FORTUNE’S PAWN by Rachel Bach — a Review

FORTUNE’S PAWN by Rachel Bach, AKA Rachel Aaron (Twitter) is a fun, science fantasy tale of Devi Morris, a power-armored mercenary who tries to take a shortcut to her career goal by taking a contract on a cursed ship. It’s the first book in the Paradox series, with the sequel, HONOR’S KNIGHT due out on February 2014.

Devi Morris is a badass, let’s start there. She’s very good at what she does, and she has risen quickly through elite combat units. Devi is brave, strong, and aggressive. She’s earned a turn at a cushy desk job, but that’s the last thing she wants. Instead, she wants to be a Devastator. The Devastators are the best of the best power armor units that serve the King directly, and she’s willing to do just about anything to get that post, even taking a risky short cut.

And that’s how Devi ends up taking a one-year guard duty contract on the Glorious Fool, a trading ship captained by Brian Caldswell, who has a reputation for landing his ship and crew in dangerous, deadly situations. It’s not the most glamorous or glorious job, but the mercenaries who survive the year have been known to get slots with the Devastators. Devi thinks it’s a risk worth taking, but might the secrets behind Caldswell’s crew and missions conceal dangers even a badass like Devi can’t handle? Along the way, there are also aliens, space pirates, battles, romance, psychic powers, snarky dialogue, and more. But I’ll stop there before I spoil anything.

I was very eager to read this story. I am a fan of Bach’s/Aaron’s fantasy Eli Monpress series, so I was curious to see how she made the jump to science fiction. Want me to sum up her style in one word? Fun. She writes fast-paced, exciting, adventure tales that are a pleasure to read. Bach/Aaron recently wrote a blog post on Orbit’s website stressing the importance of fun if you want to learn more.

But as I said above, this is more of a science fantasy tale. So if you are looking for hard science fiction, this is not for you. And if you are looking for epic, sweeping power-armor battles, this is also not the book for you. This is a smaller scale adventure tale that becomes more of a procedural as Devi tries to unravel the mysteries of her new contract (Justin Landon of Staffer’s Book Review considers the book an urban fantasy). But this is not a bad thing by any means.

I particularly enjoyed the characterization in the books. In Devi Morris, Bach/Aaron has created a character I think just about everyone will enjoy reading. She’s strong, driven, and passionate–about her weapons and her men. Bach/Aaron transitions nicely between action and romance (Yes, there is some sex in this book, so take that into consideration if you are thinking of giving this to a younger reader). Driven by multiple urges that don’t always play nicely, Devi is also complex, which made her more realistic and believable.

As for the plot, Bach/Aaron lays out a handful of mysteries that hook readers and keep them turning the page. Just when you think you have it figured out, she surprises you. My one quibble though is that the big revelation happened quite quickly after a more slow-burn development. The ending also left me a little bit unsatisfied. It wasn’t so much that mysteries were resolved or concluded, so much as they were expanded and then paused until the sequel. Sort of a “tune in next week to find out what happens to our hero” kind of thing. While a bit frustrating, I will admit that I’m sufficiently hooked to keep an eye out for HONOR’S KNIGHT.

Like the Monpress books, Bach/Aaron has put together another great read. I’d say it’s a perfect summer read, but since it’s winter, grab a mug of cider and a blanket, and curl up near the fireplace and get reading.