Book Review: Heaven’s Queen, by Rachel Bach

cover of Heaven's QueenHeaven’s Queen is the final book in the Paradox Trilogy by Rachel Bach.  I reviewed the first book, Fortune’s Pawn, in October 2013.  I loved the first book for, among other things, the competent, intelligent female heroine, Devi.  The first book consisted largely of the author ducking sexist trope after sexist trope – and to give her publisher credit, this started with the cover image (which you can see below).  The covers show a woman in what appears to be a space suit but is actually a reasonable portrayal of Devi’s mecha-like armor.  Devi has a beautiful face but there is nary a bare midriff or sassily cocked hip to be seen.  It’s wonderful.

The rest of Fortune’s Pawn follows the tone set by the covers.  Devi is business-like and very good at what she does (she’s a mercenary trying to work her way up in the world).  She is open to the idea of romance but it does not consume her every thought.  And much attention in the series is paid to her armor and how she uses it. The second book, Honor’s Knight, was fine, but it suffered the fate of many middle books,  It clearly serves to steer the story towards the third book.  It also insisted of action sequence after action sequence.  If futuristic action sequences are your thing, believe me , you’ll love that book.  If not, then, like me, you’ll enjoy it but mostly as a way to pass the time until we get to book three.

Which brings us to:  Heaven’s Queen!  In this final book, Devi has to sort out just tons of crap.  There are multiple homicidal aliens from parallel universes.  There are crazy homicidal little girls who can kill you with their brains.  There are crazy homicidal military guys.  Her boyfriend is perfectly sane except for rare occasion during which he tries to kill her.  Her ex shows up out of nowhere, claims he loves her, and sics the military on her.  Other than one night of great sex, her life  totally sucks and it seems inevitable that it won’t suck for much longer because she’s going to die.

Heaven’s Queen doesn’t succeed as well at avoiding sexists tropes as the first two books did, mostly because of the romance with Rupert.  Even when she’s wearing her armor, Devi is a lesser warrior than Rupert, a fact which is mentioned many times.  And he’s possessive and protective of her in a way that I found deeply irritating.  Meanwhile, the appearance of the ex comes completely out of left-field and seems to serve no function except to reinforce the idea that Devi is sexually and romantically compelling.

However, the book does most things right.  Time and time again, Devi finds some way out of certain doom.  She has common sense and she has physical needs – when she finally finds a safe place for a while, she sleeps for eighteen straight hours and then she has to pee.  Every time she is near a power source, she charges her armor and runs it through a cleaning and repair cycle – whether there will be time to finish the job or not.  She speaks directly and she works very hard to get direct answers in return.  And the day is saved by her, not Rupert, although he’s certainly a big help.

The book is madcap, gung-ho space adventure with real heart.  All the villains have motives and many of them have perfectly good arguments for why they should get their way.  This adds a lot of depth to the story, not to mention some great plot twists.  I recommend this series for anyone who likes space opera, futuristic action and adventure, and fantastic, complex heroines.

covers of Fortune's Pawn, honor's Knight, and Heaven's Queen

Book Review: Fortune’s Pawn, by Rachel Bach

cover of Fortune's Pawn

Fortune’s Pawn is the first book in The Paradox Series, and it is absolutely yummy if you are into light space opera with a tough, smart heroine, some romance, and lots of action.  Which I am, so…yum!

Devi is a mercenary who hopes to reach a high status position as a Devestator, one of the King’s guards.  In order to get promoted, Devi accepts a job guarding a ship that always seems to get into trouble.  The ship has an irritable captain, a mechanic who slaps patches onto the hull with maniacal cheer, a doctor who is a species of alien known for eating humans, and a silent, mysterious young girl who plays chess by herself all the time.  The ship also has a very sexy cook who has lots of secrets.  And, true to its reputation, the ship and/or its crew seems to be in trouble almost all of the time.

I like that the author respects the reader’s intelligence enough to slip in world-building without spelling things out at length.  This world seems solid, dirty, and real, with complex but believable social structures.  And Devi is a great character.  Although Devi is often rescued, it’s not because she’s a girl.  Her competence as a fighter is well established and she only requires assistance when she is fighting an extremely unusual opponent, an extremely large number of opponents, or both.    She reminded me a bit of Starbuck in Battlestar Galactica, but she’s much more mentally healthy than Starbuck.  Not that she doesn’t have her neurosis, but on the whole she’s socially adept, confident, and not self-destructive.  

The pace of the book is good – there are moments of calm and conversation, there’s humor, there’s tons of action, and some hefty mysteries for Devi to solve.  I don’t think this book is a genre-buster – if you are not interested in science fiction books set in space with lots of action, then give this book a pass.  but if you like tough warrior heroines, sexy, mysterious, kind heroes, and a strong supporting cast in an interesting, action packed setting, don’t miss this book.  My one caveat is that it ends on something of a cliffhanger, so be prepared for that.

Can we just spend a moment to pay proper respect to the cover art?  See what that is?  A picture of a woman, that does not focus on her boobs or her butt!  I love this cover art so very much.  Over on orbit.net you can read this entry by the illustrator (Kirk Benshoff) about how he made the art for the series.  It’s beautiful, it fits the concept, it fits the character, it tells the reader at a glance who the book is about.  Kudos, Kirk Benshoff.