Stars: 3 out of 5.
This is a tough review to write. See, I loved the world Kameron Hurley created, but I deeply disliked our protagonist. Yet Nyx is the product of that word. So that awesome world building that I found so fascinating produced a protagonist so unlikable, that I actually wished the bad guys killed her before the end of the book.
The planet Nyx lives on isn’t Earth, but it was colonized by people from Earth, who brought with them their religion, their problems, and their conflicts. This is a harsh and unforgiving world: the radiation from its suns produces all kinds of cancers in populations too poor to live behind protective barriers reserved to the elite. Most of the planet is a desert and resources are hard to come by, so nations are in a perpetual war against each other.
It’s a war without rules or boundaries, where radioactive and chemical weapons are used so often, most border towns are contaminated beyond repair, and locals don’t even take cover during daily air strikes.
Nyx lives in a nation that has been at war with its neighbor long before she was born and will still be waging that war long after she dies. Everyone is conscripted into the army when they reach adulthood, but the amount of time men and women serve is different. Women go in for two years and assume most of the command posts. Men go in for 30 years and are considered cannon fodder. Most never come back from that war, or come back broken beyond repair.
Nyx experience unnameable horrors in that war and even perpetrated some of them. She was so badly injured that she had to be “remade”, which means that over 80% of her body isn’t hers anymore. Worse than that, she has been mentally damaged as well. She has severe PTSD and survivor’s guilt. She has vivid nightmares and flashbacks to her times on the front line and she can be unpredictable in those moments. Well, no, I take that back, you can pretty much guarantee that she would lash out with extreme violence.
She chose to think only about her own survival and not get attached to anyone or anything. She is harsh and abrasive, downright violent at times with both her enemies and her partners, and she wouldn’t hesitate to sacrifice them all to save her own skin.
I understand why Nyx is the way she is. At the beginning of the book, I even empathized. After all she’s been through, it would have been surprising if she wasn’t messed up in her head. My problem is that Nyx doesn’t change. This book consists of three novellas presented in chronological order, and Nyx stays the same unlikable abrasive self through all of them. There is no character growth, no redemption arc, not even a hint that she might mellow or start giving a shit about her companions.
I can stick with an unlikable protagonist as long as there is some hope for character growth. I might not like them, but I can stay invested if I saw an effort to better themselves and overcome their past. Unfortunately, there is no such hope for Nyx.
My other problem with Nyx is that she never faces her problems head on. She never stops to discus them with her companions and try to work out a solution like most adults would do. She chooses to lash out and run instead, then drown her frustration in alcohol until she passes out. Every single time. After the second or third time Nyx bailed and got drunk instead of just talking through the problem, I lost the little respect I had left for her… as well as my investment in her story.
So nice world building, Mrs. Hurley, but I won’t be sticking around for the next book unless Nyx starts growing.
PS. I received an advanced copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.