I've been waiting for a while to read Michael R. Hicks' work, and finally had the opportunity to begin through Empire, the first book in the In Her Name: Redemption trilogy.
We are introduced to the primary character, Reza, as he is witness as a young boy to the death of his parents through the invasion of the Kreelans, and ancient and powerful warrior race now clashing with humanity. Somehow, in the process of trying to escape, Reza manages to come face-to-face with their warrior priestess, and in his defiance and will to live, he manages to slash at her with his lone knife. This act of defiance manages to convince the priestess to allow the boy to live.
Years later, Reza is an orphan living on an agrarian planet utilizing "free" orphan labor to handle manual chores such as removing rocks from soil to provide more arable ground. Now twelve years old, Reza saves the life of a girl named Nicole from the treacherous advances of an adult overseer, and finds himself with his first true love interest. But the Kreelan presence is felt again; they come to the planet to collect the children for an experiment, and Reza is allowed to live, for among those in the invasion party is the priestess who spared his life years earlier. Many others are not so lucky; the Kreelans thoroughly destroy the planet once they leave with their human cargo.
Reza, like the other, younger orphans, is part of an experiment by the Kreelans: do these lowly animals, known as humans, possess souls? Are they worthy of inclusion in The Way, the Kreelan religion? The human children are thrown into the Kreelan warrior boot camp and given a chance to show themselves worthy. Naturally, only Reza survives long at all.
The true heart of the story, however, begins at this point, as Reza fights for acceptance on a world and in a culture and society which believes everything about him - including the fact that he is a "him" - is wrong. He is thought a mere animal, lacking the blue skin and talons of the Kreelans. He is male in a society in which males have been discarded and hidden away. And, in the ultimate insult, his blood does not sing, the Kreelan means of detecting a soul. He is smaller, weaker, slower, and ill-trained. And his trainer/keeper, a girl named Esah-Zhurah, holds all of these prejudices against him.
We see in Reza's story the spirit of those who fight to survive, and even thrive, against great odds. Reza is fighting not just for his survival, but for acceptance and respect. He must learn to fight, must learn societal customs and mores, must learn The Way, and must learn to see the Kreelans as something other than the monstrous creatures who left him orphaned and apart from his first true love, even as he fights for the reputation of humanity among those who would see humanity destroyed. In the process, he may well find his true calling and his true home, as well as his own true love. And he may well have to decide exactly what he's willing to sacrifice to be true to his own nature, as he discovers what that truly is.