thing to really understand, but all of this is just part of the daily life of our main characters, particularly Nyx, former government-assassin (a bel dame) turned bounty hunter.
The cast is utterly diverse. Religious, sexual, and racial diversity are part of the natural order of things. And in many ways, it’s an utterly feminist novel, especially from the point of view of the Nasheenians, which uses the female gender and makes it the strong, aggressive gender to which the male gender must be subservient too. It’s all very mind-boggling. You really get a sense of how frightening it must be from the male point of view when Rhys is ruminating:
And no Chenjan woman had ever done the things to him that the women in the border towns had done before their magicians showed up. They would not have dreamed of it. They would have been killed for it.
And that speaks volumes. Chenjen is the exact inverse of Nasheen, which provides a lot of conflict. Not just external conflict of the war, which is really a lot of background noise, but in character development and motivations. The main two characters, Nyx and Rhys, have been irrevocably defined by their experiences in the war, as well as how they were shaped before going into it.
The details of this world-building are just so interesting. You can take any one of them and write a full story out of it, like this:
“Lucky you left him his balls,” Rasheeda said, “or you’d get a fine for reproductive terrorism.”
Seriously, I want a story that’s about nothing but reproductive terrorism.
Hurley has a great way of weaving in necessary information about her characters without being boring about it. When describing Rhys’ appearance, she takes it a step further and is able to describe his religiosity as well:
“I don’t mind you’re black,” she said, magnanimously.
“It doesn’t matter what we mind,” Rhys said. “God sorts all that out.”
“Our God says your god is false.”
“They’re the same God.”
And speaking of religion? I’m convinced that Nikodeem is part of some sect of Christianity.
But just because there’s diversity doesn’t mean everything is hunky-dory:
It had taken him some time to realize just how terrible Nasheen’s problem with same-sex relations had become. Though sex between two men was not only discouraged, but illegal, what passed for sex between women was actively celebrated, and Nyx used sex as freely and easily as any other tool on her baldric.
And then there’s the inherent conflict Nyx feels when she’s interacting with Rhys, a Nasheenian and a Chenjen, but yet she employs him. Both are on the run:
Some instinctual part of her thought he’d look a lot better blown up, but there was something she liked about him, something about the way he moved, the delicacy of his hands.
Hurley also has a fantastic way of terrifying description:
… the ships that followed the Mhorians were shot out of the sky. Their remains had rained down over the world like stars.
And just to show you how visceral and violent this narrative can get:
She waited until the strength bled out of him, then began to saw at the neck with her stolen knife.
But for everything to admire, I remained in a state of fuzzy confusion for most of the book. The entwined and seemingly necessary relationship between magicians and boxing was baffling to me until I finally realized at the end that magicians somehow sponsor boxers and heal them through the course of the fight. But even then, I don’t think that’s the long and short of it: there was too much importance placed on those two things, as if one couldn’t be a magician and not someone be connected to boxing, you know? So I’m still puzzled there.
I also rather confused with the whole notion of gene pirating and why people sell certain parts of their bodies, like their wombs, and would seem irreplaceable. Again, I’d kill for a short story focusing on just this, so I could really get into that aspect of the world-building and understand it. I mean, the following paragraph is just fascinating for what it reveals:
… some of that old anger stirred, her school-taught aversion for wasted reproduction. There were a lot better things Taite’s sister could be doing with her womb. Single births thrown away on a kid who likely wouldn’t live past five years were a waste.
I also got frustrated when Nyx would get impatient while other characters were discussing some FASCINATING aspect of the world-building and interrupt to change the subject. Nyx was rather frustrating on the whole, not entirely likable, but I felt quite sorry for her by the end of the book. As a whole, though, characters were hard to like. I felt more sympathy for Rhys and Khos, but as a whole, it was hard to care a whole lot. Nobody was perfect, and they wore those imperfections in ways that put a barrier between me and them.
On a technical level, I did have some trouble with the Kindle formatting. I’d be reading along and suddenly something would REALLY throw me off, and when I’d go back to re-read, I realized someone forgot to put the proper break in. This happened enough to frustrate me, and while I’m sure one could argue this is the publisher’s sneaky plan to make me buy the REAL book, I don’t that’s going to fly, because no matter what the Kindle format costs for me, I’m still BUYING the book, and don’t want the price cut to come from bad copy-editing or bad formatting.
My Rating: 6 – Worth Reading, with Reservations
The biggest reservation I have with this book is that it is not an easy read. Amazon tells me the physical copy is 288 pages, but it felt longer than that. But there’s so much detail in this world, so much to absorb and understand. This is no breezy beach read, but rather a utterly unique and original universe that demands the reader pay attention, because there are so many goodies to discover in all the violence found in these pages. And while it’s a difficult read, by the end, it has a fantastic emotional pay-off, where the reader can see how this trilogy is going to be built on character and the gradual building of, and that’s a wonderful thing. The end is what had me kind of wanting to read the next installment, despite the fact I simply don’t have the time right now. Horrible excuse, but despite hard-to-like characters and the grisly violence of the book, I can see why it’s so acclaimed, why it was nominated for a Nebula. If you’re in the mood for something unique and intelligent, something that’s full of diversity of all sorts, you can’t go wrong with this book.
Cover Commentary: Very eye-catching. The design and the art really stands out, and the coloring is warm and appealing. Also, no white-washing for Rhys, which is a relief, and the details of the cover perfectly reveal the world-building (the bugs, the severed head). Definitely a solid cover!