Title: In Her Name
Author: Michael R. Hicks
Publisher: Imperial Guard Publishing
Publishing Date: April 1, 2008
Paperback: 684 pages
Stand Alone or Series: Stand Alone
Why did we read this book: Michael Hicks contacted us back in September 2008 offering us review copies of the book. He has the first 4 chapters available for free on his website and after reading and enjoying what we read, we promptly said yes.
Summary:In Her Name is an action-filled epic story of Reza Gard, who as a youth was caught up in the century-long war between the Human Confederation and the alien Kreelan Empire. Captured by the mysterious warrior priestess who killed his parents when he was a child, Reza and thousands of other youths are taken back to the Empire as part of an alien experiment to discover whether human beings have souls, and to plumb the mystery of an ancient genetic curse that plagues the Kreelan race. Reza grows up fighting for survival in a brutal society ruled by a god-like empress, forced to learn the ways of his enemy, and finds himself transformed by the unexpected and forbidden love he shares with a young Kreelan warrior. He must risk everything to save her, and to save humanity from extermination in a galactic holocaust.
Ana: I will start by being completely honest and admitting that, at first sight, the physical aspect of In Her Name is daunting: the book is quite simply, enormous (we became fond of calling it “teh bible” amongst ourselves) and the blue woman in the cover is very…striking. Then, even though I liked the excerpt I read before accepting the book for review, I still felt somewhat uneasy because In Her Name is self-published. Add to that the fact that we’ve been having a crazy schedule of books that HAD to be read within certain dates for the blog then Smugglivus, then the holidays, well…time has passed and In Her Name kept being re-scheduled until Michael contacted us to let us know that it had been selected for the February KindleBoards.com book club and we decided it was finally the time to read it.
And oh, boy. I stand fully chastised. I wish I had read In Her Name as soon as we got it because once I got past the first few chapters , I got sucked into the story and couldn’t stop reading it until I was done. And there is only one work I can think of using to describe it right now: Awesome.
Thea: When Michael first emailed us with a request to review his book, Ana and I were pretty excited. I read the first two chapters of In Her Name online, and enjoyed them–so we decided to do a joint review of this novel. But HOLY CROW when it came in the mail, it was huge. And daunting. And with all our other obligations, we kept procrastinating with “teh bible”…until this month.
And I stand next to Ana, fully chastised. In Her Name is a stunner of a novel: an Epic blend of space opera and fantasy, with impressive world building, a beautifully conceived plot, and wonderfully alive characters. One of the most enjoyable books I have read in a while. What Ana said: Awesome.
On the Plot:
In New Constantinople, the last soldiers of the Territorial Army are marking a desperate attempt to fight back the destruction brought forth by the Kreelan – an army of blue female warriors that go around the universe battling and killing those that according to them, don’t have souls. Reza Gard is a child in the midst of the chaos, who watches his parents die in the hands of the Priestess –Warrior of the Kreelan. As he is left alone to face her, they stare at each other as the Kreelan prepare to kill him when he suddenly remembers he has a knife tucked away and he thrusts it at her face making a vertical gash from the left eye to her cheekbone. Using her own claw, she does exactly the same to his own face, bows down to the boy and inexplicably lets him live and in the blink of an eye she is gone.
Orphaned, Reza is sent to the Planet Hallmark where children that lost their families are kept by the Confederation. Needless to say, the conditions they live in are less than stellar – think Charles Dickens, in Space – and Reza, now 11 (ish) takes care of a bunch of kids in his group specially newcomer Nicole Carré who eventually becomes his surrogate sister until she reaches the age when she gets to leave to join Military Service a couple of years later – Reza is to do the same one day, but his life changes forever when the Kreelans once more cross his path. They come to Hallmark to capture the human kids for an experiment – to take them back home and raise them in the Kreelan Way to see if these animals have souls. Under the rules they set Reza would be too old to be taken but the Priestess – Tesh-Dar is her name – who let him live once gives him a second chance and he is taken to the Empire.
Once amongst the Kreelan, Reza is kept by a young warrior Esah-Zhurah who is entrusted with the task to show him the Way of the Kreelan – where everyone is connected to their god-like Empress – he is to be taught their language, customs, fighting techniques so that they could see if his soul would sing as theirs. Esah-Zhurah, at first sees Reza only as an animal until she starts to realises he is more than that at the same time that Reza becomes adept of the Kreelan Way, accepting deep in his soul and deep in his heart with everything that he is , this new culture. Embracing his Empress, and most of all his love for this woman, Esah-Zhurah.
But there comes a time, when a man has to make a choice and torn between what he loves and what he has sworn to protect, Reza has to leave the Kreelan and learn once more to become human until he is allowed to go back to the embrace of the people he choose to be with.
Ana: In Her Name caught me completely unawares. I don’t even know where to start given that there is SO much to talk about whereas at the same time, there are limits to what we can discuss here to avoid spoiling. The first few chapters do not give a measure of the scope that the story will have and it’s not until Reza is taken into the heart of the Kreelan Empire that the book really got me by the guts. That was when the story truly became alive and riveting and utterly unlike any other hero journey because of the choice Reza ultimately makes.
There is plenty of conflict to go by in In Her Name and I guess this is one excellent word to work with describing the story arcs: Conflict. Because there is the basic external conflict between the Confederation and the Kreelan Empire. The Kreelan being extremely powerful and evolved in the use of machinery and yet preferring to use claws and swords in hand-to-hand combat which is extremely puzzling to humans who are powerless to defend themselves against the war-machines. The Kreelan go about the universe destroying planets, annihilating entire populations just because they believe them to be soul-less.
Then there are Reza’s conflicts – when he first goes into the Empire he vows to never raise his hands against humans and to hate the Kreelans forever. But as he spends years and years amongst them, he learns of their Ways and he trusts and he eventually becomes in effect one of them – to the point where his blood sing and he is connected to their History in ways no one could have predicted. He should, by all means, hate them. Yet, he doesn’t – quite the contrary, he is truly more Kreelan than human and he remains so, forever; even when he forces himself, honour-bound by his own vows to go back to live with the humans and join the military service as he was always intended to. And here, he is catapulted into the external conflict where there is an attempt to use everything that he has learnt – the only person ever to have lived and learnt so much about the Kreelans – to use against the Kreelans. But even if he is honour-bound to not ever fight against his own race, he will never betray his people. So there is the amazing paradox between race x people, who you are versus who you become and freedom of choice and how to exercise this freedom when the universe seems to conspire against you.
Then there is finally, the conflict, that, I as a reader, felt. Because I started off hating and fearing the Kreelan for killing humans like animals and then less than 80 pages in there I was completely fascinated by them, wanting to read more, siding with them EVEN though there was never any good excuse as to way their Way was this Way.
But really, philosophical musings aside – In Her Name is a damn good book. And with a love story between an alien and a human that had me rooting (and crying and laughing) for Reza and Esah-Zhurah. What an epic story theirs is – and of course,as any good epic sci-fi/fantasy and without spoiling it too much, connected to the future of the freaking universe.
The plot has plenty of twists and turns and spans for many years, so much so that in the end Thea and I came to the conclusion that there was just too much for only one book. So much happens, so many characters introduced and a lot of storylines explored to greater or lesser extent. Reza’s years amongst the Kreelan were easily my favourite parts for all its uniqueness – whereas the counterpart, the time Reza spends in the military when back with the humans, where less so, given the “been there, done that” feel.
Things pick up, to me, a little bit when he goes to the planet Erlang and the Kreelans come back into the game (hooray!) and the overall conclusion is that In Her Name would make a kick-ass trilogy – with some of its plotlines expanded (we would love to learn more about the political circumstances of Erlang for example or have more time spent amongst the Kreelan, pretty please?) , a few of the highly descriptive passages edited ( a writing trait that I am not particularly fond of: “Morning came, and the horizon shone a brilliant ruby red that would gradually lighten to the pastel magenta of full daylight”) and voila, you have a series of books worth a 10 rate.
Thea: The first thing you notice when you look at In Her Name is the hefty size of the novel–and this is to its detriment. I have to agree with Ana, had this been broken into a trilogy, In Her Name would be easier to read, not to mention a freaking bestseller hit. Any publishers out there should take notice of this book, because really it is THAT damn good.
Physical, packaging issues aside, the plot of this novel is intense, Epic with a capital “E”. In Her Name begins with a bang as monstrous Kreelan warriors invade New Constantinople, destroying all the remaining, fighting humans. The Kreelan Priestess, Tesh-Dar, however leaves one young feisty human boy alive after he scars her face. She marks Reza’s face with an identical scar and leaves, unknowing that their fates are forever intertwined. From the very beginning of the book, I wanted to hate the Kreelans with their blue skin and their cold indifference to human life. Ana and I are human after all, and so it’s natural to want to side with Reza and his people. But part of the beauty of this novel is how complex the plot (and characters) are. As Reza meets once again with the Kreelans as a boy of 12 when they come to destroy his new home planet of Hallmark, he is taken to the Empire and partnered with another Kreelan, his later “tresh” Esah-Zhurah…and things change. The Kreelan society, with its belief in predetermination is fascinating and endearing. They are not mere monsters hell-bent on destruction, but they do what they do because it is according to the “Way”. Their culture, their beliefs, their history with warrior women and their interconnectedness with their Empress, it’s all beautifully developed and described in this novel. As Ana said, it’s hard to go into details without spoiling, but suffice to say that the sheer amount of imaginative detail here is staggering. These warrior women with their blue skin and razor sharp talons become Reza’s people, and he loves them as his own. But this presents another layer of conflict when Reza comes of age and becomes a warrior by passing the Challenge, and must make a decision to fight with the Kreelans and kill humanity, or to exile himself from his true love and his true people. Things are rarely black and white and easily resolved in life, love and war, and I applaud Mr. Hicks for his understanding and ability to tackle these amorphous gray areas of feeling and responsibility.
When Reza returns to humanity, there are even more conflicts as Ana mentions. Reza holds the key to speaking, understanding, and defeating the Kreelan force, but he cannot betray his people any more than he could fight against humans. On a macro level, there’s the political conflict, the threatening collapse of democracy with the ambitious Senator Borge, the corruption of military men like Captain Thorella, and the destabilization of human society on planets like Erlang. I loved these different layers of tension and conflict, and I think all of these separate plot threads are vital to the overall message of the novel–I would not cut a thing out. In fact, I think certain elements (like the political tensions on Erlang with the Mallorys and the Rainers) could have been even more developed should this book be broken into three novels.
The best thing is–the plot is wonderful from beginning to end. The dramatic ending to this operatic journey is perfect, not a cop out and feels like the only way that serves the Kreelans and Humans justice. I loved it.
(Oh and on a side note related to Ana’s comment on the Kreelans killing humans–I took it to be because the Kreelans thought of humans as animals since they didn’t have souls that “sing” like Kreelan souls do. Not that it makes mass extermination any better, but it makes sense that the Kreelans so remorselessly continue their method of conquering expansion as they have for hundreds of thousands of years. It’s their “Way”)
On the Characters:
Ana: Reza Gard is your typical Hero in what is fundamentally a coming of age story where he journeys “there and back and there again” and it’s easy to fall in love with him and relate to his conflicts. Reza confronts an alien race and becomes one of them to his inner core and it is completely fascinating the way the author explores the manner in which cultural upbringing can shape and mold but there is still a measure of freedom to the soul which speaks volumes when Reza has to make the ultimate choice between being Kreelan or Human. I can’t help but to keep returning to the word “fascinating” to describe the way for example Reza felt with regards to these two cultures: after a time he felt at home with the Kreelan and how upon returning to live with the humans, he never felt at ease, he felt, unexpectedly, alien.
Speaking of humans – the secondary characters of the human variety were all, very common place. Some of them yes, completely sympathetic like Reza’s best mate Eustus but most of them were just the usual run-of-the-mill, narrow-minded military, politician people with one psycho villain that becomes Reza’s nemesis (and one that I wished had a better demise – a slow death would have suited me just fine, thanks very much) and in all honesty , the humans were not the best about the book. In fact, I would go as far as to say that in place I felt that some of the human characters were conveniently maligned so that one could say: “ok, so, the Kreelan are human-killing-machines, but the humans are not really THAT innocent either are they?” Fair enough, point taken.
All of this to say that other than Reza, the most compelling characters are the Kreelan – all of them. Blue humanoid women with fangs and claws, warriors first and foremost, all of the connected to their God-like Empress who is at the same time mother, sister, empress all combined in one – In Her Name refers to Her as in all that it’s done it’s done In Her Name. Outside the realm of the Empire no one has ever seen a male Kreelan and the specifics of their lineage, history (that goes back hundreds of thousands of years), biology is unknown to humans and part of the mystery of the novel. The author has put a lot of thought into creating a society with its rules, languages, a belief system that is as violent as it is compelling to read about. The two Kreelan characters we get to know the most, Esah-Zhurah and the Priestess Tesh-Dar are enthralling characters as enthralling is their relationship with Reza – beginning as hate and turning into love (different kinds of love) on both accounts.
Clearly, In Her Name is an ambitious book, almost too ambitious for its own good – but in the end, I felt it accomplished what it set out to do: to tell a damn good story about some damn good characters.
Thea: I loved the characters in this novel. ALL of them, from the intimidating and initially monstrous Kreelans like Tesh-Dar and Esah-Zhurah, to the humans Eustus, Jodi and Nicole, the monstrous Thorella, and of course, Reza himself.
Reza is the protagonist, the reluctant hero of this novel. He is, as Ana says, the most compelling character and he undergoes a major character arc–beginning the book hating the Kreelan that murdered his parents, and then inexplicably falling in love with a Kreelan and becoming an adopted son. Yes, he has some over the top initial hero tendencies (his time on Hallmark, becoming a leader to the other orphans and saving them all from the big bad men that tries to abuse them), but for the most part, Reza is an intensely relatable hero character. I found myself rooting for him the entire length of this novel, even if he was just a tad too infallible. His genuine emotions and decisions make up for any other predictable parts of his character.
My favorite characters had to be the ladies though, both Kreelan and human alike. Esah-Zhurah is an abrasive, angry Kreelan whose tresh has died and finds herself stuck raising the human ‘animal’ by herself. And yet, her prideful behavior, her spitefulness towards Reza gradually softens as the two fall in love. It’s a beautiful, engaging love story that is never sappy, and both characters fiercely are bound to each other. My favorite parts of this novel were the struggles and hardships that Reza and Esah-Zhurah endured together and their growing bond shifting from hate to love. Then there’s the enigmatic priestess, Tesh-Dar, who killed Reza’s parents without a thought but spares his life three times. Her character emerges as a fanged terror, but gradually becomes a character readers love and can understand, especially in her affections for both Reza and Esah-Zhurah. Besides the Kreelan warrior women, I also loved Jodi and Nicole, the two human fighters. Jodi’s tale of heartbreak and her unwavering devotion to her own ideals makes her a strong, compelling character, and Nicole’s love for Reza since they were children on Hallmark is another complicated but brilliant plot line. Her character is a wonderful addition, giving Reza comfort and humanity when he seems alien and lost from the people surrounding him. I also loved Reza’s ensign friend Eustus, in the sidekick role. There’s one very telling scene near the end of the novel where Eustus and Jodi make a choice, which again just adds to the layers of awesome complexity to this novel. These characters, simply put, rule.
Then, there are the villains. Ana and I discussed Thorella and Borge, and disagree somewhat with the portrayals of these characters. I, for one, didn’t mind how nasty and cruel these two were. I’ve always been a fan of the boss villain character in these types of stories. Sometimes it’s cool to have the Chancellor Palpatine in the story!
Final Thoughts, Observations, and Rating:
AnaIn Her Name is an epic journey of a hero from his childhood , passing through great tribulations in his Way – from grand battles and challenges, and terrible choices and heartbreaking separations to the ultimate HEA – I am thinking of getting a t-shirt that says: Reza and Esah-Zhurah Forever – this is a great work of fiction that fans of Science Fiction and Romance will love.
Thea: This is a wonderful journey of a novel, hitting all the emotional buttons as well as packing in multi-layered plot lines, compelling characters, and awe-inspiring world building. In Her Name is the best independently published book I have ever had the pleasure of reading, and I look forward to more from the very talented Michael R. Hicks.
Seriously. Read this book.
Notable Quotes/ Parts:
Ana: I know I sound like a parrot – but my favorite parts were all the parts spent amongts the Kreelan – and of course, the moment when Reza and Esah-Zhurah see each other again in the battlefield.
Thea: Oh yes, the reunion between Reza and Esah-Zhurah had my heart in my throat! But for a quote, I’ll go with this early exchange between the two:
“There was a time, not so long ago,” he whispered, “when I wanted to beat you, to destroy you, to make you feel pain a thousand times when you beat me. But…” he shrugged. “But I found, after a while, that I wanted your respect, your trust, more than anything else.” He fell silent for a moment. “The greatest fear I have,” he went on, “is that I will fail you, will bring shame upon you. And that…you will shun me.”
Esah-Zhurah did not know what to say. Never had she thought such a time as this would come, when this human, so full of fight and anger, would reveal such a thing to her, something that could be exploited as a terrible weakness.
But that was the point, she told herself. He had laid himself open to her, in hopes that she would not turn his words against him, that he could trust her. And, in a decision that shocked the part of her mind that carried the xenophobic character of her race, a race that had exterminted over a dozen sentient species in past millennia, she committed herself to guarding his trust.
“I will not abandon you,” she said simply, openly. “Whatever the Way brings us, we shall share in it together.”
You can read the first 4 chapters of In Her Name – for free. Go to the author’s website and download the PDF, here.
The book is also scoring high on other reviewer’s blogs: Fantasy Book Critic highly recommends it and John from Grasping for the Wind thoroughly enjoyed it as well (although he says that there are “several very explicit sex scenes. ” We disagree – there are sex scenes but they are far from being “very explicit” )
Ana: 8 Excellent!!
Thea: 8 Excellent – and had this been a trilogy instead of being crammed into one very long novel, it probably would have been a 9 or even a 10.
Reading Next: Melusine by Sarah Monette to be posted at Fantasy Cafe on Wednesday Feb 18th.