Infidel by Kameron Hurley. OMG.

Read August 2015
Recommended for fans of fantasy, kick-ass plots, Abercrombie
 ★    ★    ★    ★    ★   

The smog in Mushtallah tasted of tar and ashes; it tasted like the war.

I had to remind myself to breathe when I was reading Infidel. Kameron Hurley’s Bel Dame series is simply amazing. So many themes packed into each page; action, honor, faith, regret, resolve, all woven into a fast-moving plot, character exploration and innovative world-building. It feels real and harsh and heartbreaking. When I finished late at night, I felt rather the same way I felt when I finished The Last Argument of Kings, only more so.

Yeah, that.

Infidel takes place six years after the events of the first book, God’s War. The countries of Nasheen and Chenja remain at war with each other, as they have been for the last hundred years. Nyx worked as a bel dame for Nasheen, a government enforcer/assassin, but after making some very questionable decisions, she’s been working a mercenary. She has a new team, a young shifter boy named Eshe and a hardened ex-veteran, Suha. The story begins in the midst of bodyguard detail for a diplomat’s daughter, in the setting dreaded by all bodyguards everywhere, the crowded shopping district. Nyx realizes they are being boxed in and manages to scare off one assassin and behead another. When she learns the assassin might be a rogue bel dame, she journeys to the headquarters of the guild and meets with a former colleague. What follows is a fast-paced hunt through the countries of Umayma.

As the second in the Bel Dame series, more details of the world are fleshed (ha-ha) out, so to speak. For those that struggled with the world-building in the first book, Hurley is kinder here, filling in more details about the neighboring countries and the history of various peoples. A little more is also filled in about the emigration from the moon to Unamya, and the unclean areas that remain even after colonizing. The insect-based magic and technology continues to play a vital role in the plot, and despite my own bug-aversion, it’s very interesting.

Plotting is fast. There’s more nation-politics than I usually like in my book, but it is built organically, connected to personal actions and motives that make it both plausible and interesting. Something in Hurley’s plotting feels unusual to me, and I think it’s partly her ability to sustain tension through small event arcs, and then repeating them at escalating frequency. It has the satisfying feeling of building to a crescendo, resolving small conflicts and then creating bigger ones. It helps too that the world she’s built allows for a certain kinds of rejuvenation, provided one has the money, connections and time. What I discovered this time was that very little of the details were predictable, and I loved that.

‘So what the hell’s wrong with me?’ Nyx eased off the marble slab.
‘Besides your deviant moral flexibility and severe phobia of emotional commitment?’ Yahfia asked.
‘I consider those virtues,’ Nyx said.

Characterization is outstanding. Nyx is not an easy person to like, but she has an idea of honor and protection that makes her accessible. Her cynicism brings a dry, biting humor to her character and her story. Rhys, an educated exile, provides a way for Hurley to engage in more sophisticated cultural analysis. One of the fascinating aspects of the story is the attraction that Nyx and Rhys have for each other despite enormous cultural and emotional differences.

‘If you weren’t what you are, and I wasn’t what I am, we’d both be dead,’ Rhys said. ‘And we would have nothing to speak of.'”

Why have more people not read this series?  I highly recommend it, particularly if you enjoy some of the darker fantasy such as Weeks or Abercrombie. I particularly recommend it because of the nuanced character development and the unusual world-building. Definitely personal library-worthy.


About thebookgator

avid reader and Goodreads reviewer looking for a home.
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11 Responses to Infidel by Kameron Hurley. OMG.

  1. I’m in 100% agreement that this is a great series that doesn’t get enough attention.

  2. Mimi says:

    Great review, Carol. You always make me want to jump right into the books you love, and I would too if I didn’t have such a hard time finding God’s War. Will probably have to buy it, but since you liked it a lot, I have no doubt it’ll be a great read.

    • thebookgator says:

      You can find it cheap used on (gulp) Amazon. I bought the whole series because I think I’m going to re-read–and my library system didn’t have the second or third. I’m also toying with donating it to them. Its Ambercrombie and Lawrence and Weeks with nuances. And feminism. And Muslims.

      • Mimi says:

        You had me at Abercrombie but then lost me at Lawrence and Weeks lol. But feminism and Muslims and desert settings! How could I resist! Plus, Kameron Hurley seems to have a way with words. I like all of the passages you quoted. Brb, gonna get these books now.

  3. thebookgator says:

    Mimi, I hesitated to throw that in, because it deserves more explanation given my reaction to Lawrence. I honestly think this book should appeal to those that liked those works, if they like them for the reasons they claim they do (the grimdark, the exploration of redemption, etc). Hurley writes with a human consciousness and sensibility, so it’s not only that the tables are turned on the sexism, but that she actually has characters that are conflicted for idealistic reasons as well as upbringing. And she doesn’t need to descend to the rape-trope to make certain actions horrific.

    • Mimi says:

      I was just kidding. I knew what you meant by mentioning Weeks and Lawrence; it was for the benefit of those who might be turned off by the feminist and Muslim aspects of the story.

      I’m glad to hear that Hurley’s fiction is nuanced like her nonfiction; she used to write guest posts for many SFF blogs, and I always loved reading her take on current events, most recently the Hugo shenanigans.

  4. What luck!! I find myself passing through the blogsphere just in time to snag yet another great book rec from you!! 😀

  5. Stephen Fisher says:

    Did you ever read the last book in this Belle Dame series? Also VERY good.

    I just finished the first book in Ms. Hurley’s new Worldbreaker Saga: The Mirror Empire. She remains for me the most original and unique author in fantasy. Ms. Hurley uses a lot of the same themes in Empire: strong women characters, a hostile dying planet, magic, war and violence but with a new twist. Where the Belle Dame series featured a terrestrial war between faiths and ethnicities, the Worldbreaker Saga is about a war between colliding parallel worlds. In Grania, each time the satellite Oma rises, the space between alternate realities is bridged. Forces from a dying world cross over into a parallel reality destroying all before them. Grania has seen three such genocidal events in its history. In Empire, Oma is rising again and the pacifist Dhai are faced with invasion by murderous versions of themselves.

    It took me a few chapters to get into Empire because Ms. Hurley begins the book using terminology that is completely foreign. The glossary at the back smooths the way if you know about it from the beginning instead of finding it at Chapter 5 like I did. Once Ms. Hurley’s construct is understood, Empire is a good read. I was not wowed by Mirror Empire like I was by the Belle Dame series, but I think that’s because I now know what to expect from Ms. Hurley. Hard-edged fantasy unlike any other. Recommended.

  6. thebookgator says:

    Hm, interesting regarding Mirror Empire. Good to know that the quality carries through. I still have the final book on deck, but my time is so constrained these days… I want to give it full attention and not have to set it down.

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