Adrienne Martini reviews Rachel Bach

The advantage to not really noticing Rachel Bach’s Paradox trilogy until April 2014 is that they’d all been published by then and I could devour all three books without delay. This is a good thing.

These three titles – Fortune’s Pawn, Honor’s Knight, and Heaven’s Queen – tell the story of Devi Morris, a young female mercenary fresh out of her mandatory years of service. Devi is looking for a new gig, one that will lead to her becoming a Devastator, a member of an elite group of military muscle in the Paradoxian planetary system. She signs on with a captain whose ex-guards almost always are drafted by the Devastators – if they can survive their year of service on this captain’s ship. It’s not a given, not even for the talented Devi, who quickly finds herself hip deep in combat, mystery, and more combat.

The first book, Fortune’s Pawn, is almost Firefly-esque in its concept of a rouge-ish spaceship family whose members may be diverse and prickly but who always have each other’s backs. There’s a love interest, too, as Devi falls for the enigmatic Rupert, the ship’s chef who has his own agenda. It’s a slice of spacer life. The crew eats, plays cards, and bonds between skirmishes. Devi opines that ‘‘the movies they make back home about the nonstop action of merc life never show how much time you spend on cleanup.’’

About three-quarters of the way through the first title, however, the story shifts and nicely subverts expectations. Over the course of the next two books, which build on each other and are best read sequentially, the narrative never quite goes where you expect it to, in a good way. There are surprises here; even though Bach is clearly working from space opera/military SF/romance impulses, she never gets mired in easy shorthand that betrays her characters. Devi is a badass with a heart who learns her weaknesses and grows. The central romantic relationship is fully earned. And the main conundrum is a nuanced commentary on what sacrifices are acceptable when navigating the chasm between freedom and security.

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