Review – In Her Name: Final Battle

(Note: This review may contain spoilers. Consider yourself warned.)

So, I actually finished reading FINAL BATTLE two days ago. Ever since then, I’ve been trying to figure out how to write this review.

There was a short period of time where I considered just not reviewing it, because I’m kind of conflicted about it. I decided it was better to try and get my thoughts down rather than trying to keep them all bottled up, though, so here goes.

FINAL BATTLE is the third (and final) book of the IN HER NAME saga. It’s the epic conclusion to the story of Reza Gard which began in EMPIRE and continued on through CONFEDERATION.

I think that I can safely say that I really enjoyed about 90% of this book. The overall plot direction, continued character development and writing style are all very solid and continue Michael Hicks’ pattern of excellence. I continued to see the influence of science fiction greats, but they in no way overshadowed what is clearly Hicks’ own personality and focus shining through in a stirring, fantastic story.

Now comes the hard part. I have two quibbles with this book, and unfortunately, these aren’t minor ones.

Here’s the final score for those who’d like to know what I thought of the book without reading the spoilers.

For the grand conclusion to the saga of the fascinating Kreelans, overall plot direction and tight, page-turning storytelling, I would have given FINAL BATTLE a full 5 stars. However, my two not-so-minor quibbles with the ending force me to drop it to 4.

Read on if you’ve read the book, or if you don’t mind me basically giving away the ending. Otherwise, stop here and do not go on.

Final Score: 4 out of 5 stars. Recommended.

(Spoilers ahead. This is your last warning.)

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My problems arise within the last 5,000-10,000 words of the story. The antagonist, Markus Thorella, was never a particularly subtle character. He happily danced WAY on the far side of the Moral Event Horizon pretty much from the moment we met him, and Hicks did a great job making us hate this character for everything he did, especially how perfectly he set Reza up at the end of CONFEDERATION to prepare him for taking the fall for the events which set off FINAL BATTLE.

With how much I already gleefully hated Thorella, there was absolutely no reason for the frankly shocking and brutal scene near the end. I actually ended up having to skim it. I won’t go into the details deeply here in this review, but I felt that it was actually a bit gratuitous and unnecessary either for plot or character development.

Given this particular scene, however, it becomes several times more imperative that Reza finish him off in a satisfying manner, like he’d been promising for all of CONFEDERATION and FINAL BATTLE so far.

He doesn’t.

Yep, you read that right. Reza doesn’t actually deliver the killing blow that we’ve been expecting for two whole books.

I had a discussion about this with my wife and some friends after seeing Harry Potter 7.2 in the theater last weekend. Harry never actually has to make the choice to kill Voldemort – it’s taken care of for him by the villain’s own failings. In my eyes (and I realize that this is mostly subjective) this cheapens the hero’s accomplishments, because he never has to make the hard choice to do what has to be done. It’s all taken care of for him, and he gets to keep his hands clean.

What I found most odd about the end of FINAL BATTLE, though, is that Reza is in no way Harry Potter. He’s no children’s book hero, who’s forced to keep his hands clean because it’s ‘for the kids’. Reza is a cold-blooded killer, trained on an alien world, who has zero compunctions about slaughtering those who deserve it and doing what needs to be done. Yet he never delivers vengeance for all of the things that Thorella did to him and to those he loved, and that really disappointed me.

At the beginning of CONFEDERATION, we’re told that Reza knows that one day he will have to kill Markus Thorella. And yet it can be said that, by the end of FINAL BATTLE, Reza didn’t have anything to do with Thorella’s death. He died by misadventure, and I just couldn’t find it satisfying.

If Reza had fulfilled the promise made to us, I probably would have given the gratuitous brutal scene a pass… but with the two combined together, it unfortunately turned into a pretty serious disappointment for me.

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Review – In Her Name: Confederation

(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!

Review – In Her Name: Empire

(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.