Please note: this review contains minor spoilers for Book One in the series.
Nyx had been better dressed, better armed, and better supported, once: running with her bel dame sisters instead of a cocky boy shifter and a reformed venom addict. Now, instead of collecting blood debt, she was babysitting diplomats and cutting up petty debtors when the First Familes paid her in hard currency. It felt more honest. But a lot less honorable.
This is how we find Nyx at the opening of Infidel, the second book in the Bel Dame Apocrypha series. The Nyx we met at the beginning of God’s War is now just a memory of when she “used to be young, and fiery, and strong. She used to be able to cut off a head in forty-five seconds with a dull blade. She used to be able to drive a bakkie like a demon”. Now, at 38, she is old, tired, and ashamed of the way her life has lost dignity and meaning, although she’s still very much the emotionally dysfunctional hard-ass from book one. Nyx is offered a chance to reclaim the prestige of being a government assassin when a rogue bel dame tries to kill her. A member of the bel dame council asks her to hunt down such rogues and in return, Nyx can have her bel dame status reinstated. The catch is that the rogues are going after the Queen, starting a civil war to bring down the monarchy and give the bel dames power over the country. This will weaken Nasheen, making it vulnerable to Chenja in their ongoing centuries-old war, and Nyx is nothing if not a patriot. Still, it’s a lot for her to handle, especially when she finds that she’s been infected with a strange, debilitating virus that does far worse than simply threaten to kill her.
Meanwhile, Rhys, Khos, and Inaya are living in the prosperous, genteel city of Tirhan, after abandoning Nyx at the end of God’s War. They’ve settled into quiet domestic lives: Khos and Inaya are married, Rhys has a beautiful if scatterbrained wife, and each family has two young children. But both Rhys and Inaya are involved in government work related to the plot that Nyx is caught up in, and you know it’s only a matter of time before she arrives in Tirhan to disrupt if not ruin their lives. Not that Nyx needs much of an excuse; it’s been six years and she still misses Rhys badly, even thought she would never admit it.
Their strange relationship was one of my favourite things about God’s War, after the excellent writing and worldbuilding, all of which made up for a somewhat lacklustre story. In Infidel, Rhys and Nyx are far apart for much of the novel and the writing is good but less arresting. Hurley continues with her excellent worldbuilding, but although Umayma is still an unusual planet, it’s now familiar and less exciting. On the bright side the story is stronger, better paced and more focused. It’s a good book, but less notable that its predecessor.
Mostly, I missed the weird character dynamics between Nyx and Rhys. They certainly made a very odd pair – a drunken, violent atheist, and a devout Muslim with extremely traditional (you could say misogynistic) views about women. It seemed unlikely that they could work together or even respect each other, but they found some kid of solace in each other’s company. I’m not even sure what to call their relationship– it wasn’t exactly a friendship, but it wasn’t just a partnership and it certainly wasn’t a romance.
In Infidel, this great character dynamic is lost, and I found that I don’t really like either of them that much. Nyx is too coarse and too violent. I prefer Rhys’s calm, gentle nature, but I can’t ignore his beliefs about women. Together, they balanced out each other’s flaws – Nyx was enjoyably brash in contrast to the reserved Rhys, and when he worked with Nyx you could forget the fact that Rhys believes she should cover her hair and avoid eye contact with men. Apart, Nyx is a brute and Rhys is a sexist bore. Their reunion doesn’t help much; the past has left too many scars, and the intervening six years have changed Rhys’s life too much.
I found Nyx to be almost thoroughly unlikeable this time around. She’s desperate, reckless, and doesn’t deserve the loyalty of companions. My sympathies actually fell with anyone allied with Nyx because, frankly, that woman is BAD NEWS. She might be a hero, she might be the only person who can get the (dangerous) job done, but she inevitably leaves a trail of pain and chaos in her wake and I’m never quite sure how I feel about her actions. I’m partly hoping she’ll leave poor Rhys alone in Book Three, Rapture. There are moments when he seems to miss the bounty-hunter lifestyle he had with Nyx, but for the most part he would be better off if she stayed the hell away from him.
I don’t necessarily mean all of this as a criticism, although novels are a bit less enjoyable when you don’t like or admire the character you spend the most time with. But I’ve got nothing against unlikeable protagonists per se, and we’re clearly meant to be critical of Nyx. I’d actually like to see her team up with another polar opposite – Inaya, a deeply conservative woman who spent much of her role in God’s War either crying or complaining. Inaya was a shifter who hated shifters, and although she suffered some tragedies that made me feel sorry for her, I couldn’t bring myself to like her. In Infidel however, she became my favourite character – she’s more assured and has unbelievably powerful skills as a shifter, even though she hates using them.
It’s cool to see her in action and, as I mentioned, the story as a whole is clearer and better-paced than the first book. I’m generally not all that interested in political intrigue, but the politics of the plot are simple enough, and Nyx’s purpose boils down to a smaller-scale investigation that involves tracking down the rogue bel dames. It’s very violent; if you’ve read God’s War you’ll know what to expect, although Hurley puts her characters through even greater ordeals this time.
And like the first book, Infidel offers you the pleasure of seeing women driving the plot, and women being fighters without having to be skinny, pretty, fair-skinned women too. There are lots of kick-ass heroines in genre fiction these days, but if book covers are anything to go by, they’re almost always cute white girls who look more like runway models than experienced fighters. The bel dames are big women, heavy with the muscle they need to do their job, bearing the scars of their brutal experiences. Nyx’s body takes such a battering that I started getting seriously concerned about how much more she could take.
Luckily, she ends the novel fully prepared for another bloody adventure in Rapture, although I wouldn’t be too surprised if it ended in her death. Although Infidel wasn’t quite as great as I’d hoped it to be, it’s a good book nevertheless and I’ll be finishing off the series soon.