Series: Bel Dame Apocrypha
Author: Kameron Hurley
Publisher: Night Shade Books
Published: 1 November 2012
Genre: science fiction
Source: eARC from the publisher via NetGalley
It’s seven years after the events of Infidel, and for once Nyx is living a peaceful life in exile. She even has a girlfriend. But Nyx isn’t Nyx unless she’s hunting and killing people, so when she’s pardoned and offered a job by the bel dames, she takes it. The centuries-long war between Chenja and Nasheen is ending, but the ceasefire is creating civil conflict, largely because of the large numbers of men and boys returning from the front. For centuries, most Nasheenian men have been little more than cannon fodder. Now unemployed and unemployable, they have little social value in a country where they’ve always been treated as second-class citizens.
This led to formation of the Broederbond – a men’s advocacy movement headed by one of Nyx’s old enemies. But this man has disappeared, and Fatima, head of the bel dame council, wants Nyx to bring him back alive. If he dies he could become a revolution-inspiring martyr. Fatima doesn’t seem opposed to gender equality; rather, the fear is that the men could form a “new, repressive government that puts bel dames and all other women back under some archaic law they carve out of the Kitab”. A more progressive government needs to be formed, and of course the bel dames want to have some of that power too.
Nyx accepts the job, and puts together a new team of mercenaries for a journey to some of the most remote and bizarre regions of Umayma.
Like God’s War and Infidel, the plot is based on a sociopolitical conspiracy that I find a bit difficult to follow. It’s full of twists and betrayals, most of the information comes in two large info dumps at the beginning and the end, and for most of the book it was all a bit vague. I tended to focus on the the more immediate goals of the plot, without always being clear on how they fit into the whole. At any rate, Nyx’s journey is so arduous and the characters have to try so hard to simply stay alive that the Nasheenian politics they’re suffering for seems abstract and remote. In other words, it didn’t matter too much to me that I couldn’t keep track of the politics because there was so much more going on. Rapture has some the best world-building I’ve read in a while, great characters, loads of action, and of course the kind of fluid sexuality and gendering that is one of the best things about the Bel Dame Apocrypha.
The world-building is what really made this is great book for me. The planet Umayma always a bit different, with its bug-tech, shape-shifters, magicians who are nothing like regular magicians, and Nasheen, an Islamic city where women are in charge. It’s a very alien, very dangerous world that, thousands of years ago, was forced into the image of another world (Earth?).
In Rapture, we travel far beyond the relatively tame cities and get a striking idea of exactly how vast and alien Umayma is. Desert monsters, weird organic tech, structures made out of flesh, pyromancers, sand that eats you alive, dead bodies reanimated by bugs… it’s totally outlandish and quite fucking awesome. Most of the action (of which there is no shortage) is entwined with the world building too. One of the most intriguing characters is a mysterious ‘conjuror’ with badass powers that tap into the fabric of the world, and a lot of knowledge about Umayma’s history. Inaya also returns, and we learn a bit about her incredible shifter powers and what she can do with them.
She’s now one of my favourite characters, and I’m glad that she has her own parallel plot in Rapture. Inaya did little more than weep in book one, was revealed to have incredible powers as a shifter in book two, and is now secretly leading a shifter rebellion in Ras Tieg. Of all the the character arcs, hers is the most triumphant, and the most spectacular. Seeing Inaya in action is always a thrill, and the strength of her character is formidable.
Rhys has a much more pathetic story. He never found his feet after the bel dames ruined his life, and ends up stranded in the desert, then virtually enslaved to a man who saves him. His story seemed random until it reunited him with Nyx. Their love-hate relationship is still an interesting one, although far less hopeful. Rhys is bitter after having lost so much, and Nyx is too callous a person to rebuild broken bridges. With each book my feelings about them changed a bit, and this time I favoured Nyx.
Previously, my sympathies often fell with Rhys as the more gentle character, despite his many misogynistic religious beliefs. I like Nyx more, but she’s a brute, and in Infidel Rhys suffers a great deal because of her.
This time I found him a more unlikeable character. He has a tough life, but the way he treats his wife Elahyiah left me with little sympathy for him. Rhys was always in a position where he was either unable to exercise his beliefs about women (in Nasheen or as part of Nyx’s team) or where those beliefs were benign (living an affluent lifestyle with a similarly pious wife). Now hardship reveals the more sinister side of his character, as he exercises dominance over his wife with little regard for her feelings.
Admittedly, Nyx acts like a stone cold bitch most of the time, but she often seems to be hiding the fact that she actually cares about the people around her. With Rhys, it’s more like his gentle nature hides the fact that he can be a complete asshole to women.
As a result, I was pleased that Rhys didn’t have a big role in this book, which has more interesting people on the page. Eshe is back, the raven-boy who Nyx ‘adopted’ in Infidel. He starts out with Inaya and her rebellion but returns to Nyx, still looking up to her when almost everyone else hates or fears her. Other members of Nyx’s team include a beautiful boy fresh from the front, a petite spider-like girl with impeccable sniping skills, a mad magician, and another bel dame. Each has their own story, personality, and culture clashes with other team members, adding to the world-building and making this is the most memorable of Nyx’s teams.
As usual, Hurley makes most of her characters suffer greatly. Nyx looks thoroughly battered at this point (she’s lived about ten-years longer than almost any bel dame or bounty hunter), and of course there’s only going to be more fighting, more scars. She and her team also endure a prolonged slog through the desert that seems impossible to survive. This went on for too long, but the pace picks up once it’s over and we get to the really weird parts of Umayma.
Rapture is definitely my favourite of the Bel Dame Apocrypha series, and despite being the last book it’s the one that made me hunger most for stories set on Umayma. In fact, it made me like the world so much that I felt a bit sad when I reached the end of the novel. I was satisfied with the conclusion to Nyx’s story, but I didn’t want to leave Umayma behind. So I asked Hurley about it on Twitter and luckily, she’s got another three books planned:
So, yay Hurley’s sf is the kind of thing I want to see more of in the genre, so I’m curious to see what series she come out with next, and what else she’s got planned for Umayma.