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Literature / Bel Dame Apocrypha

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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. A subsequent series of shorter side-stories, initially published digitally, is collected as Apocalypse Nyx.

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.
  • 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.
  • Arc Words: "We're all trying to cure the war."
  • 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.
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: This is how Nyx, Anneke and Khos get into Nikodem's residence in the first book.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Averted. Aside from beatings and other bloody injuries, most of the women in the series have faces marked by wear and old wounds, with "mashed" noses being rather common. Replacement body parts, often with mismatched skin tones, are also not unusual.
  • Bloodsport: Boxing is a popular form of entertainment on Umayma, and far more brutal and seedy than the modern-day version. Weight classes are apparently not a thing, gloves are considerably less padded than our own, and bouts have no set number of rounds, so fights continue until one boxer is knocked out or submits. Certain passages even indicate that boxers losing eyes or bits of their ears is not an uncommon occurrence, nor are fights where the first row of spectators end up covered in blood. A boxer leaving the ring with a bashed-up face is practically a given.
  • 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. Or skin. Or muscle mass. The replacement skin they find for her—and where do magicians' stores of live organs come from? We know Nyx sold a few in the past—does not match her skin color, and also has to be slathered with salve for several days, and also there's medical-magical bugs crawling around underneath the new skin getting things hooked up. 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.
  • Boxing Battler: Quite a few characters are trained, competitive boxers, due to it being a popular pastime and a decent way to make money.
  • 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.)
  • Creepy-Crawly Torture: There are several scenes of torture by insect, although in this world practically all forms of technology involve insects.
  • 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 of a Child: In the second book, Rhys loses his children. Khos thinks he has lost his.
  • 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.
  • Doom Magnet: Nyx rivals only John Constantine and Jack Harkness for the number of her allies and employees who die horribly or end up alive but unspeakably traumatised.
  • 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."
    • Chenjans view Nasheenians as godless and depraved.
  • Eye Scream: The narration mentions a boxing match Nyx once witnessed where a boxer had been beaten so badly she had an eye dangling from the socket.
  • Fantastic Racism:
    • There is serious societal discrimination against shifters in Ras Tieg.
    • 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 although that's more political than anything since he comes from a country they've been at war with for three centuries.
  • Fantastic Religious Weirdness:
    • Mecca, and even Earth itself seem to, at best, be vague memories so of course no one prays in its direction. In addition the Chenjans have added a sixth prayer period. Nasheen which is an Islamic matriarchy.
    • Mhorians are a fully gender-segregated culture who keep Kosher, but have blonde dreadlocks. If a Mhorian doesn't want to be homosexual that individual can choose exile and a body full of tattoos.
  • 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.
  • Gender-Blender Name: Played with. While at an illegal Chenjan fighting ring, Khos asks a local who is fighting that night, and becomes confused when the names sound masculine to him, since male boxers are rare. The local laughs at him and says his Chenjan needs work, and that the boxers are all women.
  • 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.
  • Internal Deconstruction: According to Hurley, she started writing the trilogy because of her dissatisfaction with the way that Action Girls in SF and Urban Fantasy were often written: as having been made that way against their wills, lamenting their inability to achieve Acceptable Feminine Goals, and benefiting from Beauty Is Never Tarnished to keep them sexy for male audience members. She decided to create a female character who actually was a gender-swapped version of a truly badass male action hero. Then she decided that action heroes of that kind were basically assholes regardless of gender, explaining why the books become gradually less approving of Nyx as a person as they go on.
  • Internalized Categorism: Inaya against shifters in the first book.
  • Least Common Skin Tone: Inverted. The majority of the cast is black or Middle Eastern, and when Nyx first sees a white person in the middle of the first book, she wonders what kind of horrible skin condition made her look like that.
  • 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.
  • Milky White Eyes: One eye in the case of Husayn, a boxer and former soldier.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: 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."
  • Organic Technology: Umayman society runs on this, especially, though not exclusively, on various mutated insect forms.
  • 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. Besides, if you don't decapitate or burn a regular corpse, it will come back as a bug puppet.
  • 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.
  • Sex Is Violence: Implied early in the first book when Nyx sleeps with a boxer named Jaks after watching her get beaten up and knocked out in a match (though Nyx is primarily there for business).
  • Shown Their Work: Hurley featured details of boxing down to how to wrap ones hands in the first book. In real life, she trained as a recreational boxer. May also be Author Appeal.
  • 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. Same thing between the second and third books.
  • 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'?"
  • World of Action Girls: Most of the main cast is made up of tough women hardened up by their harsh environment, who have histories of being soldiers, assassins, and the like. More generally, boxing is a popular pastime in this world, and almost completely female-dominated due to many men being away for the war.
  • 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.