It’s difficult to resist the final book in a series. I generally like spacing out my reading when it comes to series, especially since I’ve learned I can get sick and tired of reading them, no matter how good, if I keep reading the books one after the other. But in the case of trilogies, there is very little time for me to grow tired of anything about the novel – the story is still compact enough in itself that I can go straight to the next novel without feeling sick of it in the least, or fearing that I will get sick of it if I do.
This is why I’m writing a review for Rapture, the final book in Kameron Hurley’s incredible Bel Dame Apocrypha trilogy, immediately after having read Infidel, and without reading another book in between. The end was in sight, after all, and I did not want to lose any of the momentum in terms of energy and plot that I’d gained from reading Infidel. The story had so far been incredible, and the characters so interesting and engaging that I wanted to know what had happened to them – for better or for worse.
As mentioned earlier, Rapture is the third and final book of the Bel Dame Apocrypha, a trilogy of sci-fi novels written by Kameron Hurley. The trilogy follows in the bloody footsteps of Nyxnissa “Nyx” so Dasheem, a bel dame, or elite assassin, in the service of Nasheen – or at least, she’s supposed to be, since things haven’t been quite the same for her since the events of God’s War. Beginning six (or seven, I cannot be quite certain) years after the end of Infidel, Rapture finds Nyx older, but no less bitter, and sheltering with her friend and former team-member Anneke. Time has moved on: Anneke has a dozen (originally thirteen, but one died in an accident) children of her own, while Nyx has hooked up with a former lover, Radeyah. Thinking herself relatively safe from the chaos of the world, especially with the three hundred-year war between Nasheen and Chenja finally winding down, Nyx has allowed herself to get a little soft. Except peace isn’t ever on the agenda for her, and when she’s tracked down by her bel dame sisters, she’s given a mission whose success could mean saving Nasheen – and whose failure could mean shattering the country she’s given up so much for.
What I find interesting about Rapture is how much wider the world of Umayma becomes, finally gaining its full breadth, or at least most of it. As with God’s War and Infidel, the world-building is not done through long, descriptive passages; it’s done via the way the characters interact with it, leaving it up to the reader to figure out what’s going on. As I mentioned in my previous review for God’s War, this isn’t easy on the reader, but then again, the books themselves are not meant to be easy reads. Nowhere is this more true than in Rapture, wherein the development and relationships of several key characters finally comes to a head.
The most obvious in terms of this development is, of course, Nyx. Although it might seem that she isn’t any different from what she was in the first two books, its clear that the events in God’s War and Infidel have taken a toll on her psyche. She projects the same arrogance and swagger she used to in the two previous novels, and many of the characters around her take this for callousness and selfishness. In truth, Nyx projects such a facade because it’s the only way she and her team will be able to pull through with their mission. If she succumbs to her emotions, no matter how briefly, then everything will fall apart. She is entirely aware of her cruelty, and of what her teammates think of her, but she ignores them and forges on. If there is one thing that everyone who has ever worked with Nyx can agree on, it’s that she’s single-minded in her attempt to accomplish a mission – no matter what the cost.
It is this aspect of her characterization that can polarize readers in two different directions when it comes to Nyx: either one loves her, or hates her, but there is little to no in-between. I, for one, like her, because while the decisions she makes might not always be the right ones, she is always aware that they are her decisions, no one else’s. She will not lay the blame for failure at someone else’s door; if the mission falls apart, then it’s her fault for not taking every single variable into account and preparing for it. It takes a great deal of courage and humility to accept one’s mistakes when one is playing with other people’s lives – people to whom one feels a bond whether of friendship or comradeship in a shared mission. This makes every death of a team member especially hard on Nyx, and nowhere is this made clearer than when Eshe, a character who was introduced in Infidel and whom Nyx treats like her own child (insofar as someone of Nyx’s character can act motherly to anyone), dies in a manner that seems to come totally out of left field. While it’s easy to accept that characters are bound to die (Hurley is most assuredly not shy about pulling a George R. R. Martin when the story calls for it), the manner of Eshe’s death is so sudden and unexpected that it may leave the reader gaping for a while after, wondering how in the world that happened, and why. Eshe’s death, however, is a great reminder that not everyone dies for a reason, like Taite in God’s War, or Rhys’s children in Infidel. Sometimes, especially during war, people just die. Nyx, of course, does not take his death very well, but she expertly shuts her emotions down and keeps moving. She never lets herself forget every death that’s happened on her watch, but she will keep moving regardless.
Another character who comes into her own is Inaya, whose journey proves to be one of the most interesting in the trilogy. Her transformation from angry, cowering shifter in God’s War, to sometimes angry but no longer cowering mother and spy in Infidel, and finally to charismatic revolutionary leader in Rapture is an amazing story to read about. I also speculate that she is, in some way, meant to be Nyx’s opposite number: a woman oppressed by her own society for being a woman and a shifter; a mother trying her best to protect her family; and a leader doing what she can to benefit the people she fights for – all of these things are attributes that may make Inaya more sympathetic as a character than Nyx. But the thing is, despite this, she and Nyx are not all that different in truth – something Inaya herself acknowledges when faced with some very tough decisions that involve placing a lot of lives in the balance. She hates Nyx for bringing blood and misfortune with her wherever she goes, but Inaya is smart enough to realize that, in the end, she is no different from Nyx – they are, after all, both willing to do what must be done to accomplish their goals. It’s just that Nyx is far less subtle about it – and even that straightforwardness is something that Inaya appreciates, albeit grudgingly.
I also think her ending is the most resoundingly successful and triumphant of all the endings presented in Rapture. At the end of the novel she is given a chance to return to her husband, Khos, and to her children, go back to the safety of life in Tirhan. She could easily leave everything behind, settle down to a life with no sneaking around and no bloodshed. But she knows she can never go back to that life, not when there is so much left that needs to be done. In Infidel she promised she would do whatever it took to build a better world for her children, and returning to them would only mean she had given up – and most especially not in a country that is responsible for so much bloodshed but sweeps its involvement under the rug. So she tears up the train ticket to Tirhan that Khos left for her in the cafe where she’d found it, and walks away, determined to continue the revolution. This is far from the traditional happy ending, but it is a strong, sensible, and moreover empowered one. A woman with the smarts and determination like Inaya’s (or Nyx’s, for that matter) knows that a revolution lasts only as long as it’s being fought. And since the change she desires hasn’t happened yet, Inaya will keep on fighting until it does.
The third storyline that finds its conclusion in Rapture is Rhys’s, the mediocre magician whom Nyx first meets and hires in God’s War. Once more he’s attempted to rebuild the life he had in Tirhan, which he lost so violently in Infidel. He’s lost his first two daughters, but his wife, Elahyiah, survived, and they were able to go somewhere else and start over. The problem is, though, it’s nothing like the life they used to have in Tirhan, and though Rhys once more has children, even a son, his life at the beginning of Rapture is nothing like the life he had in Infidel. What I’ve found interesting about Rhys is that since God’s War, he’s sought to run away from everything that has caused him pain. He ran away from Chenja because he did not wish to obey his father’s wishes, and he runs away from Nyx because he does not like what she does to him – which is, interestingly enough, to show him that there is no truly safe place in the world, even if one should carve it out oneself. There is only constant struggle, and the potential for losing everything that one has built, regardless of how safe one plays it. All this time Rhys has been an innocent – or tried to be, tried to deny the true nature of the world because he thinks that if he ignores it, everything will be all right. It is only in Rapture, after losing his wife and (finally!) admitting what he feels for Nyx, that he realizes what Nyx has been trying to show him all along.
His ending is not as triumphant as Inaya’s, but it’s just as powerful: he’s gone home to Chenja, and confronted – and probably made up – with his father. His wife and children aren’t with him, but he doesn’t really need them. He’s decided to find his own way on his own. Like Inaya’s ending, Rhys’s ending is appropriate to the development and treatment he’s had in the trilogy: he’s struggled to find his place in the world, even attempted to make his own place in it, but he’s finally come to realize that he barely even understands himself. He thinks himself a man, and some might say that, given what’s happened to him, he is a man, but he’s really still just a confused boy unwilling to face what’s waiting for him back home. It’s only when he finally does return to Chenja, and meets his father for the first time in years, that he truly grows up.
While I’m quite happy with the way the three major characters have found their place in the world (or probably moved on to the next one, in the case of Nyx), there is one character who doesn’t quite fit: Safiyah. She initially shows up as a nameless character who’s been in deep-freeze (or the Umayman equivalent of deep-freeze), and who’s been brought back to deal with the issue of the aliens from New Kinaan, who were first introduced in God’s War. She meets up with Nyx and her team later on in the plot, and since their goals overlap, she comes along for the ride. While I do find her intriguing – not least because she opens up so many other questions about Umayma and how it works – I was rather concerned about the fact that she became almost a deus ex machina for the story. The thing is, though, Hurley’s proven she’s too skilled a writer to create a character whose sole purpose is to be deus ex machina, which means that there is definitely something I’m missing about the way she’s characterized. I understand that she’s mysterious and powerful, and her motives are almost the same as Nyx’s, but not quite. I also know that she bears an enormous grudge against certain people, a grudge which drives her to pretty much shatter the bel dames at the end of the novel. But somehow, all the layers of mystery wrapped around her – not to mention the fact that there is no truly deep insight into her character – makes her feel more like a means to an end. Hopefully Hurley will write more books set in Umayma, and have Safiyah appear in them, or even make her the main character, because she’s a character with too much potential to be wasted.
Overall, Rapture is everything that the reader could ever hope for as a conclusion to the Bel Dame Apocrypha: explosive (literally and figuratively) and emotionally-harrowing, ending the entire story on an appropriately bittersweet note. No one gets the traditional happy ending, but then again, anyone who expects a traditional happy ending to the Bel Dame Apocrypha must be out of their mind. If there is one thing that the entire trilogy has proven, it is that there is no such thing as a happy ending: one only moves on. Good stories never truly end – and if certain characters are any indication, there are more stories just waiting to be told.