Review: Infidel, by Kameron Hurley

infidelcov.final.indd>>Published: October 2011

>>Finally got around to it: February 2015

“Why’d you want to bomb out Mushtallah?” Eshe said.

Nyx shot him a look.

“Why not?” Alharazad said. “It’s a wasteland of corruption. You think the bel dame council is power hungry, you should spend some time with the First Families. Soft, fat, rich—can’t wipe their asses without somebody around to tell them what hand to use.”

“Firsts don’t bomb cities. Bel dames do,” Nyx said. “You’ve taken rogues before.”

Alharazad puffed away. “You making up your own notes now?”

“I’m working for Nasheen,” Nyx snapped.

“You need to kill ideas, girl, not people,” Alharazad said. “The council’s been hooked on the idea of running the country for a good long while. We used to do it, back in the wild days. Back when the whole world was like this.” She waved her hand at the dusty landscape beyond the windows.

“I’m a bloodletter, not a politician,” Nyx said. “I just take off heads.”

“Do you now?” Alharazad snorted. “If that was so, the Queen would have told me you were coming. No, this isn’t about a head, is it, girl?” She put down her pipe and fished around in her vest. She pulled out a marijuana cigarette. “You follow an idea, too. You believe the Queen is the rightful ruler of Nasheen. You don’t believe as the Tirhanis believe, that the absolving of the Caliphate was an affront against God.”

“I don’t believe in God,” Nyx said.

Alharazad pounded a fist on the table. The flatware shuddered. Soup slopped over the side of Nyx’s bowl. The bel dame’s face twisted into an angry grimace. “Don’t say that shit in my house. You want a bug swarm to pick you clean? This isn’t the place to go cursing God.”

***

Sweet Jesus, this book punched me in the throat and stole my lunch money.

The second instalment in Kameron Hurley’s Bel Dame Apocrypha, Infidel, returns us to the engineered world of Umayma, still consumed by a centuries-long war between the dichotomous Islamic proxies of Nasheen, a matriarchal, militaristic state with a strong atheist/agnostic undercurrent, and Chenja, a traditionally male-dominated culture with strict adherence to theocratic rule.

Picking up six years after the events of God’s War, Nyxnissa so Dasheem (Nyx)—the former bel dame with a heart of blood-drenched, gold-painted rock—no longer survives cutting off heads for the government or chasing down illegal alien gene pirates. Now at thirty-eight (practically ancient for a bel dame), Nyx ekes out a living working as a bodyguard for Ambassador Erian sa Aldred’s young daughter Mercia. Alongside her are new team members Eshe and Suha—a half-breed shifter and a merc, respectively.

After being attacked one day by rogue bel dames—who she mistakenly believes were after the diplomat’s daughter—Nyx finds herself and her team pulled back into the world she thought she’d left behind. Fatima, head of the bel dame council (and the woman responsible for Nyx’s expulsion from the order and subsequent incarceration at age twenty-four), reveals to Nyx a plot by the rogues to lead a coup against the Queen, and then proceeds to request her assistance in hunting down and extinguishing said rogues.

The prize for all Nyx’s hard work? The promise of reinstatement as a bel dame—and through that, her honour returned to her.

However, this journey isn’t to be undertaken lightly. Along the way, Nyx is faced with innumerable back-stabbings and threats to her wellbeing, including the actual loss of her life and the destruction of those nearest and dearest to her—not least of all being Rhys, her moral compass and point of attraction throughout God’s War.

Since the events of the first book, Rhys has managed to build himself a stable, quiet life with a wife, Elahyiah, and two young daughters, Laleh and Souri. His peace is soon shattered, though, first by Nyx’s arrival, and then by the unexpected return of one of the most feared bel dames introduced thus far: Rasheeda.

—And that’s where I’m going to leave things, because what happens once Rasheeda reappears in Rhys’s life serves as the turning point for the story—and also manages to kick the narrative from “brutal” to “just fucking vicious.”

Infidel is, unquestionably, a worthy follow up to the first volume in the Bel Dame Apocrypha. Hurley has taken the world and culture she so effortlessly established in the first book and layered it with an increased sense of history and ordered conflict. This is done in large part by bringing the bel dames, who were more ancillary spectres in the first book, and placing them front and centre here. To this point, Hurley employs Fatima and Alharazad as representatives of the new code versus the old, with others such as Rasheeda, Shadha, and Nyx used to fill the space between, illustrating the depth of the conflict within the council itself. It’s as if a government special forces team like SEAL Team Six started devouring itself from the inside while simultaneously challenging the existing government.

Beyond furthering the bel dames and their internal structure/culture, Hurley also does an admiral job advancing the relationships between Nyx and her former team members in believable, grounded ways. There’s certainly animosity between her, Khos, Inaya, and Rhys, but there’s respect, too, and a tactile sort of familiarity that comes from having been through hell and back together. The bad blood doesn’t just wash clean, but it fades a little after being put through a rinse enough times.

What I found most compelling about Infidel was in how willing Hurley was to upset the order of things—specifically the way in which she takes the first book’s moral grounding, Rhys, and put a literal blade to everything good in his life, undoing all the peace he’d acquired for himself and his family. And in his pain, Hurley reveals the hard truth of the Bel Dame Apocrypha: for Nyx to grow as a character, everything she touches, everyone she loves, must bleed.

That Infidel takes place so many years after God’s War is, I think, one of its strongest elements. Hurley hasn’t just created a world with these characters, but an entire set of cultures growing and changing organically. There’s an apparent sense of evolution off the page—that the world continues to change even after the last page has been turned. This is a function of the kinetic world building I mentioned in my review of God’s War—this world exists and we as readers are privy to just a small portion of a much larger canvas. However, the rest of the image exists and will continue to exist far beyond our limited scope.

This book is a love letter to intelligent, driven, hard-as-an-axe science fiction. It’s also a prime example of a sequel perfectly building on the world established by its predecessor. Infidel is a masterpiece of storytelling, and I cannot wait to start the final chapter of this trilogy.

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