Monday, October 1, 2012

Book Review: Gods War

God's War is another one of those books that came onto my radar thanks to a lot of great reviews from bloggers whose taste in books I trust.

God's War takes place on a war-ravaged contaminated world where a centuries-old war rages on and on without any signs of a cease fire.  The story follows Nyx, a one time assassin for the government, who has fallen on rough times and is now the leader of a low-rent bounty hunting crew.  Nyx and her crew have just been offered the job of a lifetime.  Of course, it is incredibly dangerous, and nigh impossible given the circumstances, but success could bring about the end of the war, and for Nyx, who has a dark past that puts other dark pasts to shame, wouldn't mind doing something positive for a change.

Even though God's War got positive reviews from some of my favorite book bloggers, I struggled to find a groove while reading this one.  Which is strange given the fact that this book contains a lot of elements that I typically crave in a fantasy novel these days.

First off, take the setting, which is nowhere near your standard euro-style fantasy setting.  Instead, God's War takes place on a world where any kind of greenery or plant life seems to have been decimated by the contamination in the planet's atmosphere.  In place of shrubbery and what not, are what appears to be trackless desert after desert and cities pummeled by the war. Then you've got the characters, who for the most part are persons of color, which is another nice change considering that fantasy is a genre that has predominantly featured white lead characters and white supporting casts for the past five decades or so.  Lastly, debut author Kameron Hurley has delivered a story that completely fails to fall nicely and neatly into any one pre-existing sub-genre category by mixing in a healthy dose of hard boiled noir stylings, with a heaping spoonful of weird fantasy-ish bug magic, and a sprinkle of boxing.  That's right, boxing.

I don't get to say this very often, mostly because it never happens, but also because it comes off sounding like hyperbole, or some silly blurb meant for the front cover, but Hurley has really and truly created a unique fantasy setting.  A rare and special treat.

The world, which the reader is plopped right into with no hand holding or anything like that, is one where magicians control a variety of familiar and fantastical bugs to do their bidding.  This is a world where technology, machinery and organic organisms work in a harmonious combination.  It is pretty fascinating to read about.  Personally, I loved the concept of bugs doing magical, and technological things.  Hurley did a great job of bringing this concept to vivid life on the page too, which made it all the more impressive.

Unfortunately, creative new ideas that breathe life into the genre, a fascinating magic system and strong world building only go so far for me.  Any reader of this blog knows that I need characters to help me really connect to the story, and I wasn't able to find that connection here.

Though there's a decent sized cast of characters here, there's really only two that have any kind of flesh to them and that's Nyx and her magician partner Rhys.  Nyx is a hard character to like.  She puts the hard in hard boiled as she is one tough lady with lots of fucked up shit in her past.  Nyx is a character that is very much a product of her environment, and that environment is one chaotic, uncaring and dangerous place.  As a result, Nyx is a very uncaring and dangerous woman.  She wont hesitate to use people to get what she needs or wants, and for that reason I had a hard time sympathizing and empathizing with her.  I guess I must need characters to have at least one or two redeeming qualities about them so that I can care for them, and I didn't find that quality here with Nyx.  As a result, I found myself not caring about her or the plot too much, which drove me into a very passive reading mode that didn't do much to endear this story to me.

Rhys on the other hand is a more likable guy.  Initially, I found him infinitely more interesting since he was the one dude in the story who could do the bug magic stuff.  Too bad it turns out that Rhys is a pretty shitty magician, which means that the whole bug-magic concept didn't get explored or fleshed out nearly as much as I would have liked.  Bummer, man.  Really, Hurley missed an opportunity here.  She's got this great magical concept and she failed to utilize it as well as she could have.  I really wish that Rhys could have at least been competent with magic so that we can get a good taste of what kinds of things can be done with the bug magic system, but it wasn't meant to be I guess.  I know they say "always leave 'em wanting more" and I certainly wanted more magic, but in this case "wanting more" felt more like a lack of development.

By the time I reached the last page of God's War I was feeling pretty torn.  On the one hand Hurley created an awesome world that is about as unique as they come, and filled it with a one of a kind magic system that is also unique and intriguing.  On the other hand, the characters are hard to care about and the execution on the magic concept leaves a lot to be desired.

I wish I could pat Hurley on the back and high-five her for writing a fantasy novel that does so much new stuff.  It is an absolute relief to see new ideas being brought to the table.

I also felt like pulling my hair out at times because the story wasn't as good as I wanted it to be.  I just felt so perplexed that the any story set in such a fascinating world could be anything less than amazing.

See what I mean by feeling torn?

Maybe my expectations for the story were too high.  This is a debut novel after all, and often it is the new kids that bring the fresh ideas, but often lack the execution of the old timers who have a much firmer grasp on the tricky stuff like plotting, and character building.  Still, big ups, daps, props and all that good stuff to Hurley for taking fantasy to new places.

Debut or no debut, God's War missed the mark for me, but I can see how it worked so well for others.  Nyx is a polarizing character, and I think she could be just as much of a hit with a different reader as she was a miss with me.  Liking Nyx is a big key to the overall enjoyment of this book, so it should be noted that even though I couldn't connect, others might have more luck.  I'm guessing the end result would be much different too.  So that being said, I recommend this book, but not wholeheartedly. Read and see for yourself.

Grade: C

2 comments:

Niall Alexander said...

Hmm.

I had a copy of God's War whispered to my Kindle app when it came out ages ago, but two or three attempts at getting into it later, I'm still struggling to give a shit.

So... perversely pleased to hear I'm not the only genre blogger left unmoved by this book! :)

Ryan said...

Hurley definitely throws the reader into her world without any hand holding. The descriptions and explanations are teased out slowly, which I liked, she just didn't manage to do a lot of other important things nearly as well.

I'd say that if you've already tried three times, then it's time to move on.