I’ve mentioned before that I met Kameron Hurley shortly at World Fantasy Convention last year which prompted me to start reading God’s War. I got the book from WFC in trade paperback format and read the first maybe 10% with great interest but got stalled, mostly because I spend so much time on a computer these days that my eyes have a hard time focusing on paper. But I wanted to read it so last week I caved and got the audio version as well and boy am I glad I did.
God’s War is a surprising book in so many ways. A peculiar mix of fantasy and science fiction, it takes place on a far-away planet where the people who colonized it were once Muslims but have since all evolved in different directions while being basically recognizable as Islam. It features a bug based magic system unlike any you’ve ever seen before that is awesome and just a little gross at times. There are two major civilizations, Nasheen and Chenja, that have been at war with each other for hundreds of years, leaving both with a dearth of men. The story itself is the story of Nyx, a Bel Dame in the service of making sure Nasheenian soldiers stay on the front for their due time, and Rhys, a magician of middling talent running away from his past in Chenja all the way to Nasheen.
When I was a teenager I way overdosed on fantasy to the point where I still have trouble reading epic fantasy purely for pleasure. Most of that comes from a lot of fantasy relying on the same formulas and the same kinds of stories over and over and over again. God’s War doesn’t do that. It stares down all those tired old stories without flinching and punches them in the throat and then spits tobacco juice on them as they’re writhing in pain. And let me tell you, it is AWESOME!
Not only is Nyx not one of the skinny killbots so many SF&F stories put up (not that there’s anything wrong with skinny killbots as such, it’s just refreshing to see another kind of female character for once) she’s just the kind of macho asshole 90’s action films were populated with and it is glorious. Rhys on the other hand is pious and devout without being a nagging shrew and in the hands of a lesser author he would have found an awesome font of previously undiscovered power thus saving the day. But Hurley doesn’t do that, oh no. She pushes Rhys and Nyx through the meat-grinder and the only reason most of them comes through on the other side is that they want it more than the other guys. There’s no destiny, no fate and they’re all utterly average. Which is exactly why everyone needs to read this book right now.