Paradox Series - Fortune’s Pawn, Honor’s Knight, Heaven’s Queen
Grade : A-

I’ve reviewed Rachel Bach’s three-book Paradox trilogy (Fortune’s Pawn, Honor’s Knight, and Heaven’s Queen) together here because, first, they are one complete story, and second, because I binged them so hard and fast I didn’t have time to review them one at a time. I think maybe three days elapsed between me starting the first book and finishing the third, and that includes work and sleep? That should let you know precisely how addictive this terrific sci-fi story with strong romantic elements is!

Deviana Morris is an experienced mercenary whose greatest ambition is to rise to the rank of Devastator, the elite guard of her home culture, the multi-planet system called Paradox. Devi learns that service on a merchant ship called the Glorious Fool can be a pipeline to the Devastators – for soldiers who survive it, that is. Devi applies and is hired by Captain Brian Caldswell, but it’s the cook, Rupert Charkov, who catches her eye. Or is he the cook? Who is Ren, Caldswell’s silent daughter? Why is the Fool riddled with bullets and patches, and how is it making any money when Caldswell is clearly the galaxy’s worst trader? Why is Rupert running hot and cold on Devi, and how is he so quiet, so quick to heal, and so fast?

It looks, from the Amazon data, like this entire trilogy was originally released within six months, which suggests that the whole thing was completed before release. Maybe that’s the reason that the plot hangs together so impeccably. The slow build of the first book grows into the emotional punch of the second and the nonstop action of the third, always consistent within the worldbuilding. I want to avoid spoilers here because the pacing is so well done across the trilogy, so I’ll just say that the author does an excellent job placing all the details we’ll need for later situations to make sense – introducing the other sentient space-faring races which grow in importance, having Rupert’s physical capabilities appear early on, etc.

I liked Devi as a character. She is a mercenary who thinks in terms of dominance and rank, but also of honor and a religious dedication to her king. Although she falls in love with Rupert, her deepest love may be for her custom soldier armor, a suit she calls the Lady Grey which beefs up her durability, speed, accuracy, and power. Giving her dependence on it, and showing the suit’s limitations when it is damaged, dirty, or out of power, is a good way to manage the tendency of super-powered female warriors to drift towards Mary Sue-ness.

The story is deeply engaged with Trolley Problem-type ethical questions and a line can definitely be drawn to connect it to Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas. As Devi learns more about what’s going on, both on her ship and across the galaxy at large, she settles on the only course of action she feels is morally justifiable, but other characters find her plan unethical because of its risk. The antagonists, therefore, are not characters who are eeeeeevil, but characters who want the same goal as the heroine and yet see different means as necessary and different costs as acceptable. The secondary characters, like Caldswell, are so complex that they straddle the line between villain and ally. I could never fully decide how I felt about them.

Two things did bother me in this story. The first is the high body count (and by ‘high’ I mean billions). Whenever there’s a story where many supporting characters die, it becomes less and less credible to me that the people who make it out of every scenario just HAPPEN to be the heroine and the hero. That’s also exacerbated by the fact that the scenarios Devi has to fight through, escape from, or break into become increasingly unsurvivable over the course of the trilogy.

The second issue is the romance. Rupert goes from cold in book one to actively hostile in book two – then suddenly, in book three, is 100% Team Devi unto death. It’s not the transition itself that bothers me; it’s the events which make it happen. At one point, Rupert does something so awful that it’s hard to fathom in a hero:

Show spoiler
He is ordered to kill a simulacrum of Devi to prove his loyalty, and, fully believing it’s the real woman, he shoots it in the head
. By any standards, that should be rock bottom of a relationship – and yet the author doesn’t make that his turning point. It’s not until after another sequence that he decides he has to switch to Devi’s side, but that sequence is profoundly less impactful. The pacing feels off. And once Rupert becomes Devi 4 Eva in the third book, he flattens out as a character. An issue raised about Devi’s safety in his company due to his nature is never resolved.

A book series that has me downloading each subsequent book within seconds of finishing the previous is a rare and delicious thing. I binged this to the point that I was reading on my phone at all moments, doing things like pouring tea onto the counter and tripping on the stairs because I could not put the book down to focus on my life. The Paradox series is a gripping sci-fi read. While the romance isn’t the strongest part, it does feature the HEA I look for alongside an exceptionally executed space opera plot. I loved it and highly recommend it to other SF romance fans, particularly those who like warrior heroines.

Grade: A-

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date : February 12, 2023

Publication Date: 11/2013

Recent Comments …

  1. I read Ulrich’s book several years ago,it was excellent. American Experience on PBS did an adaptation of the book, it…

Caroline Russomanno

I'm a history geek and educator, and I've lived in five different countries in North America, Asia, and Europe. In addition to the usual subgenres, I'm partial to YA, Sci-fi/Fantasy, and graphic novels. I love to cook.

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