JY Neon Yang’s 2018 Between the Firmaments is a standalone fantasy novella.
Armed with sunmetal, the invading Blasphemers descended on Bariegh’s magic-rich world. The world was enslaved; its gods and enchanted creatures were bound and treated as expendable power sources.
Bariegh of the Jungle is a god, but he takes great pains to conceal this from the Blasphemers. Life as a construction worker is one of brutal exploitation, but it’s better than being used as a battery, to be drained and discarded. Existing under cover also means that he can keep an eye on his great-great-grandniece, Sisu, who has no idea that divine blood flows through her veins.
Caution is for naught when Sunyol arrives.
The Blasphemers can be fooled but Bariegh can’t be. He knows a fellow god when he sees one. Sunyol was once the servant of another god, one whom he cannot name without summoning. No matter, since the god in question, like Sunyol himself, does not come from Bariegh’s world. Why Sunyol would demean himself by visiting a world where gods are enslaved isn’t clear.
Bariegh and Sunyol are immediately smitten with each other; they become lovers. Sunyol moves in with Bareigh, which rather irritates Sisu, who has to share a tiny dwelling with the couple. Life isn’t ideal. Bareigh is still working long, punishing shifts; it’s work that would eventually kill anyone but a god. And yet … Bariegh is happier than he was.
The native god has been broken by years of brutality, years of witnessing the death of anyone resisting. All he can do for his fellow gods is grant them a quick and merciful death. The Blasphemers would notice anything else. Sunyol isn’t broken. He takes action, in a way that cannot fail to attract attention and punishment from the Blasphemers.
One can write stories of brutal imperialist oppression in which the imperialists aren’t all bad; they do good when they can (but without questioning or challenging the broader system). Case in point: Kipling, who tends to paint the British in India in sympathetic colors.
Yang takes a somewhat different approach. If there are Blasphemers troubled by the manner in which they are strip-mining a planet using divine essence as fuel, they are either adept at concealing this or somewhere off-stage. The Blasphemer most prominent in this short novel is Overseer Inette, who shows much enthusiasm for needlessly risking lives and doling out vicious punishments. It’s clear that the Blasphemer way of life is unsustainable — they are killing gods much faster than they can find new ones — but their Father-Emperor and the parliament are unwilling to commit to policies that would make the system sustainable at the cost of short term inconvenience. No Blasphemer person-in-the-street is going to give up the current luxury of divine slaves.
Real world analogs no doubt come to mind.
As is usual for Yang, the novella is well written and the characters are engaging. You can read it for free at the Book Smugglers website.
Note: it appears to have been published as a paperback in 2018, but is no longer available in dead-tree. It was apparently never published as an ebook. The Book Smugglers website itself might be semi-abandoned; the comments are full of spam.