Desert Isle Keeper
I consider myself a Sci-Fi Lite fan. I love science fiction that is easy on the science component, more character driven than focused on futuristic techno-imaginings that require hard thinking to understand. Imagine my delight upon discovering Fortune’s Pawn, the first title in Rachel Bach’s sci-fi trilogy that is light on techno but heavy with great characters and a fast-paced, engrossing plot.
Deviana “Devi” Morris is a mercenary with big plans. A champion warrior with a top-of-the-line set of high-tech body armor, she’s worked her way up the military ranks and now has her sites set on becoming one of the best of the best, the revered Devastators. But making that final career jump seems next to impossible until an unlikely job opportunity falls into her lap. If Devi can survive one year of security duty on the notoriously unlucky space freighter the Glorious Fool, she will have gained enough experience to possibly land her a chance at becoming one of the king’s elite guards.
At first, Devi fears that life aboard the Fool – a low-level hauler – is going to bore her to death. She has to deal with the loutish, sexist Cotter, her fellow security guard, as well as Hyrek, the ship’s doctor who is not human but rather a xith’cal, an alien species that looks on humans as a food source. Captain Brian Caldswell seems fairly rational as far as captains go, but Devi soon learns that he’s holding some serious secrets, especially about his teen daughter, Ren. At least Devi’s cabin mate Nova is nice, if not a little spacey and new-agey for Devi’s tastes.
And then there is Rupert, the gorgeous, sexy ship’s cook, who pushes all of Devi’s senses into the red. The two strike up a quick and easy friendship, and Devi determines that getting physical with this man would be a nice distraction from the boredom. But a lot of things about Rupert don’t seem to add up, and she can’t quite manage to figure out how he ended up as the lowly cook on a space freighter.
Before long, Devi must put her supreme fighting skills into action as the Fool runs into problems. Ready to die if necessary to keep the Fool and her crew safe, Devi faces aliens and life forms she’s never encountered before. Far more sinister, however, is the fact that someone is hiding things from Devi, and the more determined she is to uncover the mysteries of the Fool, the more danger she seems to be in.
As I said in my intro, it’s the characters that make Fortune’s Pawn such a delight to read. Devi is a kick-ass heroine in every meaning of the term. In the future, high-tech armor does the job of evening out the physical differences between males and females, giving Devi the level playing field she needs to prove herself a capable and formidable warrior. She’s brave – sometimes to the point of recklessness – and will do whatever it takes to do her job. Add in her straight-forward manner of speaking and dealing with things and I found her a wonderful protagonist.
Rupert, Captain Caldswell and Ren are mysterious characters, and even by the end of the book Devi has only managed to suss out some of their secrets. As the attraction between Rupert and Devi grows, Rupert shows himself to be a traditional, protective hero even though Devi is perfectly capable of fighting the good fight all on her own.
I loved that Devi thinks nothing of sleeping with anyone who attracts her desire, her ownership of her sexuality as confident as any man’s. From the moment she spots Rupert with his fantastic body and long, black hair, she’s interested in getting him into bed. But as she comes to know him and learns some of his secrets, her feelings for him solidify into something deeper. My only nitpick – I did find it kind of hard to picture a guy named “Rupert” as being a sexy, swashbuckling romance hero. As a hardcore Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan, I couldn’t get the image of Mr. Giles out of my head.
Because the entire story is told through Devi’s non-technical point of view, the science fiction element is boiled down to an everyman level that I appreciated. There is plenty of world-building to put us in a clearly different place and time, and Devi’s discussions of the things that directly impact her, such as her insanely complex combat armor and weaponry, are described in detail. However, the actual mechanics and physics of things such as space travel are kept to a simplistic level, which is a boon for non science-fiction experts like me.
As far as pacing, Fortune’s Pawn clips along at a steady hum. The action sequences are well-written, and I had no problem keeping track of what was happening during some pretty tense battles. The mysteries surrounding the Glorious Fool grow as Devi encounters every new situation, and by the end of the book, only a tiny fraction of the answers have been revealed. The story definitely ends on a cliffhanger, so be prepared to close the last page wanting more.
If you are a fan of science fiction with a strong romantic element and kick-ass heroines, you will love Fortune’s Pawn as much as I did. Thankfully, Honor’s Knight, book two in the Paradox series, will be available February 25th so I don’t have to wait too long to see what happens next to Devi and the crew of the Fool.