Review: Rapture, by Kameron Hurley

RAPTURE-COVER-FINAL>>Published: October 2012

>>Finally got around to it: March 2015

Fatima scrambled up. She grabbed the paper, shoved it toward her. “Just bleed on it and you’re a bel dame again, Nyx.”

“And you can control me.”

“Nyx, if you knew who we were after—”

“Fuck you. And fuck the Queen.”

“The bel dames made you, Nyx. They can unmake you.”

Nyx started to the door, only half expecting to get a knife in her back.

“It’s Raine al Alharazad,” Fatima said. “Your old boss.”

Nyx stopped in the doorway.

“He’s head of the broederbond now. He went missing three weeks ago. Rain’s always been a disgruntled activist. You knew that. But he showed up here five years ago calling himself Hamza Habib and growing a far larger following than ever before. We think he’ll be elected to the ruling council after the Queen forms the new government, if the boys have their way.”

Nyx let out a long breath, like she’d been punched in the gut. “Raine is dead. I put a sword through him and left him to die in a ditch in Chenja. A long time ago.”

“People don’t stay dead in Nasheen,” Fatima said. “You know that better than most of us.”

***

Seven years have passed since the end of Infidel, the second book in author Kameron Hurley’s Bel Dame Apocrypha. At the start of Rapture, the third and final entry in the series, Nyxnissa So Dasheem—Nyx—the former bel dame assassin/mercenary, is living in exile with former teammate Anneke and her lover Radeyah. It’s a quiet-ish existence, for the most part—following the events at the end of the previous book, Nyx’s team has scattered, each following new (and most importantly separate) paths. But when Mercia, the young ambassador’s daughter who Nyx was hired to protect at the start of Infidel, reappears in Nyx’s life with an offer she can’t refuse, Nyx releases whatever tenuous hold she had over the life she was attempting to build and re-enters the fray.

Nyx is promised a return to the bel dames if she completes a task for Fatima. The job? To retrieve a kidnapped politician and avert all-out civil war. And to bring him in alive—something Nyx hasn’t had all that much experience with.

Rapture sees the world of Umayma at a crossroads. The centuries-long war between Nasheen and Chenja has come to an end, resulting in an incredible number of boys being sent back from the front and deposited on the streets. Simultaneously, the shifters, led to some extent by Inaya, are making a push for safety and equality, demanding that the world see them for what they are. But while this powder keg of civil rights issues festers and percolates, spinning around the disappearance of the aforementioned politician, another threat rises in the form of the First Families who seek to take control of the world they helped to manufacture in the first place. They are ancient, they are legion, and they have the power to remake—and unmake—the world.

Rapture, like Infidel before it, takes a unique approach in telling a single, overarching narrative. Building on the culture introduced in God’s War, the first book in the series, Hurley takes the long road by setting each book years apart from the last (six years between the first two; seven years between books two and three). As a result of this, and Hurley’s exceptional waste-no-time-and-suffer-no-fools approach to world building, Umayma exists and develops off the page. The culture shifts and evolves while we’re not present, forcing us to catch up quick with each window offered into this world.

The same can be said for Hurley’s characters. Most of the cast from books one and two have returned, though their circumstances have changed rather dramatically: Eshe and Inaya are working together fighting for the rights of shifters; Khos, Inaya’s husband, has been abandoned for his wife’s cause; Anneke is briefly seen hosting Nyx in exile. It’s Rhys, however, who is seemingly having the hardest go of things following the tragedy his family faced in Infidel, when his children were murdered and his hands were cut off. Though he and his wife Elahyiah have started a new family, Rhys is unable to move on and let go of his past.

The new cast—Nyx’s new team—is a mixed bag of instabilities and shady pasts. There are Kage and Ahmed, both on the run from those who would hunt them; Eshe, the only returning team member, and Isabet, who is unable—or unwilling—to leave his side; and the bel dame Khatijah and her possibly mad sister (and shit magician) Eskander. Together, the strange and untested group is en route to the wall—a two kilometre high living wall at the end of the world that they must find a way over if they are to retrieve their target. Between their starting point and the wall, however, is a brutal journey that will test—and threaten—each and every one of them.

Rapture, from the very beginning, feels different than the two books that came before. Make no mistake: it’s an excellent book and I damn well loved it. But there’s a noticeable change in tone. It’s an end-of-life book—it very much marks, and feels as though it does, the end of Nyx’s storied, deadly career. The new team never quite gels, but it’s not necessarily supposed to, for the reader or for Nyx. The gathering of personalities she accumulates for this final mission is a combustible assortment of lost souls searching for, or running from, a fight. They aren’t Nyx’s family—they’re barely even her allies. They’re there because they need to be, because she needs them, and because she simply has no fucks left to give. When she stops serving a purpose, so do they.

At the same time, Inaya has abandoned her family for her own fight, and Rhys’s inability to let go of the violence in his past has effectively driven his family away. Across the board, personalities in Rapture have been torn asunder; even in peacetime, those living in Nyx’s shadow are unable to escape the dark.

Which makes the fact that Nyx is tasked with bringing Raine in alive all that much more ironic. Because Nyx is a killer—it’s all she knows. And as if to drive home her lack of purpose in a world moving toward peace, Raine’s kidnapping is proof of one essential thing: that nothing stays dead in Umayma, and that Nyx will never, ever be free from her past—not while she still has breath in her lungs.

As an end-of-life tale, much of what occurs over the course of the book serves as the slow dismantling of everything Nyx was as a person. Every action, every look of revulsion she receives for how she pushes forward, is another chunk taken out of her wall (not-so-subtly personified by the fact that it’s a giant living wall that provides the group with their most visible obstacle).

As with the previous two books in the series, it’s the will-they-or-won’t-they between Nyx and Rhys that offers the story’s most tangible emotional anchor. The two have always been on opposite ends of any and all ethical debates—and that’s to say nothing of the racial and religious divides that have come between them, or the fact that it was bel dames who shattered whatever chance Rhys and his family had once had for happiness. But regardless of their differences, there has always been a connection between them—almost like love without real affection, if that makes any sense. Post-armistice, both Nyx and Rhys are forced to re-evaluate their worth in the world. It’s only through being forced into each other’s paths again after so long apart that the depths of what they feel for one another is ever addressed, as is the impossibility of any future between them. This is beautifully rendered when, near the end, Rhys rushes toward Nyx, embraces her, and says, “I have always been happier without you.” It’s just fucking perfect and says everything necessary about their relationship—that they will always be drawn to one another, for some inexplicable reason, though both know that to act on that would destroy either’s chance at peace.

In Hurley’s kill-or-be-killed world, this is an absolute perfect exclamation of love. And just how gloriously fucked up is that.

There’s so much more I want to say about Rapture, from Inaya’s prison escape that would make Hannibal Lecter proud; to the glorious gore of the blood-thirsty sand that devours people, leaving only empty husks behind; to its Sopranos-ass ending, which manages to be both ambiguous and final—and most importantly, earned, a perfect summation of Nyx’s life, times, and crimes. Rare is the trilogy that succeeds and grows in confidence and quality all the way through to the end. There is little, if anything, to be disappointed about regarding Hurley’s Apocrypha. This is an exquisite series, not to be missed under any circumstances.

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