Genre: Science fiction
Sub-genre: Space opera
Rating: 3 1/2 pints of blood
I have to be honest, I've been referring to this as "the smurf book." But really, what's your first thought upon seeing blue skin?
The thing is, the woman on the cover matches the description of the Kreelan alien race pretty closely. For a member of a female-dominated warrior race, though, she looks pretty passive. Or sleepy, maybe. (I know I'm always tempted to rest my head on the sword I'm holding.) In all honesty, I'd like to see her looking aggressive and empowered, the way the Kreelans are depicted in the book, rather than soft and vulnerable. I mean, if all you're gonna put on the cover is an image emphasizing femininity, you may as well use this:
In Her Name is actually a trilogy published in one volume, which makes the part where I come here and attempt to give you guys a spoiler-free plot summary an interesting challenge. The review must go on, however, so here goes my best effort.
Book One sets up a futuristic Earth involved in a hopeless war against the brutal Kreelan aliens, fighting battles they didn't initiate and don't want. Kreelans are the better fighters, more advanced, and have the numbers advantage. Nobody knows where these aliens came from or what they want.
As part of an experiment, the Kreelans hit an orphanage, taking a number of human children with them to their home planet, including a young boy named Reza. Reza quickly realizes he must learn the Kreelan way of life if he is to survive in a place where he is the alien and finds himself training as a warrior, partnered with a Kreelan woman who has nothing but contempt for him. As he grows up, Reza finds himself more and more deeply entwined in the Kreelan society, especially once he begins to recognize the forbidden romantic feelings he holds toward Esah-Zhurah, his partner and trainer.
Book Two picks up where the first leaves off, with Reza deeply entrenched in Kreelan society. He has reached a point, however, where he is expected to achieve glory by battling against the humans, placing him uncomfortably between the two worlds. He is unable to attack the people he came from, and is more or less honourably banished from the Kreelan homeworld. He must leave everything he's come to know, including Esah-Zhurah. Upon returning to human occupied space, he pursues the dream of his childhood: becoming a Marine, a job his Kreelan training has ensured he's well suited for. The rest of Book Two more or less covers Reza's struggles to re-acclimatize himself to human society, made more difficult because of the physical and psychological changes he's undergone since first being taken by the Kreelan.
Book Three is where all the drama comes to a head. Because of his time with the Kreelan and complete refusal to share information about their intentions and weaknesses, Reza is continually under suspicion of potential traitorous activities, in spite of his efforts to uphold his sense of honour. He and the friends he's made since his return now face political manipulations from corrupt members of government at a time when the war between humans and Kreelan is coming to a head. Both races are in danger, and Reza is the only one with the power to save both. But first, he'll have to entangle himself from the schemes concocted by the higher-ups who want nothing more than to see him killed.
In Her Name is an ambitious story, epic in scope with a huge cast of characters. The Kreelans are a wonderfully imaginative race, original and pretty much exactly the sort of thing I like to see explored. Their world and society is fascinating, and I loved that we saw both sides of them, both as the bloodthirsty warmongers from the human perspective and from a more sympathetic angle in their own eyes.
Hicks has a knack for writing protagonists you can root for. I was particularly fond of Eustus, Reza's right hand from the Marines, and Jodi, a sarcastic and passionate pilot. (She's also a gay black woman, which makes her super awesome.) The antagonists weren't quite as fully formed, but there was certainly enough there to want to see them get their villainous come-uppance. Reza himself struck me as being a little too good to be true, particularly in the first book, before he's gained all his Kreelan abilities. As a child, he's a natural leader, falling into an authority position over people twice his age; he's the only one who can tame the vicious, untameable Kreelan beast; he can hold his own in battle against people who have trained for it all their lives; he's a great swimmer and a great fighter and he's courageous and driven and so very very special. He does grow into his abilities later in the story, but the quick accumulation of super mad skillz before his training did have me raising an eyebrow.
Given the war setting, there are a good number of battle sequences, all of which are well written and fun to read. There's a good variety in the weapons and types of encounters, Hicks changing things up just enough to keep it interesting. The use of sling and stone was especially neat, and something I don't think I've seen used in a novel before.
My biggest issue with the book, I think, was the abruptness in the transitions. Since the story covers a large portion of Reza's life, there are a number of points where the narration skips several years, which is fine, but the transitions never quite felt natural. In most cases it felt like a paragraph or two had been cut off, something that would lead a little more gently into the next time warp. It was a little disorienting at times, and to a lesser extent, some of the perspective shifts had a little of that same suddenness.
In spite of its flaws, though, I did enjoy In Her Name, an intense story by a promising writer. Fans of epic fantasy as well as science fiction lovers will find an enjoyable read here, particularly those who love to visit unique worlds with some seriously beautiful worldbuilding.