Fortune’s Pawn is the first book in the Paradox series. It’s a light sci-fi space action-adventure novel that also involves romance.
The book tells the story of Devi, a mercenary soldier who starts working on a space ship with a bad reputation to advance her career. The diverse crew consisting of people and aliens embarks on various space adventures, visits several planets and gets into a lot of trouble. There are quite a lot of action scenes where Devi and her partner slash, hack and shoot aliens and sometimes people. As the story progresses, the reader discovers that some of the crew members hold secrets, the mission and the people themselves are not what they’ve initially seemed. These mysteries play quite an important role, propelling the plot forward, and they were what kept me hooked.
Unfortunately, most of the characters are not fleshed out at all. They seem a bit like empty shells walking around and saying things, without us knowing what’s going on in their heads and why they do what they do. Alien characters are not different from people in anything but appearance, they behave just like humans which was quite boring to me (to be fair, there was an alien race the crew encountered that was a sort of hive mind, but we don’t get to know much about them). However, what helped maintain my interest in the characters were the mysteries behind them that kept coming up.
I also had an issue with the protagonist. Devi is clearly meant as a badass, but to me she was all the stereotypes associated with the idea of toxic masculinity crammed into one person to create an illusion of ‘strength’. She resolves conflict and asserts domination with the help of violence and threats, objectifies the opposite sex, is not interested in a relationship and uses her partners for sex and favors, displays only a minimal range of emotions, most often variations of anger, names all her weapons and seems to care about them more than people.
I don’t mind a character doing any of those things, but all jumbled together like that they create a walking cliché that could be played by Bruce Willis in some action movie if Devi were a man. I personally dislike such characters regardless of gender, but I can see how others might enjoy them. And I do love strong female protagonists, that’s one of the reasons I read contemporary sci-fi written by women, I just don’t buy this particular idea of ‘strength’, especially when there is not much more to the character apart from that.
However, I liked watching Devi in combat where she displayed courage and ingenuity, and her fascination with powered armor seemed authentic and somewhat geeky, which made her a tiny bit more interesting. She also becomes more ‘human’ closer to the end, but she’s still not well fleshed out, and I rather tolerated than liked her.
The world-building is minimal, but it’s all logical and helps with telling the story. You won’t find complex social or political relationships here, but you’ll find a world you can understand that fits well into the plot.
The plot was what made the book work for me. I normally find it hard to be interested in a book where I don’t have a connection with the characters, but this time I just accepted this novel for what it is, relaxed into it and enjoyed it. Adventures were exciting and mysteries intriguing. The more I found out, the more questions I had. Most of these mysteries remain unsolved at the end of the novel, probably left for the next books in the series. The storytelling is straightforward, one thing leads naturally to the next.
The book doesn’t have any underlying messages and doesn’t explore any real-life issues. There are no covert meanings, which makes it an easy and fun read that doesn’t require thinking.
There is also romance that plays quite an important role in the plot. I don’t normally read romance, so it’s hard for me to evaluate it. It was mostly entertaining, but I didn’t understand where all the intense feelings came from. Initially Devi seemed to treat the man (won’t say who on purpose) only as a sexual object, then suddenly she was in love. Okay, maybe it was enough for her that he was handsome, funny and good in bed, though she seems to be willing to risk too much for such seemingly shallow reasons. And the man’s interest in her is a complete mystery. They don’t spend too much time together and don’t know each other too well, she behaves like a sociopath most of the time, yet his feelings for her are so strong that he’s willing to risk his life for her. It’s not infatuation, which would be understandable, it’s real love, and I don’t get it. Probably because I’ve never had a glimpse into the man’s mind and he wasn’t fleshed out just like the rest of the characters.
Despite all the above I really enjoyed the book. You might like it as well if you are looking for a light and entertaining read with a diverse crew on a space adventure, frequent but not excessive action involving alien combat scenes, some humor, some romance, a lot of mysteries and unexpected turns of events, and if you can forgo the weak character development or if you enjoy characters like Devi.
Rachel Bach grew up wanting to be an author and a super villain. Unfortunately, super villainy proved surprisingly difficult to break into, so she stuck to writing and everything worked out great. She currently lives in Athens, GA with her perpetual energy toddler, extremely understanding husband, overflowing library, and obese wiener dog.
Rachel also writes fantasy under the name Rachel Aaron.