This is a very ambitious debut novel: in one book, Hurley introduces us to Umayma, a world which was colonized 3000 years ago by Muslims and has apparently been at war pretty much continuously ever since. There are several named countries in the book, two of which are the primary antagonists while the others are allied or playing both sides of the fence. They also have their own religious strife going on. Adding to the mix are offworlders (who, it turns out, are also
fighting a holy war with rival religious sects out in the stars, and at least some of them are Christians or whatever Christianity has evolved into 3000 years from now). Then there is the world of Umayma itself, which is blighted and blistered by centuries of biological, nuclear, and bug warfare. Bug warfare? Yes, on this planet they have all kinds of highly evolved (whether naturally or genetically-engineered is not clear -- probably both) insects, and "insect technology" powers most everything. Bugs generate energy, light, heat, and cold. Wasp swarms are used as security systems. Acid-spitting bugs are used as weapons. Exploding bugs are used as bombs. Bugs that buzz and chirp and vibrate are used to communicate -- even to encrypt messages! Some of these bugs are big enough to drag away children. It's a creepy, creepy world. And there are "magicians" who can control bugs, and on top of that there are "shifters" who can transform into animals.
It's one hell of a setting.
The main character, Nyxnyssa, is a former "Bel Dame," one of the government's elite cadre of women who hunt down draft dodgers, spies, traitors, and people returning from the front contaminated with biological or chemical weapons. The Bel Dames cut off people's heads for a living, so Nyx isn't very nice. Worse, she's a rogue
Bel Dame. The first part of the book shows her going astray and going to prison, and we pick up again several years later, where she's now an independent bounty hunter with a team of fellow contractors from all the countries on this world. They're given the inevitable "offer you can't refuse, if you pull this mission off you'll be set for life, but if you fail you're screwed and you'll probably all die anyway" job, and off we go.
So, this is an action-packed bloody thrill ride with a hell of an imaginative premise. That said, I only give it 3.5 stars (which I rounded to 4 because I felt like giving a debut author the benefit of the doubt). Why? First of all, while all of the characters are hard-edged and complicated and damaged, none
of them are likeable. It seems the whole point of the book is to show us how damaged everyone is. We get briefly immersed in the problems and Dark Tragic Pasts of each person on Nyx's team, and the result is we don't really care much about any one of them, since no one gets enough time to actually change over the course of the book. They are all screwed up and unpleasant at the start of the book, and (those who survive) end that way. I also felt like the story was disjointed at times. There are so many double-crosses and past foes predictably popping up at the most unpredictable times that it's pretty much an endless sequence of "Oh, man, we're screwed. Oh, shit, now we're really
screwed. Holy FUCK are we screwed now!" (Profanities deliberate -- the book is full of them.)
For a great futuristic look at a society where religion has not disappeared (or stopped being an endless source of strife), full of weird, inventive technology that borders on "magic," I'd recommend this book highly. However, while I'm definitely going to read the next one (the author's web site says this is the first in a trilogy, although God's War
ends decisively enough that it can stand on its own just fine), I can't say I'm going to be reading because I really want to know what will happen to Nyxnyssa next or because I care about any of the other characters. I do think Hurley shows promise as an author who might put out some really great sci-fi in the future, and fans will be saying, "Yeah, she's written some great stuff, but just remember that God's War
was her first book."