By KATIE STOCKDALE
Kameron Hurley’s newest book, Apocalypse Nyx, is set to come out July 17. It’s a collection of novellas about Hurley’s first star character, Nyxnissa so Dasheem. The novellas all stand on their own, and happen before the events of Nyx’s series; the God’s War trilogy. You don’t have to read the other three books to understand or enjoy these five episodic stories.
That being said, if you haven’t read Hurley’s work before, get ready for a jarring new world. Being familiar with her ongoing Worldbreaker series, I wasn’t surprised when giant bugs appeared in the first few pages, or that they were an integral part of the magic system. The multiple suns were another familiar detail, as was Hurley’s fluid treatment of gender and the matriarchal society.
The world of Apocalypse Nyx is, however, much more sci-fi than the fantasy I had previously read. Her twist on technology on this alien planet was interesting to explore. Radios and bakkies (pickup trucks, to us) both run on bug power. Transparent, organic filters over windows and doors keep out the cancerous light of the double suns and the giant man-eating magic bugs. Data systems still flourish, albeit carried in bugs. A desert planet basks in the light of two suns. A generations-long war with forgotten causes and a blood feud between races, fought with fancy new guns and bombs. All hallmarks of sci-fi.
And yet, there are singularly fantastical elements too. Shapeshifters take the form of dogs or parrots. Magicians have innate control over the bug swarms. A complicated religious schism divides all the cultures on the planet. Rituals allow dead people to live again, and enable people to change or switch their bodies.
As if this genre mixing wasn’t enough, there’s also a flare of the wild west to the stories – or maybe that’s just Nyx herself: alcohol-wielding, gun-slinging and self-proclaimed terrible shot, Nyx. Sometimes a mercenary, sometimes a bounty hunter, always an ex-government assassin who should be dead.
Nyx has a big personality and takes some getting used to. Not quite an anti-hero, she fits Hurley’s motif of writing unlikable characters, difficult people in difficult situations with few morals, or maybe no morals at all. Nyx’s life has clearly been difficult, she has a dark past during which she was one of the people “rebuilt” or given parts of different bodies, maybe even a whole new one to survive. The stories aren’t clear, because Nyx rarely reflects on her past, and when she does, it’s in distorted fragments. She’s clearly still suffering from past trauma, both emotionally and mentally, but she seeks no help; though I’m not sure help is available in this war-ravaged world.
That doesn’t excuse a lot of her choices. She kills more than is necessary and takes jobs designed to kill her, endangering her entire team along with her. Her team is a motley group including a sniper, a shapeshifter, a com-tech and a magician that she treats as disposable, despite living with them and working extremely dangerous jobs with them for over five years. Maybe it’s pragmatic, but I find it an expression of one of her deepest character flaws – her inability to reconcile herself with her past and admit that she too needs others.
The team for their part are able to recognize and accept how coolly Nyx treats them. Taite, the com-tech, tells her flat out that he knows the only person she will ever go out of her way to save is Rhys, the magician. Khos, the shapeshifter who had a deeper relationship with Nyx than the rest of the team, almost died because of an accident during a mission, and Nyx simply plows on, putting the mission above Khos’s life. Despite that, once he’s healed, he’s right back on Nyx’s team.
Several codependent relationships aside, there’s no denying that these are good stories. Writing about mercenaries gets repetitive, but Hurley keeps the tension by highlighting jobs that are far from ordinary, and that often include faces from Nyx’s storied past. They’re incredibly violent, revolve around Nyx – even when the other characters might be more interesting – and reveal a world where those who survive must do anything to survive.
The failure of the collection for me was the dissonance in one character and in timelines between the first novella and the rest. In the first, we are introduced to three of Nyx’s team members: Taite, Rhys and Anneke the sniper. Taite seems to be the one who was with Nyx the longest, since she mentions that Rhys had only been with her three weeks and Anneke joins up in the first few pages of the novella. But in the next novella, set two years later, Taite only joined six months prior, after Rhys and Anneke.
The more troubling discrepancy for me was Anneke’s personality. She’s first introduced as a former enemy of Nyx’s and joins up to solve the murder of a mutual friend. She’s a strong personality to counter Nyx, one of the members with a firm backbone against Nyx. But after the first novella, she becomes more loyal but also more of a lap dog, simply following Nyx instead of actively questioning her. This repositions Rhys into a firmer role of Nyx’s foil, but I found the first version of Anneke more compelling.
If you’re looking for sci-fi action with a fantasy twist, Apocalypse Nyx is a good stepping stone into the larger and longer world of the God’s War trilogy. Coming out in the middle of the summer, it’ll be a great vacation read. Just be aware that if you read it outside, you’ll probably want to head indoors thanks to the constant references to cancerous suns.
Katie Stockdale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org