Monday, December 9, 2013

Fortune's Pawn by Rachel Bach

I've been making a concerted effort to read more science fiction this year, and I've found some real standout novels for my trouble. Rachel Aaron's newest novel, Fortune's Pawn is just the latest discovery. Written under the pseudonym of Rachel Bach, Fortune's Pawn is the first in the Paradox series, and it's a fantastic start. Packed to the gills with action, mysteries, and featuring a compelling protagonist this is a novel that fans of space opera won't want to miss. Bringing to mind such genre darlings such as Firefly and Alien, Bach makes good use of the familiar while injecting enough mystery and originality to make such comparisons nothing more than superficial.  I'll definitely be looking forward to the sequel.

Fortune's Pawn follows experienced mercenary, Devi Morris as she takes yet another step toward her eventual goal of joining the ranks of the Devastators, the elite guard of the God King of her home planet of Paradox.  Having accepted a job working security for The Glorious Fool, a small trading ship with a reputation so bad, that one year of service on the Fool is the equivalent of five years on any other assignment, Devi is certain she's found a way to guarantee her a position in the Devastators. If she can only keep from getting killed first.

Devi is one of the most compelling first person protagonists I've read this year. She's driven, hot headed, abrasive, and as good in a fight as anyone.  Devi is no damsel in distress who waits for others to take care of business. She straps on her armor and does it herself.  She swears and drinks like a sailor and sleeps with who ever she chooses, and makes no excuses for any of it. She's  a self made woman, and she takes great pride in her service record and her ability to handle anything that's thrown her way. I know that some readers may take umbrage with Devi being called a strong female character, because the root of her strength seems to be her prowess in battle but I don't really think that's what defines her strength. She is a character with agency, who makes her own choices (often against orders) and accepts the consequences for good or bad. She's confident, but self aware enough to know where her weaknesses lie and she doesn't make excuses for her own behavior. In short, Devi Morris is a fantastic protagonist that elevates the narrative beyond the typical space opera plot.

The remaining characters, while interesting and obviously with secrets of their own don't shine as bright, due to the heavy focus on Devi. They're an odd and diverse assortment, from the grouchy Captain who obviously is much more than he seems, his vacant and creepily silent daughter, the gender neutral lizard ship's physician,  the mystic sensor operator who is Devi's roommate, and enigmatic cook who screams tall, dark and mysterious. The story reveals the details of these characters sparingly and there is definitely a sense that no one on the Fool is exactly what they seem. I'd have liked a little more depth to these characters, but what Bach teases is enough to make me want to know more.

Bach writes action scenes with flair, with a focus on firefights and fisticuffs. Given the prevalence of power armor in the setting, it's a wise choice, but some actual ship to ship combat would have been nice. Given Devi's job place as a security officer, and the tight first person narrative it's not unexpected. The action sequences are detailed, creative and full of details that show off the author's experience writing fantasy combat sequences well. The tight focus on Devi along with romantic subplot cause the book to read more like urban fantasy than science fiction, but I'm fond enough of urban fantasy that it didn't bother me at all.

Which brings me to my only quibble with the novel; the romantic subplot. While the actual interactions between Devi and the enigmatic cook, Rupert were all well written, if not particularly original, but I felt the jump from infatuation to love was far too abrupt and given that the end of the novel focuses so strongly on the romance angle, it was hard not to notice that there was less emotional resonance than their should be given the circumstances.  It's not enough of a criticism to prevent me from continuing on with the series, as the circumstances of the ending leave plenty of room to build on and I can't wait to find out how Devi responds to them.

Despite the lackluster romance, Fortune's Pawn is an excellent, character driven, thrill ride of a novel with secrets and mysteries around every turn. Devi Morris is the kind of protagonist that blockbuster series are built on, full of smart ass and kick ass in equal measure. Fans of space opera, urban fantasy, and mysteries with an alien edge should spend some time getting to know Devi and the rest of the crew of the Glorious Fool. I guarantee you'll enjoy the ride.


  1. Lot a fun. If I ever go back and reread this I will see if I can find all the Urban Fantasy parallels people keep seeing; I wonder if it is just the romance angle? Do people see Bujold's books the same way? Eh, maybe I was just geeking out on the Warhammer parallels and missed it.

  2. I had seen this book around a bit but didn't really put it on the top of my list until your review. Thanks for the great find! I read it in a matter of days and am glad the next two will be coming out in short order. Great review and insights!