Nyx was a soldier. Nyx was a government backed assassin and bounty hunter. Now she works for herself with her own rag-tag team making a living in the grim, war-torn land of Nasheen
Life isn’t good, a centuries long war has turned Nasheen pretty apocalyptic and winning is surviving to see the next day - and maybe earning enough money to drink enough not to remember yesterday
This book with all its short stories is gritty with a capital grit. At many points in the story I expected something - I expected Nyx to soften, I expected her to see her crew as more like family, I expected her to see her to melt towards Rhys especially.
But everything about this is gritty, dark and messy. There’s no love, there’s just the release of casual sex. There’s no companionship - there’s just people Nyx works with (and that grudgingly) and every time we feel like we’re getting closer to something more
I say all this not as a criticism of the book, or even as a warning but as a clear depiction of what the book is. And in some ways it’s unique for it. I’ve read a lot of books that bring in the melodramatic grimdark, usually with lots of rape and torture for the sheer gratuitous purpose. But few pull off the gritty, certainly unrelenting gritty, gritty without some bright sparks, gritty without some sense of a happy ending or a happy moment or something. For unrelenting grimdark, this book works and is just perfect for it
This works because this is the world that Nyx lives in, this world far from Earth but clearly colonised but Earth people, this world where two nations have been at war for generations, a brutal horrific war complete with weapons of mass destruction used with such regularity that they have become a normal part of everyone’s day, with a border where the atrocities have piled up so much that mounds of bodies just don’t even feature. We have a state, Nasheen, where large branches of quasi law enforcement are dedicated to little more than hunting down deserters from the devastating wars, where we have people bred expressly for that war and conscription that consumes entire lives
On top of this we have both the grittiness of the war - chemicals, weapons, violence etc, but also the dangerous nature of the world itself with its multiple suns and high cancer rates which translates into some really strong messages on class divide as the poor obviously can’t spend time inside behind filters so they are susceptible to skin lesions and cancer - while the rich have smooth skin that is saved from the touch of the sun
In this we have Nyx, a deeply unlikeable character… which is perfect. Why should she be likeable? She’s a war veteran from a war that has destroyed her country from before she was even born. She’s been destroyed, remade, suffered immense trauma, watched many people around her die, been on an array of missions most of which have not exactly gone well, worked some rather unsavoury professions. She’s led a terribly traumatic, awful life, in a terrible traumatic, awful world: why would she be nice or pleasant or likable? Why would she even care about these things? It would break this whole theme, world and story if she were a woman with hope and positivity or had somehow managed to come through all of this still shiny would completely change the whole tone of the book. Even as Nyx has regrets and moments of guilt she drowns them in alcohol and so many times I think she’s so close to making the kinder choice…
We also have a really really fascinating world, a mix of sci-fi and magic - and the whole idea of magic involving insects and the way this works with technology and the general blending of it into society is incredibly well done (and I love that, i love how magic/sci-fi elements are not just used for the big showy stuff but also work for the day to day lives of everyone in the world, fascinating and just makes me want to investigate more of this world and kinda poke the author with a stick - because how do you even come up with this? *poke poke*.
On top of this we have a fascinatingly diverse world. Nearly everyone in this book are POC, though they are not on Earth and direct analogues are not easy, it feels Nasheen is made up of people of Middle Eastern Descent (including Nyx herself) while the country they’re at war with, Chejan (Rhys’s nation) are Black people. We have other nations mentioned which don’t feature prominently but there’s also an interesting addressing of mixed-race characters and how they meld or adopt different aspects of their nations cultures. I also appreciate that, even with the short story format, there is still some really excellent world building of these related nations. This is also reflected in the clothing - Nyx most often wears burnouse and dhoti.