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Shirley Jackson, Laura Miller
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Kameron Hurley
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God's War

God's War - Kameron Hurley Orson Scott Card talks a lot in his How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy about exposition, and about how science fiction and fantasy readers react to it with different expectations than non-genre readers. Roughly summarized, his point is that if you open a story with, "She mounted her graazchak," an experienced genre reader will think, "Huh. Okay, there's a creature called a graazchak and it can be ridden. I'll keep that in mind, and keep an eye out for more information about what it looks like and what it does." Someone who mostly reads literary fiction, on the other hand, is likely to react, "A graazchak? What the hell is a graazchak? Does the author expect me to know?" and grind to a halt.

I am definitely an experienced genre reader, and I actively seek out that sense of "I don't know what's going on, but I'm sure I'll piece it together given time." God's War provides it, over and over again, from its politics to its bug-based tech to its characters' backstories.

In places, though, the exposition is a little too rough even for me. Sometimes it's small things, like the interchangeable use of "sister" for both Nyx's sister-by-birth and the other bel dames in the opening chapter. If they'd consistently been, oh, I don't know, "gene sisters" and "blood sisters," I would have noted the terms, assumed they'd be defined later, and forged onward. Instead, I found myself flipping backward, trying to work out whether there were two different categories at all. Other times it's bigger things, like the timeskip after the opening chapters, which left me feeling lost and unanchored in time; lacking any clearly defined markers, I couldn't see how Nyx and Rhys's timelines were supposed to align.

But I figured it out eventually, and once the story got going, the exposition got smoother. (Though there were a few places where it erred in the other direction with info dumps--Taite's backstory comes to mind here.) That let me spend more time admiring the uniqueness of the world and, more than anything, the characters. And I fell in love. Nyx, Rhys, Taite, Khos, Inaya--they are all horribly broken and horribly flawed, and I can't look away. I love that their flaws are not sexy flaws--no "too quick to anger in the face of injustice" or "a dark and brooding loner" here--and that the narrative never flinches from them, from Nyx's lack of intelligence (too many blows to the head from boxing?) and Rhys's cowardice and everything else.

I love this for not being the story of how they all set aside their differences and work together, but instead how their differences tear them apart and keep tearing. I love this for telling the story of star-crossed lovers--Nyx and Rhys--kept apart not by external forces but by their own internal beliefs, which they have no interest in moving beyond. I love this for being different, for being new, for never taking me where I expected.

Also the bugs are pretty nifty, and I say this as someone who shrieks and screams for back-up when she sees a spider on the kitchen floor.