Hicks, Michael R. 2008. In Her Name.
In Her Name is an ambitious novel by Michael R. Hicks. In its 667 pages, it has it all and then some. Set in the future (a long ways away in the future), it features an epic battle between good and evil, human and alien. Reza Gard is at the center of the action.
When we first meet him, he is a small child. A soon-to-be orphaned child. The Kreelans (the blue-skinned violence-loving aliens) are attacking. He witnesses much, but is ultimately spared by one of the warriors (all warriors are female, by the way) Tesh-Dar. This brief encounter has an impact on them both physically and emotionally. (Though it's much more emotional for Tesh-Dar).
When we next meet Reza, he is an orphan, one of many thousands orphaned who are "being taken care of " by the government. They're given the bare necessities, but are forced to work in the fields all day and subjected to some tormenting off-hours if they're unfortunate. Here Reza meets an older girl (more than a few years older), Nicole. The two become fast friends (with a hint of much more should Fate allow) after he rescues her from near-rape. But these months of happiness won't last long. First, the two are separated when Nicole comes of age and leaves to study at school. Then Fate steps in to prevent their future reunion...
Around the age of 12, Reza's planet--Hallmark, the planet for orphans--is attacked from space. The Kreelans for some reason or another have decided to conduct an experiment. They want to watch these human children; learn more about these humans, their society, their nature, etc. Reza is one of the children kidnapped by the aliens before that planet is destroyed. (Reza along with every other human on the planet is presumed dead.) The experiment is to see if humans have souls. If humans are merely animals. Or if perhaps they're more than that. If their blood can be made to "sing" like the Kreelans' own.
Reza is a child prisoner without much hope, it's true, but he's ever-determined and very spirited. He proves more than a handful for his guard, Esah-Zhurah. But his grit and fiery nature prove to be a little endearing. With the support of Esah-Zhurah and Tesh-Dar, he's allowed to live. Not only is his life granted for the duration at least, but he's allowed to join with the Kreelans in their training. Esah-Zhurah becomes his tresh--his trainer and partner. Reza from that day forward is to be raised Kreelan. Taught their ways, their language, their culture, their values, their skills on the battle field. He is to become one with them.
We don't learn much about this process, we've got the fast forwarded version of it all, but we do see Reza as a young man in his early twenties face his first true challenges. (That makes it seem like his training was nothing; it wasn't. It was a miracle to most that he even survived his training, his battles, etc.) The Empress of the Kreelan Empire is tiring of the experiment, and time is limited. Reza has proved an amusing experiment to some, but all good things must come to an end, right. Well, Reza's made a few friends--including Esah-Zhurah--who aren't quite willing to let his life end thusly. Who are willing to risk their own lives to prove that this human at least has a soul, a worthy soul at that.
I won't divulge too much more than that. But it's an intriguing story. The novel has quite a few strengths, but it's not without its weaknesses either. The plot is complex--very complex--and the cast of characters is lengthy. The span of the novel covers several decades. At times we're part of the action, but in other places we get brief hints of what has occurred in all those missing years. There are places I wanted more, and places I wanted less. The basic story was good; the amount of details was rich. I most enjoyed studying this alien culture--rich in mythology, religion, politics, etc--and the evolution of the relationship between Reza and Esah-Zhurah.
The novel introduces many characters. It was always introducing new characters. And at times it was difficult to follow. Let me clarify, it wasn't that it was confusing. It was that it took a bit of patience on the part of the reader in remembering who was who and what their role was and how they fit into the bigger picture. There were a few characters that you weren't quite sure how they fit in, but sure enough, they'd reappear later on and contribute to the action. Nicole, for example, is one of the major characters introduced (or reintroduced) in the second half of the novel along with Jodi and Eustus. Most of the villains, most of the "bad guys" are humans in this book. And it's always interesting to see how authors can craftily get human readers cheering for the aliens.
Complex and complete is how I'd describe the novel. I'm not one to pick fault at a novel for language, violence, sex, etc. Especially seeing how the audience for this one is adult and assumed mature enough to handle anything and everything. But I thought I'd mention it here since I review books for children on this site as well. This one isn't for kiddies as it has graphic sex and violence and "colorful" language.
© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
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