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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

"Fortune's Pawn" by Rachel Bach (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu and Mihir Wanchoo)

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: 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.

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Rachel Bach (Rachel Aaron) lives in Athens, Georgia with her family. She has graduated from University of Georgia with a B.A. in English Literature. She has been an avid reader since her childhood and now has an ever-growing collection to show for it. She loves gaming, Manga comics & reality TV police shows. She also blogs occasionally on the Magic Districts website

CLASSIFICATION: The Paradox series is an action-packed SF series with romantic elements. Think of it as “Kate Daniels in armor and fighting aliens in space” or possibly a female heroine version of the Shadow Warrior series by Chris Bunch.

FORMAT/INFO: Fortune’s Pawn  is 340 pages long divided over sixteen numbered chapters. Narration is in the first person solely via Deviana “Devi” Morris. There's also an excerpt from Honor's Knight (book II if the Paradox trilogy) and an interview with Rachel Aaron in the Extras section. 

November 5, 2013 marks the Trade paperback and e-book publication of Fortune's Pawn via Orbit Books.

ANALYSIS (Liviu): Fortune’s Pawn is an addictive page turner with a great narrator and a weird and interesting character list all set in an intriguing universe that is of the advanced technology, space polities, humanity, aliens, space fleets etc future with magic - or possibly unexplained science of course kind - while the set-up reminded me of the Shadow Warrior series of Chris Bunch to a large extent.

The author wrote also the Eli Monpress series as Rachel Aaron and while I liked the writing well enough in the first volume, I had no intention of reading more because the content and the style were of the kind I find both anachronistic and annoying in fantasy, while here in sf same thing works very well - I am not sure why as this happens all the time with sf stuff I love but would not touch were it fantasy, but I guess I do not find current attitudes, mores, wisecracks believable when set in a pre-industrial world.

So the typical action-adventure mil-sf seen tons of times, but the details and the voice and of course the fact that I love this sub-genre when done well made all the difference and I got hooked and plan to read the next installment - set for 2-14 - as soon as I can get a copy

Tough heroine Devi from the space kingdom of Paradox which is led by a divine God-king wants to become an elite warrior - Devastator - of the King's guard so when she gets to the highest combat rung of the top mercenary commando outfit of Paradox, she needs to find "the next level" to have a chance and be invited to apply for a Devastator position

Somewhat to her annoyance that next level turns out to be an usually lowly ship-guard position on a tramp freighter with a weird crew, whose Captain Caldswell is a Terran Republic former officer to boot - as the main human polities, Paradox and Terra fought quite a few "border" wars across time - but that is what she hears from her contacts at court...

And of course you know the spiel - nothing is as it seems - but as mentioned the cast is awesome bringing together members of the other two main material sentient races of the Galaxy - there is a fourth powerful species, the Lelgis, but they are essentially energy beings/spirits whose material manifestations are meat drones.<

First there are the bird-like Aeon, whose representative, Basil - love the name too - is the ship XO and offers a lot of comic relief with his self-importance as after all "the monkeys" gotta be supervised and then the dinosaur like predators Xith-cal who love the humans and the aeons a lot - as dinner of course and they raise them as "cattle", though the meat drones of the Lelgis are poisonous to them, so a large part of both the Terran and Paradoxian commandos' job is to fight slavers and Xith-cal hordes to free their human slaves and on meeting a Xith-cal, their reaction is always to shoot on sight.

In a very nice touch, the Xith-cal's representative Hyrek, is the doctor of the ship - as Hyrek puts it, experience as a Xith-cal butcher gave him all the insight he needs in the biology of humans and aeons. In addition to the two "aliens" we have  some humans who may be even more "alien": the astrogator space hippie Nova (scape Starchild) who can see auras and do psychic stuff like levitation, the captain's daughter Ren who is strange and well (read to find out more) and not least the handsome cook Rupert who well (same as above)...

Adventures, battles, fights, intrigues, romance and all that you want in a fast and furious package that has only one flaw, namely that it ends so fast. The extract from book two, Honor's Knight, which picks up where this ends just makes me regret I do not have that book now. Highly recommended.

ANALYSIS (Mihir): This was another awesome book from the mind that gave us the wonderful Legend Of Eli Monpress series. Rachel had mentioned this book in her previous interview with us last year and after finishing it, I think can be best summed up as "Kate Daniels in space with armor". The author builds up an interesting universe that I’m sure will be explored in the sequel books.  What this book is simply awesome and here’s what it’s about.

Deviana "Devi" Morris is a mercenary very much in the Kate Daniels mold, that is tough, extremely competent, headstrong & packing a lot more power than is apparent. Devi is a person who does things her own way, be it her personal or professional lives. Her aim is to be the best at her job so she can attract enough attention and commendations to be called to join the Devastator unit which serves the king directly. She is a citizen of Paradox which is ruled by a god-king. Democracy is heretical to them and violence is second nature. She is unapologetic and extremely focused on becoming a part of the Devastators [Royal Paradoxian unit] that gets to play by her own rules. Her path to becoming a devastator however goes through a year of guard duty on the Glorious Fool.

The Glorious Fool has a high mortality rate for its crew as well as the mercenaries that protect it. This ship’s captain Brian Caldswell has a worse reputation than his ship when it comes to dangerous missions however his worth and ideals are admired throughout interstellar space. Devi will learn that the captain plays his own game and his crew is even more shrouded in ambiguity. The story then focuses on Devi and the journey she will take as a security team member of the Glorious Fool.

The author sets the book to be a rip-roaring ride full of action, intrigue, snarky talk and a very interesting universe that has four sentient races (as detailed above by Liviu) and many possibilities about what actually is happening. Firstly here’s why I loved this book so much, the characterization is top notch. Devi Morris is an absolute kick-ass character who will keep the reader glued on to her antics as well as the overall plot twists. The author has to be commended for setting this story in first person and making it so enthralling. Devi constantly keeps the readers on her toes and the way she’s goes about things (like giving her armor and weaponry, names such as Mia, Sasha & Lady Grey or having her way in relationships). Devi as a character is absolutely a riveting one and is one of my favorite narrators being written about.

Secondly the world or universe-building is absolutely engrossing, beginning with the four sentient races, or the curious split between Terran and Paradoxian humanity and all the secrets surrounding the crew of the Glorious Fool. The author makes it absolutely intriguing as she drops enough hints and peeks about what might be happening so as to grab the readers for the remaining books in the series. Thirdly the pace and plot twists are absolutely top-notch, they keep the reader hooked and with the way the book ends. The book wonderfully mixes action with romantic elements along with the Sci-fi aspect of the story.I can bet that the readers (like me) can’t wait to read Honor’s Knight to see what happens next with Devi and the Glorious Fool inhabitants.

I didn't find any things to nit-pick about this book, no issues at all and so I would like to simply say that this was one of my three top reads of this year irrespective of genre.

CONCLUSION: Fortune’s Pawn by Rachel Bach (nee Aaron) is a wonderful read; it encompasses various different genre elements and yet makes itself original enough to stand out among various SF reads. Be sure to read Fortune’s Pawn as otherwise you will be missing out on a fun book and a superb story.



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