My rating: 3 of 5 stars
God's War is the debut novel by Kameron Hurley. It's the story of Nyx, who is a bel dame in a far-future, Islam-dominated planet called Umaya. The two major nations of Umaya have been at war for thousands of years. The bel dames, among other responsibilities, catch and behead deserters. Things get more complicated early on for Nyx, which is good, because there's only so much deserter-beheading you can put into a book.
Continuing the trend of twins and higher-order multiples in this year's Nebula nominees, Nyx is a quintuplet. That detail is almost a throwaway in the novel, but it represents one of Hurley's strengths -- interesting world-building in a way that challenges assumptions. In a world with advanced biotechnology, with a different set of societal structures for child-rearing, why wouldn't it make sense for most births to be multiple ones? It depends on the nature of the world, but it shows that Umaya isn't a space version of 21st century America, but rather a thought-out world.
I was initially somewhat put off by the harsh nature of the story. For example, here's a scene in an office where bounty hunters are collecting their bounties:
Shajin, unimpressed, replied in her booming monotone, “Read the fine print. Says here you only get sixty if this particular catch is live. They preferred him dead and would have paid you a hundred for it. I’m not killing him for you, so you take him out back and shoot him or take your sixty. If there’s something you don’t understand about that, you need to go back to state school. Get your skinny ass away from my desk. Move.”
Actually, that's a little bit funny, but there's only so many beheadings and mutilations and whatnot that I really need to read about. Fortunately, the book focuses less on the brutality and more on the plot as it goes along. I was never entirely comfortable with the level of gore, but I found it more engaging.
One problem that I had with God's War is that the copyediting is fairly uneven. The formatting is off on a lot of the paragraphs. I initially assumed it was because it was from a small publisher unused to converting to e-book format, but when I found a "you're" that was supposed to be a "your", I really got thrown out of the reading.
I think the problems extended to the editing in general. The author likes to mention details of the world without explanation. On the one hand, I can respect the desire not to have two pages explaining how cars work on this world. On the other hand, if you want to convince me that everything runs on insects, I need a little more than a brief comment, or I'm going to be skeptical that any of this makes sense.
In summary, this is a novel with flashes of brilliance, particularly in the world-building. It is harsher than my tastes would prefer, and I don't feel like the read from front to back was as smooth as it should have been. I'm not rooting for it to win the Nebula, but if it does, I won't be upset at the award going to one of the more promising writers I've read in a while.