When I finished reading the second of the Bel Dame Apocrypha novels, Infidel, I was unable to write a review as such, so I wrote an open letter to the main character, Nynissa so Dasheem, instead. And now the series has finished, and… well. It wasn’t an easy ride, but it was a worthwhile one.
There are spoilers below. You know, things like Nyx is alive for this novel. Which shouldn’t be a surprise, but kinda is.
So, who would have thought that things could get more brutal than God’s War and Infidel? Well done to Hurley by surprising me with that one. I’m thinking particularly of the fact that while previously there have been references to what might happen if you bury a body with its head attached, I don’t believe the consequences have been described in quite such visceral detail. Er… squick. Also, the fight scenes. Brutal indeed.
As with the previous two novels, this one involves Our Nyx taking a a mark that she doesn’t particularly want to, but that she doesn’t feel she can refuse. It’s seven years since the last book, and this is perhaps one of the most remarkable things about Nyx: she got old. And slow. And maybe a bit on the pudgy side, like an ex-boxer or rugby player gets when they stop working out. You see this all the time in movies like Die Hard or Lethal Weapon, where the old heroes get to complain about being old before busting someone’s butt; it’s rare for it to be allowed to happen to a woman. Heck, even Ripley gets to come back as a fully modded clone rather than being old. But there are a number of references to Nyx being old, and a bit a slow, and by no means as stealthy as she would like to think she is. So that’s very cool, because of course she still gets the job done. Kinda. Mostly. Well, she gets something done, anyway.
Back to the plot: it sees Nyx move into quite unfamiliar territory, both literally – we go places we’ve barely even heard of previously – and metaphorically, because she’s actually not sent to kill someone, but rather to bring them back. And it’s a rather surprising someone for that particular mission for this particular ex-bel dame (no, it’s not Rhys). There’s a new set of crew that have to be broken in (er, perhaps a bit too literally), and seriously excruciating things like crossing deserts to contend with. There’s fights and unpleasantess and weird people and death to confront. Some of those things not even of Nyx’s doing. Also, a great big wall that could be a joke at GRR Martin’s expense, since this one is in a desert and has even weirder things on the other side than exist in Nyx’s ordinary world, and since that includes bugs that will turn a dead body into a zombie – well.
One of the really tantalising things that Hurley offers in this section of Nyx’s saga is a glimpse of the backstory of this crazy planet. Little hints about why and when it was colonised, and what happened in the early part of its human history, and how the human population manages to survive. It’s still not enough to make everything make sense, though, and OH MY do I wish Hurley would write a prequel (I know she’s written at least one short set in this universe, maybe that covers it?), because I really, really want to know about the moons and initial colonists and what the heck is going down with the surviving deadtech.
Anyway. The plot is a little bit convoluted but simple enough to follow. It’s not trying to be tricksy because dealing with the bugs is hard enough without having to unravel all sorts of narrative tricks. Once again, though, the characters are a highlight. Nyx doesn’t so much shine as reluctantly, grudgingly, and with a mean scowl shed as little light as she can get away with, but boy if she isn’t still mesmerising. Even when she’s spitting venom and being as cranky as she possibly can. As mentioned, most of her crew is new, with the exception of the shapeshifter Eshe, who is struggling to figure out how to be himself and not be like her, while still worshipping the ground she walks on. The rest of the crew are interesting enough in their own right, although I couldn’t help but see them as so much cannon fodder – much like Nyx sometimes sees them I think, for all she has a surprisingly well-developed sense of duty to those who sign on with her. Because, as well – and here’s a slight spoiler, sorry, but if you’ve read the other two this is important – they’re also outshone by Rhys. Yes, Rhys is here again, in a very surprising – for both himself and Nyx – twist. And that relationship is so fraught, so difficult, so sad and so bitter and so frustrating, that anything else rather pales.
Finally, it would be remiss of me not to mention the political side, which is important but somewhat overshadowed by the action. There’s the possibility of a treaty with Chenja (I know, right? The war’s only been going for like three centuries)… which means something rather unexpected: the boys are coming home. And they appear to be expecting that they’ll have, like, some sort of rights when they get there. And jobs maybe? Certainly some place in society. Outrageous, I say! I think this is one aspect that could have done with a little bit more development, if I’m being critical at all – but only because I’m intrigued by how the arguments could play out and would have liked to see more of the philosophical and political discussion that Hurley could bring to bear.
Nyx, you are heartless and cold, a drunk and a killer, mean and brutal. You have changed my perception of how female warriors can be portrayed, and your world has made me see bugs in a new, occasionally more revolted, light. Cheers.
You can buy Rapture from Fishpond.
I reviewed the first in the Thrawn trilogy, Heir to the Empire, here, and it’s taken me a while to get around to the rest of the series. But I have finally read Dark Force Rising and The Last Command and you know what? I continued to enjoy them. Such that I do plan on reading more in the expanded universe. Especially since I discovered there’s a Han Solo trilogy set just before the events of episode IV. (!!) What follows is in no way a comprehensive review of the last two books… more just some rambling thoughts. These thoughts do contain spoilers, both for the first book and the later ones.
Look, the first thing I have to say is WILL MARA AND LUKE JUST HURRY UP and get together already?? If they don’t end up having a beautiful Leia/Han relationship, or at least a tempestuous love affair, I will be righteously peeved. Because they are so clearly right for each other.
Oh my, this may be the first really serious case of ‘shipping I’ve ever experienced. It might mean I can never read any of the later books IN CASE I AM WRONG.
It’s really the characters that kept me reading here. I did enjoy the plot – and an enormous amount of kudos goes to Zahn, and I guess Lucas as the owner of the franchise for allowing him to do it: the idea that actually, it might take more than one battle to change the fate of an entire galaxy is brilliant and I am so glad it actually gets explored. Bizarre as it might seem, there wasn’t enough politicking in these books for me. I understand that the focus is on the threat posed by Grand Admiral Thrawn, especially as he keeps showing up, attacking important planets, and then running away again – and that Luke and Han and Leia get to go off and have exciting adventures. And there’s a bit of politicking as Admiral Ackbar is confronted by the weaselly Fey’lya with fraudulent bank accounts, and the occasional discussion about which planets are dispensable. But seriously, people! Where is the tit-for-tat bargaining to get planets on your side? Where is the committee taxed with the task of writing a new constitution? Are we having elections any time soon? These are the questions I want resolved!
Possibly I have been thinking about real-world revolutions too much.
So, characters. While the Mara/Luke thing frustrated me, my greatest surprise on finishing the trilogy was the revelation of who Delta Source – the source of all that oh-so-useful intel Thrawn keeps getting from inside the very bowels of the New Republic – actually was. And this was clever, and nicely played, etc. But I had been reading for 2.5 books absolutely convinced that the source was Winter, Leia’s aide. I do not remember why I thought this – I vaguely recall some scene in the first book that seemed to suggest she was secretly communicating with someone, but maybe my brain invented this as a reason for thinking she was eeevil. Perhaps she’s just too perfect and I am too accustomed to betrayal in my science fiction. Or maybe, maybe, the revelation in this book was a trick and she will still turn out to be a traitor! ha ha!
Luke is slightly less wet than in the films, which is nice. There’s still a lot of ‘oh my goodness what if I’m not good enough?’ which I always imagine in the voice of Annie from the eponymous movie. Still, he’s making advances in understanding and using the Force, so that’s a positive.
Han continues to be awesome, and still struggles somewhat with actually being respectable. I really like that he is cranky about not having time with his wife, and only going off on missions when they are of Direst Importance To Save the Galaxy. And even then he’s not happy about it. Also, he loves his kids. That’s nice. And there’s some good banter with Lando.
Leia is the great revelation for me, in these books. Yes she had some great parts to play in the films, but I was quite concerned – especially as the trilogy opens with her pregnant, with twins – that she would rapidly be sidelined. But oh no. She is on missions, and getting into trouble, and negotiating deals, pretty much until she gives birth. (She would probably get on well with Alexia Tarabotti… although she may not care quite so much about dresses.) Not in a run-around-oops-my-belly-got-in-the-way way, though; she is consciously aware of the twins, and of ensuring their safety – but she faces the difficult question of keeping them physically safe while also safeguarding the new republic she has also helped to birth. (Those metaphors could get a leedle clunky, not to mention questionable.) Anyway, she’s great. And shoots things. And uses the Force. And overrides the men for their own, and her own, good.
Of the lesser characters… Threepio is more annoying than ever. Lando gets a nice amount of page-space, and continues to be banterific. Mara is probably the most intriguing of the new characters, with the gradual revelations about her background – Emperor’s Hand, maybe some sort of access to the Force, an overwhelming desire to kill Luke but actually
wanting to shag him needing him to get things completed. I can see that she will be a big character in later books – or ought to be anyway.
There are of course lots of other new characters introduced in this trilogy… possibly too many, actually. Thrawn and his XO Pellaeon are interesting opponents, and I said in my first review that it’s an intriguing narrative device to give the reader such a clear insight into the ‘enemy’. While it makes Thrawn come across as a definite enemy – cos he’s a bit nuts; no one should be able to gain that sort of insight just from looking at a society’s art – that’s just creepy – Pellaeon is a good follower, a genuine believer in the empire but not a fanatic, delightfully concerned for the welfare of his crew, and basically sympathetic. It’s very sad that he’s on the wrong side, and I wonder if this is an intentional move: make the reader see that people on both sides are (for want of a better word) human? Because the same sort of thing happens, of course, with the alien Noghri – whose entrance into the story is as assassins, and who progress to being allies of the New Republic because of their allegiance to the children of Vader and because the Empire is shown as having screwed them over (…which actually makes their devotion to the children of Vader problematic, unless they’ve transferred their allegiance because of the revealing of the truth…).
And then there’s Talon Karrde, who if I’m not much mistaken will also feature in later books, because he is basically the replacement for Han in the bad-ass but basically good (chaotic good maybe?) stakes. Smuggler, racketeer, but still good to his people and basically honest… yeh. Han replacement. And he’d totally shoot first, too.
There will be more Star Wars in my future. Not sure when, but it will happen.
In which awards are dissected into itty bitty bits and eaten with relish. Tasty tomato relish.
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This looks like a short podcast, but it isn’t. No culture consumed for you! Which does mean that Alex will have read ALL THE BOOKS by the time we join you again.
(Well, that’s what Tansy thinks anyway… we’ll see how much reading vs how much knitting gets done!)
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