(Note: This review will contain spoilers, because there are specific events in the book that I want to discuss! Do not proceed if you have not read this book!)
So, after discovering Mike’s books via Twitter, I read IN HER NAME: EMPIRE last week, and greatly enjoyed it. Though I found a few minor flaws with EMPIRE, they were nothing serious, and almost to be expected with the first novel in such an ambitious trilogy – small, and easily forgiven.
CONFEDERATION, though… wow. Man, this book just blew me out of the water. It really did. One of my favorite, relatively recently discovered authors (in the past year or two) is David Weber, creator of some of the finest military science fiction I’ve ever read, and his influence was very plain in CONFEDERATION – which was a very good thing, in my mind!
We continue to follow the story of Reza Gard as he returns to his people after his indoctrination by the Kreelans, and Hicks does a great job making the character retain his relatability while also making him seem almost entirely alien to the people around him. A few of the peripheral characters fall slightly, but acceptably, toward two-dimensional; the corrupt Senator, the unnecessarily brutal trainer, and so on. This is also a place where I see Weber’s influence, since some of his peripheral characters tend to fall along the same lines. (Note: this is not criticism, so much as observation.)
As I approached the end of CONFEDERATION, I hit a particular point in the story that I wanted to talk about.
(Heavy spoilers ahead. You have been warned.)
On the planet Erlang, Reza decides that he knows how he can spare the remainder of the population; by bringing seven hundred warriors forth to challenge the approaching Kreelan host as they attempt to retrieve the body of the First Empress from her tomb. Leading the host is, naturally and picture-perfectly, Esah-Zurah; Reza’s Kreelan mate and soul-bonded.
Now, as a wargamer, and particularly one who plays Games Workshop wargames (Warhammer Fantasy, specifically) the scene described where the two battle groups come together, the Mallorys and the Kreelans, fighting in frenzied melee while the respective leaders, Esah-Zurah and Reza fight alone in the center as part of the challenge… this scene really spoke to me. It felt like the perfect description of a unit champion’s challenge when two units approach close combat in Warhammer, and I actually got chills. This only happens when I hit really good fiction, and I’ve read a lot of mediocre fiction to know. I don’t know if Hicks is an active or former wargamer, but I felt like he really nailed this scene in particular.
The prelude to and aftermath of this scene are properly heart-rending as both Esah-Zurah and Reza know that he has to die. I’ll leave the rest to the readers, since I can’t be on here spoiling the whole book – after all, I think you should go and read it for yourself!
CONFEDERATION is simply fantastic. I easily rank it as highly as many of Weber’s books that I have read – perhaps not quite as perfectly honed as, say, Field of Dishonor, but definitely on par with In Fury Born or the Dahak trilogy, both of which I devoured from cover to cover – much like I did with CONFEDERATION.
Final Score: 5 out of 5 stars. Highest recommendation. This book absolutely deserves your time and attention – but read EMPIRE first!