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.