Cal State Long Beach, I write to you now as a changed man. I have just finished reading the strangest book I’ve ever come across. But the weird thing is that it’s not really that weird of a story. It’s just so ridiculously different from anything I’ve ever considered normal—ever. That book is God’s War by Kameron Hurley.
The tale takes place on an Earth-like planet, possibly called Umayma. Umayma also might be the continent. It’s never explicitly stated. The two principle nations, Nasheen and Chenja, are locked in a war that has been waged for an indeterminably long time. The cause boils down to what the cause always is for stuff like this: they don’t like each other. They’ve got some real Capulet and Montague shit goin on. The world is mostly Islamic-ish, meaning that their Holy Book is called something that sounds like “Quran,” they pray five times a day, and so on and so forth.
The story follows Nyx, a female bounty hunter with a propensity for getting abducted quite frequently. How is this conducive to bounty hunting, you ask? Got me. But she somehow keeps pulling it off. Before bounty hunting, she was a Bel Dame, which is apparently a cross between the Secret Service, the CIA, the FBI, and Delta Force. As in many of my favorite books, Nyx is nothing special. She is a mediocre bounty hunter who barely ekes out a living for her crew. Her crew includes Rhys, a mediocre magician; Taite, her comm tech; Anneke, a basic shoot ‘em up type; and Khos, a shapeshifter who changes into a dog. Nyx has a weird crush on Rhys, and it leaks into everything they do. Sometimes not in a good way.
The first strange difference is the absence of machinery. Everything mechanical is replaced by “Organics.” Bugs are a big part of it. It gets kind of gross sometimes, but it also gets kind of cool. Explosives take the form of things called “bursts,” which frequently have chemical weapon payloads, like handheld mustard gas that will melt your skin off. The odd thing is that the smells from said bad things are frequently described as smelling of “jasmine, orange, and yeast.” Back to the bugs now. Magicians can control them. It gets pretty badass, and would be even more badass if Rhys was better at it than he is. But that would kind of ruin the underdog element of the book.
The second odd thing is gender roles in Nasheen are completely reversed. Women court men, women have all the rights (it briefly mentions a rally for “boys’ rights”), and yet men are still subject to a draft and get sent off to the front to die in droves. Chenja is much more conservative, even though all of their men go off to die at the front as well.
Many things are not explained, which is both good and bad. It lets you come up with your own idea of how things look, but it also keeps you in the dark and forces you to use context clues. So, if said context clues do not appear until well into the part you’re reading, then you might as well be imagining purple elephants everywhere. Not really, but you get the idea.
At the very least, the book is pretty compelling. You will find yourself getting extremely frustrated when things do not go according to the plan. And they rarely do.