(Note: This will be a spoiler-free review.)
In Her Name: Empire is the first of an epic science-fiction/fantasy hybrid series by independent author Michael R. Hicks. You can find him on Smashwords, on Twitter (@KreelanWarrior), on Facebook or at his website.
Empire is something of an unusual book, in my experience. It starts out demonstrating a science fiction universe and giving us a glimpse of what our main character, Reza, looks like under pressure; even at a very young age. It gives us something of the idea of just what our hero is going to look like.
After a strong introduction, we get to know Reza a bit more through his actions before we launch into the story proper. Once the story itself actually launches, it rapidly morphs from science fiction into a story that could just as easily have taken place on a single fantasy world.
This blending of genres is a difficult thing to accomplish, but the author manages it well. We get a solid, believable story arc; a main character that is both extraordinary yet human enough that we can relate to; an alien world and culture which is both intriguing and confusing and a supporting cast which carries the story along nicely.
There are a couple of minor flaws that keep this from being a perfect reading experience, though nothing game-breaking by any means! Despite the fact that Empire is solidly over 100,000 words in length, there are times when the story feels a bit abbreviated. As a writer myself, I can see a few places where I might have chosen to weave the story in a bit tighter – but those were clearly choices made consciously by the author, so I have no grudge there.
I also personally had a bit of trouble with the omniscient narrator – there were times at the beginning where I thought I was seeing point-of-view leakage, but this is in fact stylistic and persists throughout the entire book. There are so few omniscient but non-self-aware narrators in fiction that I have trouble adjusting to them when I come across them, so this is purely a personal thing.
The story proceeds through a hero’s journey which feels simultaneously fresh and familiar, and gives us a twist at the ending that honestly brought a tear to my eye. Reza’s journey is described in such a way that it becomes a visceral experience, and the surrounding characters are given enough personality that the reader can delight as they share in his triumphs and hurt at his failures.
The closest comparison I can make to another book I’ve read is Warchild by Karin Lowachee, and this is very high praise indeed. While the stories themselves share only some basics, Empire raises similar themes of identity and culture, while exploring them in a manner all its own.
Most of all, this book is unabashedly and unashamedly fun. It was a good story, one I’d put on my highest shelves and give a very strong recommendation for. I am very much looking forward to reading more of the In Her Name series, and plan to pick up Confederation in the next few days. I’m very excited to have discovered an independent author whose work I can really get behind. Michael Hicks clearly has something brilliant going on here, and I can’t wait to get caught up.
Final Score: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars. Highly recommended.