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Literature: Bel Dame Apocrypha
The cover of the first book, featuring our favorite Back-to-Back Badasses.

A Science Fiction trilogy by Kameron Hurley, consisting of God's War, Infidel, and Rapture.

On the plague-ridden planet of Umayma, a holy war has been raging for as long as anyone can remember. Nyxnissa so Dasheem, a Bel Dame who cuts off heads for the government, could end the war with the head she's bringing home this time—but at what cost?


These books contain examples of:

  • The Alcoholic: Nyx. Her substances of choice seem to be whiskey, sen and sometimes morphine, but at the beginning of the second book she's "sworn off whiskey" and we see her down a fifth of vodka. For breakfast.
  • Adult Fear: In the second book, Rhys loses his children. Khos thinks he has lost his.
  • Alien Sky: With Binary Suns—one big orange one and one little blue one—and multiple moons that take twenty years to complete their orbit.
  • Anti-Hero: Nyx is a solid Type IV.
  • Arc Words: "We're all trying to cure the war."
  • The Atoner: Rhys, to a significant extent.
    • Nyx is this, too, as we find out more about what really happened at the front.
  • Ax-Crazy: Rasheeda loves her some Cold-Blooded Torture. She doesn't need weapons, either: Nyx notes that she has seen her claw out other people's eyes and eat them.
  • Badass: Nyx, of course. Rhys. Khos. Inaya levels up in a major way at the end of the first book.
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: This is how Nyx, Anneke and Khos get into Nikodem's residence in the first book.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Nyx to Rhys.
  • Berserk Button: Do not do anything to hurt Rhys. Nyx will trounce you.
  • Bilingual Bonus: "Bel dame" literally translates as "beautiful girl" and has been used ironically to refer to an ugly old woman, but while researching the book the author discovered "bel damÍ" was also an ancient Assyrian/Babylonian term meaning "blood avenger".
  • Bio Punk: Kind of, but more specific. Kameron Hurley invented her own form of punk: Bug Punk.
  • Black and Grey Morality
  • Body Horror: SO MANY instances: We know that Nyx cut off Raine's cock, inducing his Roaring Rampage of Revenge against her. Later in the first book Nyx loses two fingers to Cold-Blooded Torture by Rashida, as well as almost losing her legs to bloodworms as part of the torture. In the second book her chest explodes from a magical disease, leaving her with almost no breast tissue. But the most horrifying example thus far is in the second book: Rhys not only loses his hands, but has to have them replaced with someone else's. They're ugly and stubby and not his. Nyx hates them almost as much as he does.
  • Book Dumb: Nyx is pretty obviously (to the reader, anyway) dyslexic. When she was growing up, her teachers all thought she was just stupid.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Nyx gets a nice one in at Yah Tayyib at the end of the first book.
    • In the same book we learn that Rhys tried to do this with his father. It didn't end well.
  • Chekhov's Gun: With actual, literal guns which Anneke leaves in the trunk of Nyx's bakkie in the first book.
    • In the second book, Chekov's Giant Hornets.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Nyx. In addition to not fighting fair, she is pretty much always armed to the teeth: a sword, knives, more knives, a pistol, bullets sewn into her clothing, a whip, garroting wire (which she uses as sandal laces and clothing drawstrings), razor blades tucked into the soles of her sandals, and poison needles in her hair. And we see her use all of them throughout the series.
  • Crapsack World: And how! In addition to the holy war that's been raging for generations, the whole planet is an ecological mess. Terraforming somehow went awry, so Umayma is plagued by giant insects, blisteringly hot climates and deadly diseases. Skin cancer is as common as, well, the common cold, due to the twin suns in the sky. (Don't worry—I know a good magician who can scrape you for cancers.)
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Just about everyone on Nyx's team.
  • Dead Guy Junior: In the second book, we learn that Inaya's son is called Tatie.
  • Death Is Cheap: It is if you're a bel dame with access to a good magician.
  • Determinator: Nyx, full stop. Khos's narration sums it up beautifully:
    Her eyes were hard and black, and she looked at him the way she looked at everything else in her life—with cold determination, a willingness to part with whatever she knew, she saw, she had, to accomplish whatever she set herself to. [...] The world could burn around her, the cities turn to dust, the cries of a hundred thousand fill the air, and she would get up after the fire died and walk barefoot and burned over the charred soil in search of clean water, a weapon, a purpose. She would rebuild.
  • Everyone Is Bi: Nasheenian society is run by women because all their men get shipped off to the front at age 16. As a result, plenty of women sleep with other women.
    Eshe: (about a girl to whom he was talking) "She has a girlfriend."
    Nyx: "This is Nasheen. Everybody has a girlfriend."
  • Fantastic Racism: There is serious societal discrimination against shifters in Ras Tieg and Tirhan.
    • Good old-fashioned racism abounds, too. During Rhys's time in Nasheen, practically every Nasheenian woman on the street hurls slurs at him, "black man" being the mildest.
  • Forever War: Between Nasheen and Chenja, who have been fighting for over three hundred years. Also a Hopeless War at the start of the trilogy.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Taite in the first book. Subverted with Nyx—she tells Rhys the truth about her time at the front near the end of the first book. Turns out she's not a war hero at all—she got her boys killed, then lit herself on fire in an attempt to punish herself.
  • Honor Before Reason: Rhys. He is The Atoner, after all.
  • Human Aliens: Even if they're full-fledged H. sapiens, human visitors from other worlds who make it through the Kill Sat array that guards the planet are referred to as "aliens".
  • Inept Mage: Rhys, quite a bit. He's not terribly good at controlling bugs—a skill which is at the heart of all magic in this 'verse—at the best of times, let alone under pressure. And Nyx and her team are always under pressure.
  • Infant Immortality: Averted with Rhys's children in the second book.
  • Internalized Categorism: Inaya against shifters in the first book.
  • Islam IN SPACE: Along with Future Space Catholics and Future Space Orthodox Jews, among others. It's sort of implied that all the different races and religions came from Earth That Was, but seeing as 3,000 years have passed between the time the First Families settled Umayma and the time the books take place, the details are very fuzzy indeed.
  • Magic Pants: Averted. Every time a shifter transforms back into his or her human form, s/he's stark naked, covered in mucus, and starving for protein.
  • Magitek: Actually, the life energy of bugs is magic as technology. Almost every kind of technology on this world—from automobiles to lamps to security cameras to quarantine filters—runs on bugs.
  • Mandatory Unretirement: The Queen forces Nyx to work for her again in the second book.
  • Men Are the Expendable Gender: And how.
  • No Pronunciation Guide
  • Not So Different: The Queen tries to pull this on Nyx at the end of the first book. Nyx doesn't buy it.
    Queen Zaynab: "We must decide, in the end, whose life matters most and how many can be sacrificed to preserve those few."
    Nyx: "Who decides who the best few are?"
    Queen Zaynab: "We do, Nyxnissa. We are not so different, you and I."
    Nyx: "From where I'm standing, you and me don't have much in common."
  • Pretty Boy: Rhys, A LOT. Almost EVERY character comments on how pretty he is. And due to his status as an Inept Mage, it may well be the only reason Nyx keeps him on the team in the first book.
  • Removing the Head or Destroying the Brain: You need to do the latter to make sure a bel dame stays dead.
  • Running Gag: Nyx is a lousy shot. She may be a decent boxer, and an excellent fighter when it comes to swords, knives, and her whip (her favorite)—but she can't shoot worth a damn.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: Nyx gives Nikodem an epic one in the first book:
    Nikodem: "You're just an uneducated bloodletter. What do you know about God's plan, about the salvation of your soul?"
    Nyx: "No more than a butcher. But a butcher knows how to serve it halal."
  • The Svengali: Raine to Nyx, complete with "I made you!" as they fight before Nyx kills him in the first book.
  • Time Skip: At the end of Part I of the first book, we skip a year (the year Nyx is in prison). Then seven more years pass between Part I and Part II. And between the end of the first book and the start of the second, there is another time skip of six years.
  • Translation Convention: All the dialogue (at least, all the dialogue the characters can understand) is written in English, though they are speaking Nasheenian, Chenjan, etc.
  • True Companions: Nyx's team. That is, until Khos leaves a battered Nyx and a wounded, drugged Rhys for dead in the desert at the end of the first book, taking Inaya and the bakkie with him.
  • Universal Universe Time: Averted. A day on Umayma has 27 hours and a week has 9 days. (It's not really clear how long a year is.)
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Discussed In-Universe, even! Khos asks Nyx if she's fucked Rhys yet. When she says no, he replies with something along the lines of "Just do it, already!"
  • Unusual Euphemism/Future Slang: "Catshit" is used in place of "bullshit". (Sandcats are large creatures used to pull carts.)
    • In the second book, Eshe becomes enamored of the colorful phrases a Tirhani taxi driver hurls at the group: "Did he just call us 'whores of roaches'?"
  • Younger than They Look: Most women, Nyx notes, are "broken old crones" by the time they're 30. It's partly the desert, partly the two suns in the sky, and partly the hard living. The Queen of Nasheen and others of wealth who have lived their lives indoors tend to be Older than They Look.
    • Then again, we're not sure how long a year is on Umayma. It may be longer than an Earth year...

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alternative title(s): Bel Dame Apocrypha
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