The war may be over, but the battle’s just begun…
Nyx used to be an assassin, part of the sisterhood of the Bel Dames. Now she’s babysitting diplomats to make ends meet and longs for the days when killing was a lot more honourable.
So, when her former ‘sisters’ lead a coup against the government, she’s the perfect choice to stop them. But can one lone assassin stand a change against the elite?
Hurley’s Bel Dame Apocrypha has had an interesting publication history, some of which she discussed here. Infidel, the second installment (and the often-difficult middle book), was published at the start of this month. It’s also an interesting case study in the Queering the Genre product; the Bel Dame Apocrypha has queerness as the unmarked state, at least in one culture, but at the same time it’s only on one access of queerness…
Hurley’s pseudo-Islamic societies were first introduced in God’s War; one, Nasheen, is a matriarchy due to the meatgrinder of the war with Chenja, it’s patriarchal neighbour that is more immediately recognisable to Western eyes as a repressive Arabic state. Both present case studies of responses to the mass-slaughter of one gender, in the context of the same base religio-cultural imperatives; Chenja controls its women very strictly, enforces femininity, demands their subservience to men. Nasheen is run by women, controlled by women, policed by the Bel Dames – women trained to kill, nationalised bounty hunters who mainly go after traitors and male deserters. In all the societies of the Bel Dame Apocrypha, of which we see more in greater detail in Infidel than ever before, this rigidity and inflexibility of gender roles hold true, although the margins have different rules, and it is in the margins that Nyx exists. The place queerness exists is in the utter unremarkability of female homosexuality in Nasheen; the lack of men normalises it as a way to, as it were, scratch the sexual itch, and Hurley’s treatment of this as utterly unremarkable when writing Nashenians and utterly strange when writing Chenjans demonstrates the oddity of anti-homosexuality attitudes.
Of course, that’s largely side-story in Infidel, where it played some – although still not extensive – role in the plot of God’s War. Here, Hurley is writing much more of an intrigue, and somehow an even more grimdark one than God’s War; the brutal meatgrinder of war, the horrific damage of an internal civil war, the politics of those around a long-term war (Hurley’s absolute contempt for the Tirhani, an arms-dealing nation selling to both sides and trying to prolong the war because of it, is very clear). It’s a complex plot, but one Hurley pulls off; Nyx’s determination and the way she doggedly chases down the plot amongst the Bel Dames to overthrow the queen, and the way all sides use and abuse her, is fantastically executed. It’s a dark and strange plot, but Hurley carries off the twists and turns excellently.
It’s hard to assess the characters of Infidel, however, because they’re tied in, in a number of ways, to the events especially at the end of God’s War. Indeed, despite the six-year time gap between the two novels, Hurley’s characters are defined by the traumatic events at the end of the book; it’s excellent writing, and the ways that the effects of decisions and actions taken at the end of God’s War impact on the characters are well explained within the novel to allow new readers to jump into the series in book 2. Indeed, Infidel avoids the middle-book problem by being both a standalone novel that provides a satisfactory conclusion and is self-contained, but also drawing on the events and character development of God’s War.
I wouldn’t say Infidel is a book I’d have read for the Queering the Genre project if I’d known how little role it played going in; on the other hand, it is a fantastic, and very feminist book, and as a whole Hurley’s Bel Dame Apocrypha so far are a fascinating case study in the normalisation of homosexuality.