It’s not often I pick up the next novel in a series so soon after I’ve started the first one. As I’ve mentioned frequently before, I like spacing out the books I read in a series so that I don’t get fatigue with the series, as has happened before with others whose books I’ve read one right after the other, riding the wave of enthusiasm and enjoyment the first book may have engendered.
This time around, though, the situation is somewhat different. After getting Hope into God’s War, by Kameron Hurley, she was eager to get onto the next book, Infidel, as soon as possible. She was, however, aware of how I felt about reading books in a series one right after the other, and while she wanted to use Infidel for our read-along she granted me some space to read three other books before suggesting that maybe we could pick up Infidel next. I saw nothing wrong with this in the least, especially since I was just coming off Dust and Shadows by Lyndsay Faye and which had proven to be something of a disappointment. I hoped Infidel would live up to the expectations that God’s War had laid down – and it has.
Infidel, the sequel to God’s War, is the second book in the Bel Dame Apocrypha trilogy. It has been six years since the end of the events in the first novel, and everyone appears to have found their own way in the world. Nyx has become a bodyguard, with a new team to back her up, but without what she expected to gain at the end of God’s War: her reinstatement to the ranks of the bel dames, Nasheen’s elite assassin corps. In the meantime, the members of her old team who survived the events of the first novel are in Tirhan, trying to live their own lives: Khos and Inaya are married, though the marriage is hardly a happy one. Inaya is also involved with Ras Tiegan revolutionaries attempting to fight for shifter rights in their home country. At the same time, she worries about her children, who may turn out to be shifters like her. Rhys, on the other hand, is married as well, has twin daughters, and is doing his level best to forget his life with Nyx and her team. He’s found a measure of peace and respectability, and he would like nothing more than to keep living his life the way he has been.
Of course, this status quo cannot last, because things go downhill, and rather quickly, at that. It all begins with Nyx getting attacked while on bodyguard duty – an attack she initially assumes was meant for the young woman she was guarding, but quickly turns out to be intended for her. Soon after that, Mushtallah, the capital of Nasheen, is bombed, and Nyx receives a new mission from the Queen: figure out who is behind the attack, and bring them to justice. When it becomes clear that it may just be rogue bel dames behind the attack, Nyx – who turns out to be quite ill, physically speaking – goes off to Tirhan in order to find the members of her old team, because she really, desperately needs their help if they are to figure out what is going on in Nasheen, and stop it before it becomes all-out civil war.
What I found fascinating about this novel is that, although Nyx is still the central character, she is not the most interesting – mostly because I think this is not “her” novel, but Rhys’s and Inaya’s. Inaya, in particular, is utterly fascinating in this one, and I consider her to be the star of this book. At the end of the first novel I thought that, although she would be safe with Khos, she wouldn’t be truly happy, mostly because she hated who she was as a shifter – and to a degree, I was correct in my assumption. That hint of hate lingers on, six years after, despite being married to and having children with Khos, whom she has decided isn’t quite as bad as she thought him to be at first. Initially, it’s quite clear that all the conflicting prejudice she has about shifters is still with her, and early in the novel she attempts to deny the clear signs that her own children are shifters, too. But there’s a crucial shift in the middle of the novel, when she realizes that her hate for what she is and what her children will become is all wrong, and that instead she should be shaping the world to become a safe place, if not for herself, then at least for her children.
It is at this point that Inaya really comes into her own, or at least, presents a side of her character that came out only very briefly in the first novel. Once she has shrugged off the weight of her self-loathing, it turns out that she is quite a formidable woman – something Nyx knew was there, but which Inaya only made a part of herself in this novel. Where she takes this newfound courage and purpose is still unknown; either way, this self-knowledge – tied in with the fact that she is, in fact, no ordinary shifter – ensures that Inaya will have a major role to play in the last novel of the trilogy.
As for Rhys, his life has taken a significantly different direction from Inaya’s, though his situation in life is no less complicated. Unlike Inaya, Rhys is actually quite happy in his marriage. It might not be perfect, but he loves his wife and his children and he has a respectable job. Despite that, though, he finds himself longing for the life he had with Nyx – and, so it seems, Nyx herself. Rhys’s feelings on Nyx are confused at best, and therefore confusing to the reader, but then again he has never really been true about them to anyone, even to himself. In the end, he’s determined to enjoy his life, but just as he reaches resolution Nyx appears on his doorstep (so to speak), and though he knows trouble is coming, he tries to deny the truth because he really, truly wants to believe that nothing and no one can touch him now that he’s built his happiness with his own two hands. I wanted nothing more than to believe this conviction, even though I knew such a thing could not last, and I was right: Rhys loses everything he’s ever built the moment Nyx shows up in Tirhan. Everyone in this novel deserves a slice of happiness, and while his happiness could not have lasted, Rhys’s loss of it is a powerful punch to the reader’s gut – and a reminder that in Umayma, peace is an illusion, and woe to those who think they have it are always cruelly despoiled of that notion.
Although some of the characters have changed, the plot itself, and the themes, are nothing new. Infidel suffers from “middle book syndrome,” meaning that since it is the middle book of a trilogy, its main purpose is to bridge the gap between God’s War and the third novel Rapture, laying the groundwork for everything that will happen in the finale. As for the themes, they are pretty much the same as those in God’s War, expanded slightly to accommodate the coming larger plot in Book Three.
Overall, Infidel is an excellent transition between the events of God’s War and the coming events in Rapture. It reunites most of the characters from the previous novel; introduces some new ones; and a few undergo major changes to their personalities and characterization that are sure to have a major impact in the third novel. The plot and themes are the same as in the first book, but a fire is lit in this novel that will turn into a blaze in Rapture: the threads of future, very large plot points and expectations have already been laid for what promises to be an explosive concluding volume to an amazing series.