Thursday, March 13, 2014

Review: Fortune’s Pawn by Rachel Bach

Science Fiction can at times be a tricky genre, especially for those who haven’t read a whole lot of it. It can be very dense as it relies on words and concepts that it assumes a reader is familiar with. So, it’s often the case that someone relatively new to science fiction is not and thus they dislike what they read. In response, there is often discussion on entry-level science fiction, which, as it sounds, is science fiction that provides a good entry into the genre for the uninitiated.
Another common issue in science fiction is the general lack of diversity of those writing it (or at least a perceived lack of diversity depending on the view point) – there is often a lack of women/minorities/etc. writing and/or as the intended audience. Sure, there are notable exceptions, and this is a generality, but it’s certainly the case, particularly with the most prominent and heavily marketed science fiction in the market.
Fortune’s Pawn by Rachel Bach (aka Rachel Aaron) can be considered an answer to both of those issues.
It is an entry-level science fiction novel that really does nothing new, but is a whole of fun to read. We’re talking space marines, mechanized armor, abandoned alien ships, alien parasites, inter-stellar travel, space hippies, and tasty human flesh. It’s all the fun of a good military science fiction adventure and it has the beginning of an interesting space opera. And the way it’s written makes it a very accessible book.
Rachel Bach is indeed a woman writing a science fiction novel and the main protagonist of Fortune’s Pawn also happens to be a woman (named Devi). The best way I can think of to further illustrate this aspect of the book is that several reviewers (and even the author herself) have compared Fortune’s Pawn to urban fantasy. Now, my initial reaction to this (before reading the book) was to laugh – it’s set on a spaceship, calling it urban fantasy is absurd. However, I do see the point now as a shorthand for one of the ways the story sets itself up with (though the method certainly isn’t only used in urban fantasy). A strong woman with agency who is not looking for a love interest meets the tall, dark mysterious man who is hiding a big secret. They hit it off and fall in love, though there are many complications (in this case evisceration is but one). Of course this is a classic romantic plot line and one that is often disparaged by science fiction fans (yes folks, there is even sex in this book). For me it adds to the book and makes it better and the characters more interesting. Of course I don’t see how gratuitous violence is often accepted without question in SFF yet romance (or even sex) is often held at arm’s length like a nasty set of dirty underwear. So let’s remember that romance in our fiction is a good thing and in Fortune’s Pawn it works quite well.
While I’ve brought up romance, let’s not forget that Fortune’s Pawn is one hell of an adventure. You could also call it an analog to Firefly with a motley crew of characters on a spaceship having crazy adventures through the galaxy. Personally, I wouldn’t – the character development is almost completely focused on a relative few, the mystery is bigger, the consequences seem bigger, and the galaxy (and number of species) certainly is. But I bring up the point because it illustrates that this book has a lot going for it where most commentary I’ve seen ends up pigeonholing it in one way or another.
Fortune’s Pawn is simply fun. It is a well executed space adventure that should have wide appeal and is particularly accessible for relative newcomers to science fiction.  This is just the sort of book that science fiction needs more of right now and it’s great to see an author like Rachel Bach deliver in this respect. Fortune’s Pawn is the first book in the Paradox trilogy – book 2, Honors Knight is available now and Heaven’s Queen will be shortly. So, there are no excuses for waiting.
Fortune’s Pawn (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon)
Honor’s Knight (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon)
Heaven’s Queen (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon)
*Note: My one quibble about this book is the Force. OK, Fortune’s Pawn doesn’t have the actual Force in it, but there is a mystical energy that space hippies seem to be able to tap into that sounds suspiciously like the force. In Fortune’s Pawn it plays no big role(well possibly excepting ___ at the end), but I suspect it’s something of a Chekov’s Gun. For now I’m merely annoyed by it, hopefully it works better as things move forward.


Justin said...

Nice to see some more good thoughts on this book. I thought it was a real pleasure to read.

Neth said...

yep, it's a lot of fun. And from what I've seen, the second book only gets better.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Let's see, it contains space, mercenary groups, understandable space travel, different races, armored suits...and people are calling it Urban Fantasy, really? How very odd.

Whatever. It was a really good book, I blitzed through it in a single day and am looking forward to getting my hands on the next two!


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