Really enjoyed this.
Hurley's far-future novel sees a number of Islamically-inflected societies locked in a centuries-old holy war on a distant desert planet.
Refreshingly, the novel's focus isn't on the war (although it does inflect and affect everything that goes on in the novel) but on a woman called Nyx, an ex-assassin hired by the queen of Nasheen, one of the warring nations, to find a visiting alien who has disappeared into the grimy broil of loyalties that is everyday life on this planet.
There's a lot going on here, world-building-wise, and Hurley doesn't do hand-holding: her prose is terse and elliptical, tipping the reader straight into an unfamiliar world with little help. As a result, the beginning of the book does feel murky and unclear, but for me this really worked as an introduction to Nyx's brutal, violent life.
I also really appreciated Hurley's treatment of gender and sexuality. All the societies on this planet, especially the two main ones, Nasheen and Chenja, are low on men, since most of them have been sent to the front. While Nasheen is as a result run by women, with men pitied and often needing a female escort, Chenja simply has its few men marrying ten or twenty wives at a time, with the women observing strict laws of modesty. In Nasheen, sex between men is illegal while sex between women is celebrated; in one of the smaller societies, satellite to Nasheen and Chenja's almighty war, homosexuality between men is the norm, with women seen as alien beings, unknowable and unlovable.
Like I said, there's a heck of a lot going on here, and it is occasionally difficult picking a way through it all, holding all the power relations and the contacts and the political tensions in your head. It's also violent, sometimes shockingly so; there is torture and death and pain, and it happens casually, at the flick of a finger.
The novel constantly foregrounds women; where another fantasy novel would have men as the default, for guards, henchpeople, random strangers and the like, God's War has women, women who fight and swear and drink and have sex and try to survive. At the centre of it all is, of course, Nyx, who may be the best female protagonist I've read this year (amoral, tough, fond of revenge, unattached), but her supporting cast is just as nuanced and as strong (Inaya, I'm looking at you).
The novel is slightly let down by its ending, which feels very "let me explain all my feelings and priorities to you while I try to kill you", but I'm prepared to give Hurley a pass on this one, as the rest of the novel is unconventional and imaginative in a way which must be hugely difficult to sustain. Overall, God's War is murderous, bloody, vital and fascinating.