Fortune’s Pawn blurb via Amazon:
Devi Morris isn’t your average mercenary. She has plans. Big ones. And a ton of ambition. It’s a combination that’s going to get her killed one day – but not just yet.
That is, until she just gets a job on a tiny trade ship with a nasty reputation for surprises. The Glorious Fool isn’t misnamed: it likes to get into trouble, so much so that one year of security work under its captain is equal to five years everywhere else. With odds like that, Devi knows she’s found the perfect way to get the jump on the next part of her Plan. But the Fool doesn’t give up its secrets without a fight, and one year on this ship might be more than even Devi can handle.
If Sigouney Weaver in Alien met Starbuck in Battlestar Galactica, you’d get Deviana Morris — a hot new mercenary earning her stripes to join an elite fighting force. Until one alien bite throws her whole future into jeopardy.
I was turned on to this series by, I believe, @Has_Bookpushers on Twitter, one of the lovely peeps from TheBookpushers.com, and it wasn’t long before the first book itself, Fortune’s Pawn, had me in its grip. I felt like I was taking a gamble at $9.99 for the ebook, even with a sample to read. And at $30 plus tax for a three e-book series, I’m sorry, but it must be completely lovable. And the verdict is…never have I had an ebook gamble pay off so well and so freaking quickly! I’m going to preface the rest of the review with a big old I LOVED THIS SERIES so go out and buy it or library borrow it or Kindle borrow it (if that’s an option) or whatever your preference is and commence being pleased.
I mean, I hope you’ll be as pleased as I was with the series. Rachel Bach, by the way is a pen name for Rachel Aaron of the Eli Monpress fantasy series fame. I’d tried to get into her Monpress titles and just couldn’t. Not sure why at all. No such problem with the Paradox series. One of the reasons this series resonated with me so well was because there’s little to no (maybe even zero) typical female gender expectations placed on Devi Morris, our main character. I’ve railed before about the complacent way female characters are slapped with real-world gender expectations and “norms”. Isn’t fiction malleable? Can we not actually write and read about female characters that are, in fact, nothing like the realities our society accepts as normal? Dare we say – equal and without tired, divisive gender rodeo-ing? Well, yes the fuck we can. Enter one Devi Morris, mercenary extraordinaire.
The world in which Devi operates is a breath of fresh air because there’s no one hanging around waiting to jump out at her and challenge her for being a woman in a man’s world. That’s simply because, this is not that kind of world. Bach has imagined and penned into existence a gender neutral world when it comes to the way men and women interact. No one worries that the little lady mercenary is going to get hurt. Hell no, she boasts singular talents through a ruthlessly built reputation and people, her employers, fully expect her to perform as well as the man standing beside her. And she does. It was, quite honestly, the sweetest breath of fresh air I’ve felt gusting from a book in a while. Bottle that shit, authors, and sell sell sell it!
A quick note to say that there was exactly one instance os sexist crap that I can recall – when Devi meets Jayston Cotter, the other merc she was to work with on a new assignment for The Glorious Fool. He says, and I quote:
“You’re the Blackbirds’ crazy slut.”
–Jayston Cotter, Fortune’s Pawn, pg. 28
But don’t you worry, Devi fixes him up but good.
I read somewhere (maybe another review or a tweet or something) that other readers felt that the scifi elements weren’t the strongest, but I suppose the mileage varies theory applies. It was fine with me. Beyond fine, actually. While plenty of science fiction delves deeply into actual scientific theory and practices, I’m not one of those readers that’s going to question that kind of thing (in fact, I cannot as I don’t have the smarts, and my eyes glaze over anyway). As long as the author builds, for me, a believable futuristic world (if that’s the intention, as with this series) that I can imagine as I read, I’m a pretty happy camper. Bach did a pretty excellent job of creating varying cultures, from varying human ones to wholly alien and “other” ones with different races. Within that world, all the characteristics and traits of the characters, large and small, made all the sense in the world to me. This is what good worldbuilding must do. It should fuel the reader’s imagination, be a cradle for the characters to come alive within and the characters in turn will support that world. This gives back to the reader again in addition to that initial imaginative fueling, making for an all around rich experience. Bach? Yep, she does it. There’s some nice world and character hand-holding going on.
Devi is a flawed heroine, and for that I’m thankful. I was a little worried she’d turn out to be this Mary Sue-esque warrior queen woman person (such as the annoying Ia in A Soldier’s Duty) who could do no wrong. Fortunately, for the sake of an interesting story, things don’t always turn out perfectly for Devi, and she’s not completely in the know about everything that’s going on around her. At times she’s a bit immature. She is, however, very kick-ass, very intelligent and she’s got a really pleasing, ballsy take-charge attitude. She’s capable and sure of that capability. She’s also on a one-track-mind style of mission:
“I am happy,” I said, pulling out a pen and writing the dock number from the ad on the back of my hand. “And the faster I get to be a Devastator, the happier I’ll be.”
– Deviana Morris, Fortune’s Pawn, page 7
Devastators are a kind of elite special forces style group of mercenaries that work for the king of her home world, basically one step below his own personal guard. Prior, she was a member of the Blackbirds, also a well-known merc group, and where she made her reputation as a young merc of high potential, but they’re responsible for mostly the grunt work of her world. Pirate wrangling and such. Devi wants bigger and better things, and she’s been convinced almost her whole life that becoming a Devastator will be her life’s crowning achievement. Part of the series arc is seeing how Devi’s focus turns from her very inward, personal journey to a much wider, universal one in scope. She becomes a hero in a way she never imagined possible as a result.
Devi does accomplish a lot of her goals thanks in part to her Lady, a special suit of futuristic armor that enhances her strength and pretty much any other such abilities necessary for being a merc. It’s one she had custom made for her, and descriptions of it as well as how she treats it like an extension of herself – and at times like her baby – were kind of a nice enhancement to show exactly how serious she is about her job.(She also names her weapons.)
The Lady Gray was a suit of Verdemont Knight-class armor made just for me.
…I’d dumped two years’ wages to make sure I was buying the best. My equipment is my life; I only buy quality.
–Deviana Morris, Fortune’s Pawn, pg. 24
The series plot keeps Devi on a mission to figure out what exactly is going on within the confines of The Glorious Fool. There are several integral characters there alone, and I kind of agree that the overall feel of the Glorious Fool and her crew is similar to the crew in the short-lived Firefly television series. Except, there’s no Captain Malcolm Reynolds here. Instead we get Captain Caldswell, a mysterious person who seems to have the unflagging and willing loyalty of his crew, yet gives no real details about what it is they do. There’s Basil, the ships’ navigator and second in command. He drives it and all and is an aeon, a bird-like species that Devi at one point thinks of as an overgrown chicken. There’s Mabel, the ship’s engineer, and Nova (full name: Novascape Starchild lolol), the system analyst who helps run the bridge. The captain’s daughter is also on board, Ren, a very strange, seemingly silent and aloof girl who acts as if she’s not right in the head. Then there’s the ship’s doctor, Hyrek, a xith’cal who I can only say reminded me of some kind of lizard-like species, and whose kind are some of the most feared and loathed in the universe. Some of The Glorious Fools’ crew are pretty much exactly as they appear to be, while others are definitely not. Part of the fun of the book was seeing how far the twists go with them.
And, finally, there’s Rupert, the cook. Oh, he’s lots of other things, too, but even though Devi realizes this soon into her new job, she’s met with roadblocks at every opportunity to learn more. Like a cat with more curiosity than is healthy, she can’t help but dig her way in until she’s learned too much. There’s also the fact that she and Rupert have an almost instant attraction, which Caladwell tries to make into this uber taboo thing. It’s like pouring fuel on a teenage rebellious fire because it seems nothing can keep Devi and Rupert apart completely or for long.
I appreciated that this series has some romantic undertones, but it’s definitely not a romance, and Devi and Rupert’s involvement becomes as much a part of the plot as everything else. I both loved and loathed him, and the author does a great job with shades of gray in her characters, Rupert being one of the most notable in this regard.
I want to talk about the main series arc that is slowly revealed in the first book, but I sort of can’t because it’s hard to without giving it away and taking away from the reader’s own ability to discover something cool and imaginative. I will say that certain elements reminded me of that Final Fantasy: the Spirits Within movie in a way (and also, at times, shades of Star Wars…and maybe Men in Black if the MiB was a lot more ruthless and lacking in fine qualities like ethics), but I still feel like the author does a pretty good job of making a similar concept her own. Let’s just say that, due to her work for Captain Caldswell and The Glorious Fool, Devi is drawn into a truly universal-scale mission to save everyone. It becomes incredibly hard for her to know who to trust, but this is in part what makes the entire series a compelling one.
As the series progresses, we see Devi and Rupert’s relationship become much more complicated, and the series plot grows in leaps and bounds as well. Bach manages to keep everything in focus, though, and this while often pushing the action into overdrive. There’s just enough of that action to keep the pace snappy and the story interesting. There are even a lot more characters mentioned in this review that have as much a vital role as Devi, who, while she’s clearly the hero of the book, it’s not all about her. I liked this very much as it keeps her from becoming too tired a character to care about. In fact, I absolutely loved Devi and how she handles everything thrown at her.
It’s as if this series was written for me – I can’t think of anything that threw me out of it in a distracting way, made me dislike it or in any way made it unenjoyable. It pretty much checks all my reading boxes and I’ll be very surprised if any other science fiction book or series I might read this year can trump it. If you like deeply layered characters, shades of gray, political intrigue on a universal scale, lots and lots of action and a little romance – this series has all the right moves. Well worth the price of admission.
Series Rating: Five Scoops