Fortune’s Pawn by Rachel Bach
Series: Paradox, #1
Published: 2013, Orbit
Genre: Adult Science Fiction
I can’t help it, I’m not a subtle girl. When I see something I like, I go for it, and I liked what I saw very much.
There are those books you read to learn from, to better appreciate stories and language and writing. There are also those you read for entertainment, for the sheer joy of a good story. These two types are not mutually exclusive, and neither is one better than the other. For me, however, Fortune’s Pawn falls squarely into the second camp. The story - and my experience reading it - could best be described as fun. And sometimes that’s more than enough needed to really enjoy a story.
Deviana Morris isn’t just good at her job as a mercenary for the kingdom of Paradox: she’s great. She excelled in military training and rose through the ranks of the Blackbirds, an elite military squadron. After being made into a squad leader, Devi realizes that there is no further way to ascend the ranks and so quits. What she really wants is to be a Devastator, part of the armored unit devoted to protecting the Sainted King of Paradox. Although probably the most dangerous job within the Paradoxian military, Devi also knows it’s where her skills can be best utilized and appreciated. And Devi is nothing if not ambitious.
Devi’s ambition leads her to accept a security job for a trade ship named the Glorious Fool. It’s the type of job that she would have never considered taking if she hadn’t been assured that one year serving under Captain Caldswell was the equivalent of serving another number of years with an organization like the Blackbirds. Trade ship or not, however, the Glorious Fool somehow manages to get in more than its fair share of trouble.
My extreme enjoyment of this novel can be directly attributed to the characterization of its protagonist, Devi. Readers are first introduced to her waking up beside a long-time friend with benefits, only to realize that his wants in their relationship have evolved into something she is not comfortable giving to him. She’s reckless, impetuous, and more than a little hotheaded. While Bach credits Toph of Avatar: The Last Airbender, Parksenarrion of Deed of Parksenarrion, Killashandra of the Crystal Singer series, and Ellen Ripley of Alien as all contributing to Devi’s formation to some degree, I could not help but compare Devi to Battlestar Galactica’s Starbuck. Like Starbuck, Devi is unapologetic in all that she does. She’s also very, very good and isn’t afraid to acknowledge that.
Reading the novel from Devi’s perspective was wonderfully refreshing. She’s a fairly open protagonist, and she’s also genuine. She knows what she wants and is willing to do whatever it takes in order to achieve her dreams. In short, she feels like a self-realized female brimming with personal agency. She has her own wants, needs, and desires. Neither her ambition nor her sexuality denigrate her character. She is who she is, and the characters and story of Fortune’s Pawn show how there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that (and so, so much right).
The worldbuilding is fairly interesting, although it left a bit to be desired. Devi is a Paradoxian through-and-through, unquestioningly loyal to her kingdom and all that is stands for. Outside of the tightly controlled Paradoxian kingdom, the Terran Republic is painted as a slightly less civilized society. Because the story is told entirely through Devi’s perspective, a good amount of bias is evident for everything that is not Paradoxian. The conundrum here is that Devi, already very familiar with her own kingdom, does not spend much time explaining its culture. And because she does not hold high regard for people and societies outside of her own, everything else is described just enough so that readers can understand the story itself. This is the first book in a new trilogy, however, and so I choose to believe that Bach will continue to build upon this system of intergalactic societies in future installments. For now, it was enough.
Although this is undisputedly Devi’s story, Devi joins a rather ragtag group of space travelers on the Glorious Fool. The crew comprises humans from both Paradox and the Terran Republic, an aeon (essentially a giant, talking bird), and a not-so-deadly xith’cal (a lizard-like alien known for its insatiable appetite for all other sentient beings), among others. Devi’s dynamics among the others and her gradual, begrudging acceptance of ways of life other than what is sanctioned by Paradox is well done.
Where Fortune’s Pawn really excels, however, is in creating an action-laden space opera. After an uneventful first week abroad, Devi and the rest of the crew face major challenge after major challenge. The pacing is not exactly break-neck, but the story moves along at a steady enough pace to satisfy both readers seeking more action and those who care about more nuanced character development. Suffice it to say, this reader found herself contented on both counts.
This is the sort of book for which you’ll want to allot a generous amount of reading time. It’s just that engrossing. That ending, though! Unexpected and well done, but also difficult to process when one doesn’t have a copy of the sequel on hand, as I did not. All I can say is that after that, I will make an extra effort to return to this series sooner rather than later.
Rating: 4 stars