Apocalypse Nyx was my initiation into Kameron Hurley’s Bel Dame Apocrypha. I knew nothing about the world or characters before picking up the collection, though I’m an established fan of Hurley’s non-fiction (The Geek Feminist Revolution) and fiction (The Stars are Legion). While I didn’t find Apocalypse Nyx to be Hurley’s most polished publication, it still packs plenty of punch.
‘The only time she didn’t regret taking a job was when she was drinking the money it earned her.’
The book is a collection of short stories set between the first and second books of the Bel Dame Apocrypha series, following mercenary Nyx and her team as they complete a series of dangerous and ethically questionable jobs. Hurley delivers short, sharp tales of investigation and inevitable show-down in a format reminiscent of a case-of-the-week TV detective show. The characters and setting of the narratives complement this format, leaning heavily on pulpy tropes that made both golden age science fiction and detective stories shine. Each story gets quickly to the point and is full to bursting with action scenes.
While this pulpy style can be great fun, it does have its limits. The structure makes character growth almost impossible and it is difficult to deliver anything unexpected. Readers who love action without a whole lot of depth or introspection will love Apocalypse Nyx, but it will disappoint readers who want something with a little more meat.
‘She’d wanted to f*ck everyone on her team at one state of drunkenness or another. And flirting with death was the best drunk of all.’
The world is a difficult one to categorise in terms of genre, which I found worked in its favour. While the set-up of investigative mercenary on a new case each story covers well-trodden paths, the setting offers up originality and intrigue to spare. There’s a backwards kind of tech element to their weapons and transports that isn’t quite steampunk (bugpunk, perhaps?!); religious and cultural wars; wild west lawlessness; magic use which ticks the fantasy box; total rebuilding of the deceased to further tilt it towards science fiction… Very little in the world building pigeonholes Hurley’s setting – a refreshing originality among the trope-heavy plot.
As with all of Hurley’s work, her biggest strength lies in her fearlessness. She doesn’t shy away from the provocative but neither does her work feel like it touches on these issues just for effect. Sex is dealt with in frank, honest terms – with women’s sexuality at the fore. Transgender and non-binary identifying characters appear with little fanfare, making them a normal part of that world. All these things Hurley covers without batting an eyelid. Few writers are so brave.
Nyxnissa, Hurley’s mercenary protagonist, is also refreshingly brazen in construction. Very often, writers hesitate to have characters that could be considered as traditionally unlikable as Nyx. Not only is she deeply flawed – she lacks self-awareness and compassion, she’s stubborn and cruel – but she is also lacking in certain skills. Nyx is not gifted at absolutely everything like far too many ‘heroes’. Instead, she’s given consistent and interesting flaws that require her to think quickly and respond in different ways.
Verdict: If your favourite action TV series were distilled in book form, this would be it. Not for the faint of heart, Apocalypse Nyx unapologetically pulls you along for the ride.