God’s War is the first book in a sci-fantasy series about bounty hunters, magical bugs and an unending holy war, Bel Dame Apocrypha.
For a book about bug-powered magic, it was surprisingly tame on the bug side of things. Yes, this is my first complaint because I had hoped for more, far more detail. If you’ve followed me for a while, you may know that The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley is one of my favorite books of all time because a) it’s an all-lesbian space opera with a villain romance and b) it has creepy biopunk horror descriptions and I love them.
There was so much potential for biopunk horror descriptions here, but it didn’t go in that direction most of the time and I’m sad. Not enough insect limbs. People replace organs regularly but no one has tried to grow antennae. Not good. Be weirder.
(I also read this while I was recovering from surgery and this book starts with the main character being perfectly functional right after the removal of one of her body parts, her womb. I feel personally attacked.)
This book is set in Nasheen, a violent matriarchy, and Chenja, a patriarchal, very religious society – and they are at war for… reasons. Vague reasons. There are also shapeshifters and various countries disagree on shapeshifter ethics. Everything is set in a very vaguely-middle-eastern world.
The worldbuilding felt like someone was playing the throw-ideas-at-the-page-and-see-what-sticks game, because there were so many things going on at the same time and none of them made sense together. It’s not that I didn’t like them, it’s that they didn’t always feel developed nor thematically coherent.
Now, let’s talk about the religious themes. I loved that the main character of a book focused on religion and holy war was a bisexual atheist, and I loved how the setup of the societies allowed the author to play with gender roles. Ruthless women and religious, physically weak men aren’t a common combination. Female characters aren’t usually allowed to be the way Nyx is, sexual but not sexualized, morally gray and violent and aggressive and still not villains. This book also showed many different kinds of strength in different female characters.
On the other hand, for a book about a holy war, very little is said about the actual religion. Some characters pray, some don’t, some believe and some hate others for not believing, but what do they actually believe in? All I know is that the religion is vaguely inspired from Islam, it borrows some characteristics like clothing (hijabs are mentioned) but is not Islam.
This feels like lazy writing, if not appropriation.
I liked the characters – a diverse squad! a main character with dyslexia in SFF! – but I don’t know if I want to read a whole trilogy from their point of view since I didn’t care about the world.
My rating: ★★★¼
Apocalypse Nyx is a collection of short fiction from the Bel Dame Apocrypha universe. These stories are set before most of the events in God’s War and follow Nyx and her squad on various missions in which they risk their lives.
I liked this collection more than the actual book. My favorite aspects of God’s War were the characters and their dynamics, more than the plot (which wasn’t that surprising) or the worldbuilding (which I didn’t love).
The Body Project – ★★★½
Nyx is investigating the death of a man she once knew at the front.
In this story we see how Anneke became part of Nyx’s squad, which was really interesting. My favorite part of this was definitely Nyx’s and Rhys’ banter (it killed me). The worldbuilding is still disappointing and I don’t think that’s going to change – I’m not sure what’s going on with Nasheen’s foreign politics because there are too many countries, all of them stereotyped. So much wasted potential, but I’m here for the characters and not that.
The Heart Is Eaten Last – ★★★★
This one had some seriously creepy parts. The heart scene – the scene that gave the title to this story? – was awful in the best way possible and I totally understand Rhys. I would have liked this story more if it had been shorter, but again, I liked it more than the book. It’s about a failed Bel Dame trying to frame Nyx, and Khos joining Nyx’s team.
Rhys and Nyx’s not-relationship is more developed in these stories than in the book (I guess it helps to have more quiet scenes, they kind of got sacrificed in God’s War).
Soulbound – ★★★★½
Nyx and her squad meet a woman who is dissecting bodies to find their souls.
This was fast-paced and short and hilarious and exactly what I wanted from this collection. I love all the characters now – I almost feel like they work better in short fiction than in novel format.
This is a story about souls and believing and what war does to faith when faith drives the war. I really liked how the religious themes were explored in this story (I didn’t love what God’s War did with them because again, wasted potential, but this was perfect).
Crossroads at Jannah – ★★★
Finally some more details on the biopunk insect technology! Another of my minor problems with God’s War was how little detail we got on the bug sci-fantasy system, which is probably the most interesting aspect of the worlbuilding.
The story itself didn’t have much depth and it was kind of predictable, but I really liked the ending.
Paint It Red – ★★½
Nyx can’t rest even on her days off, because someone is either always trying to kill her or asking her to repay some kind of debt.
This felt unnecessary. I’m reading this book for the squad dynamics, not for Nyx to go and fight with other people I don’t care about. But the f/f/f threesome was almost worth it.
My rating: ★★★½