Hariba, a poor young Near Eastern woman, sells herself into a slavery guaranteed by "jessing," a biochemical process that makes her permanently loyal to her owner. She would be content, if not happy, in her new house-servant's life--if her mistress didn't own a harni. A harni is a chimera, a genetically engineered man who may or may not be human, but who is stunningly handsome and who treats Hariba with a gentle, attentive consideration she has never before experienced. The chimera, Akhmim, is so unlike Hariba's expectations that her fear and hatred give way to love and, impossibly, to dissatisfaction with her scientifically cemented loyalty. Hariba and Akhmin flee to the Nekropolis, the Moroccan cemetery/ghetto in which she grew up. But her family and best friend are unhappy to see her and horrified by the chimera, and running away from her bonded master precipitates a serious, potentially fatal illness. Her family and friends are too poor and too afraid of arrest to hire a physician. And the unfailingly patient and considerate chimera begins to have strange effects on the women in Hariba's life.
Like Maureen F. McHugh's previous novels, Nekropolis is beautifully written, thoughtful, and powerful, with complex, sensitively delineated, always believable characters. McHugh portrays human behavior with a rare and sometimes heartbreaking honesty and with an exceptional insight into the interplay of male-female relationships and the dilemma of the stranger in a strange land. Like McHugh's debut novel, China Mountain Zhang (winner of the Hugo, Tiptree, Lambda, and Locus awards), the chapters are narrated in alternating first-person viewpoints that offer fresh and contrasting angles and understanding of the characters and their world. --Cynthia Ward [via]