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Book Review: In Her Name by Michael R. Hicks

* Genre: Epic Space Fantasy, Science Fiction
* ISBN: 0615208533
* ISBN-13: 9780615208534
* Format: Paperback, 680pp
* Publisher: Imperial Guard Publishing
* Pub. Date: April 2008
* Website

In Her Name by self-published author Michael R. Hicks, can best be described as an “epic space fantasy”. It has all the elements of an epic or high fantasy (the young hero coming of age, the war against an alien people, and the diabolical villain/traitor of our own race) save only that rather than being set deep into a medieval setting, it is set into a military science fiction novel.

The story follows the one Reza Gard, an orphan human who is captured by the Kreelans (something they had never done before) and reared in their way of life. Unlike what you might expect of a spacefaring race, the Kreelans disdain energy weapons, preferring to use swords and their natural claws to rend foes limb from limb. A Humanoid race, the Kreelans differ from humanity only in their skin color (blue), their fangs and claws, and the fact that they are an exceptionally old race. Even as Reza becomes more and more like the Kreelans, he maintains a vow never to strike a blow against his own species.

In Her Name, which tops out at 660+/- pages, breaks down into three sections. The first book is the story of Reza as he learns to live by the Kreelan warrior Way. Although this Way is never clearly defined, it essentially is a warrior’s code, and a blood bond between all the Kreelan people, which allows them to sense the feelings, and occasionally thoughts, of other Kreelans. Oh, yea, did I mention that all Kreelans are female? Well, that’s not strictly true, but where the males are is a significant reveal in the story, so I won’t ruin it for you. Needless to say, Reza ends up being reared by a bunch of female warriors. (Obviously this had to lead to sex at some point, and there are several very explicit sex scenes. Romance readers will love it.) This first part of the story will resemble any epic fantasy you have ever read. Except for a few ground building chapters at the beginning of the novel, there is little of the “science fiction” elements. As I read the first book of In Her Name, I found myself forgetting that this story was other than an epic fantasy.

The second and third books of the story are more military SF. These two sections have Reza returning to humanity, biologically human, but different due his time with the Kreelans. In a plot repetition of the first book, Reza learns to be a Marine in the human Confederation. During his training, his differences lead a head on collision with a sadistic marine and a power hungry senator. This is the conflict on which the rest of the story rests, and the final epic battle ends up being between these characters, and the friends Reza had gained while among the humans. The second two books are more military SF than epic fantasy, but take out the space elements, and you very well could have had an epic fantasy.

Although Hicks writing is good, meaning that grammar and structure are correct, dialogue is mostly natural, and there is enough description to know what is going on, readers will see things they really don’t like. For instance, Hicks tries to write in two characters with accents. The first is a Russian one, and his way of doing it is simply to drop from the character’s speech all of the articles like “a” and “the”. This just makes the dialogue of this character hard to read, and while he is a minor character, there is enough dialogue from him that Hicks writing of his words always jarred me out of the story. The second is Irish/Scottish, and Hicks simply drops a “ye” every so often. Better to have just said that these characters had accents, and then write standard dialogue. I could easily have imagined the accent, and the intentional attempt at writing and accent reduced readability.

Hicks will also move from natural speech into this stilted, highbrow sort of speech. Rather than simply writing dialogue that sounds natural, the characters will suddenly slip into speech that is stilted and esoteric. Although I get that Hicks is trying to give his story more of an “epic” feel with this sort of dialogue, it only ends up being distracted and ridiculous. I know Hicks can write good dialogue from reading other parts of the story, so he should have just stuck with that.

All of the women in In Her Name are beautiful. While to a male reader, this is great, it doesn’t reflect reality, and I knew that with the introduction of each new female character, she would be beautiful, no matter what. This caricatures Hicks women, which is unfortunate, because his characters of Esah-Zhurah, Nicole Carre, and Jodi Mackenzie are powerful and interesting women. Had Hicks made them merely beautiful, instead of drop-dead gorgeous, the characters would have been the better for it.

Because this is a self-published novel, Hicks needs a little editing. At one point, a character by the name of Father Hernandez appears. This character provides and opportunity for Hicks to have a Christian foil to the saber of the Kreelan Way, so we might better understand the Way. Additionally, throughout the book, there is a great deal of Christian symbolism. This would all be fine if Hicks did anything with it, but in reality it has no real effect on the characters, except Jodi, and even that is minimal. Hicks would have been better off dropping Father Hernandez and the Christian symbolism from the story entirely. It is a rabbit trail that has no significant effect on the plot, and should have been abandoned.

But all that said, I still must admit to enjoying every moment I spent with Reza Gard. He is an archetypal hero, the kind of powerful, intelligent, gracious person we would all like to be. The Kreelan nation is different from space-faring race tropes, and the story is not typical science fiction. It is more standard when it comes to epic fantasy, so in a strange way the readers I would recommend In Her Name to would be those folks who like George R. R. Martin, Joe Abercrombie, or Robert Jordan. Like the works by those authors this novel is violent and sexually explicit (there is one emotionally powerful and explicit rape scene, a near rape of a young girl, and a great deal of bloody fighting) and follows an epic story arc. Readers who like their science to be based in reality will not enjoy this book, though readers who like the recently defined genre of “space fantasy” may find In Her Name to be up their alley.

Personally, I love epic fantasy, and Hicks’ tale hit all the necessary elements of that subgenre for me. The book is huge, so it is not for the faint of heart, but of the myriad self-published books I have read, this was the first one I truly enjoyed. I lost myself in the story, I didn’t feel the writing was forced (except as mentioned above) and the character development kept me turning pages late into the night. I spent my work day looking forward to reentering the world of In Her Name, and when I had finished I had thoroughly enjoyed my time there. There are some unpolished portions of the text, and these detract at times, but all in all, this is a grand story of love, power, sacrifice, and good vs. evil.