After loving Kameron Hurley's God's War (Canada, USA, Europe) and Infidel (Canada, USA, Europe) to such a degree, I was really looking forward to the final chapter in this trilogy. The first two installments were brutal, uncompromising, brilliant, and enthralling. And both were awesome reads!
The questions was: Could Kameron Hurley close the show in style and with as much aplomb as she demonstrated in the first two volumes? Well, the answer is a resounding yes! Hurley has now joined my short list of speculative fiction "must read" authors. Whatever project she works on next -- and here's to hoping it will be another novel/series set on Umayma, for we know too little about that strange, mutating world and what we do know makes us want to beg for much more -- I'll read it as soon as it becomes available.
Here's the blurb:
After years in exile, Nyxnissa so Dasheem is once more a bel dame, part of a sisterhood of elite government assassins trained to a cut a target's head off without remorse. But the end of a centuries-long war has thrown her native land of Nasheen into turmoil. A huge influx of unemployed--and unemployable--young soldiers have brought Nasheen to the brink of civil war, even as an alien spaceship stations itself in orbit above the capital.
With aliens in the sky and revolution on the ground, Nyx figures it's a good time to get the hell out of Nasheen, so she assembles a team of renegades, shape-shifters, magicians, and mercenaries to rescue a missing political leader who may be the difference between peace and bloodshed.
Just one problem: the politician is an old enemy whom Nyx once left to die in a ditch . . .
As was the case in both God's War and Infidel, the worldbuilding was my favorite aspect of Rapture. Hurley's vision continues to be unique and the universe she created comes alive as the story progresses. Once more, her narrative creates a vivid imagery that makes the ravaged world of Umayma and its characters leap off the pages. The backstory remains the same. Centuries ago, Islam took to the stars. And yet, the religion has evolved and strife began hundreds of years before the events chronicled in this series while the men and women still lived on the moons and magicians terraformed the planet to make it habitable. My main problem with Infidel was that too much, I felt, remained undisclosed. Revelations were few and far between. True, it made reading those two books all the more fascinating. Nonetheless, it also made reading them a little frustrating. I felt that information regarding the backstory was essential in order to understand what led to the holy war and the planet's isolation. Sadly, most of the interesting concepts retained a definite mysterious aura with very few answers in sight.
Hence, I was looking forward to discovering more about the origins of the long-lasting war and the different societies/religions populating Umayma. To my surprise, Rapture was a bit more forthcoming in that regard. Not as much as I would have liked, unfortunately. But through Safiyah, readers are offered a number of tantalizing glimpses into Umayma's distant and not-so-distant past. As expected, those revelations only increase your interest in the backstory. Which is why I'm dearly hoping Hurley has plans to revisit Umayma in the near future.
In my opinion, Hurley keeps her cards too close to her chest again, which means that we don't learn much concerning the strange insectile technology and magic. Both aspects give this series its unique "flavor," so it would have been nice to learn more. But Safiyah's revelations regarding conjurers and magicians did shine some light on certain questions I had since the first installment. There is so much depth to the worldbuilding of this series, so much left to be explored.
Not everyone is pleased with the new peace following an interminable war, and once again politicking is at the heart of this novel. Beyond the grittiness, the blood, and the violence, the Bel Dame Apocrypha is much more multilayered than meets the eye. Though there were several hints in that regard in God's War and Infidel, Rapture demonstrates just how talented Kameron Hurley truly is and just how complex her series has been from the very beginning.
The protagonists are the product of a war-torn, unforgiving, and contaminated world. Don't expect anyone to see life through rose-tinted lenses. Hurley's characterization is similar to that of gritty SFF authors such as Joe Abercrombie, Richard Morgan, and George R. R. Martin. Hence, not for the faint-hearted, but oh so satisfying. The three principal POV characters remain Nyx, Rhys, and Inaya. Once more, I felt that with their disparate personalities the author created a good balance between the POVs. I was a bit confused at the beginning of the novel, for all three characters have parted ways and their storylines appear to be unrelated. But it was evident that Hurley was setting the stage to bring them back together, and you can expect quite a few unanticipated surprises along the way. The cast of secondary characters was also quite interesting, and throughout Rapture they get occasional POV sections. I particularly enjoyed Ahmed, Isabet, and Kage.
Unlike Infidel, the rhythm throughout Rapture isn't balls-to-the-wall and fast-moving. The trek through the desert was especially slow-moving, giving us a taste of just how demanding the undertaking was. Yet at no point will you encounter a dull moment. Kameron Hurley knows how to pace a novel and Rapture will keep you turning those pages, eager to see if she can close the show with a bang.
As is her wont, Hurley's prose remains dark and brooding throughout Rapture. And yet, much like Robin Hobb, she still manages to take you by surprise with a number of poignant moments that pack a powerful emotional punch.
If the legendary Frank Herbert and Richard Morgan had ever teamed up to write something together, the Bel Dame Apocrypha is the sort of creation they would have come up with. Dark, violent, complex, touching, compelling, populated with flawed but endearing and unforgettable characters, the Bel Dame Apocrypha could well be the very best science fiction series of the new millennium thus far.
At the top of her game, Kameron Hurley ranks among the best science fiction authors writing today. I can't wait to see what the future has in store for her.
This series deserves the highest possible recommendation.