When people ask me if I’ve read any good books lately, I always find myself scrambling for an answer. I read a lot of books, and the vast majority of them are what I’d call “good” books. Perhaps the plot felt a bit a too contrived or familiar. Perhaps a character is powerful past the point of suspended disbelief. But all in all, it’s still probably a book I’m glad I took the time to read.
When I picked up the Devi Morris books I wasn’t expecting anything more than a good science fiction story. When I turned the last page of Honor’s Knight, I knew I’d found something far more extraordinary. While the first book, Fortune’s Pawn, had been an exciting book to discover, this second book took its groundwork and streaked upward. The stakes are higher, the danger’s closer, Devi’s memories are weird, – and oh, yeah! apparently she’s hallucinating – and the galaxy she thought she knew is getting steadily larger. Somewhere in the first pages we leave behind the illusion of a military science fiction tale that Devi’s mech suit had brought into the first book and streak off happily into a true space opera.
As a reader who mostly cares about characters, I could gush for hours about Devi, Caldwell, Rupert, and the rest of the crew. This is diversity folks, and even more, Devi Morris is the manifestation of what we really mean when we say we want strong female characters. I’ve seen several characters this last year that I’m pretty sure were an attempt to fulfill this role, but they fell too flat. If your strong female character is still a one dimensional, one note action girl, you’ve sort of missed what people are asking for. What we want is a deeply intricate character who can’t be summed up in a sentence. And Devi steps confidently into this role bringing a great deal of humanity to what could easily have been just another science fiction stereotype.
As a reader who loves the payoff of a well executed and complex plot, I could happily spoil the entire book while giddily spinning theories for where we go from here, because, for once, I’m very certain that there is a here to go to and that it’s going to be amazing. I read 90% of my science fiction and fantasy convinced that this isn’t necessarily the case. Yet while the first book seemed like a great set up for an action adventure series in space, Honor’s Knight shifts the narrative focus ever so slightly away from an intrepid crew and their shenanigans. A much bigger picture begins to coalesce, and we realize that all this is going somewhere – it has to because unless action is taken and things begin to change, there isn’t going to be enough left to tell a story about.
But where this book reached beyond the average sci fi novel, becoming something more akin to the type of mythos that pervades great space operas like Star Wars, Ender, and Dune was the nature of the universe Bach began unfolding. Fortune’s Pawn certainly opened the door to the diversity and details of this world between the giant bird piloting the ship and the lizard person serving as the ship’s doctor. But everything we saw was interpreted through the point of view of the main character. Here in the second book, Devi’s having to come to term with how little she really knows about her world, and we learn right along with her.
Yet even as the rules seem to shift, it’s very clear that this isn’t a second book scramble to redirect the series. Perceptions are shifting, yes, but the rules have never budged. And that’s the axis this series turns on. Instead of having a static character who explores new worlds and new cultures, we have a dynamic character who is growing and changing in a clear and consistent environment that has existed alongside her every day of her life. I’ve seen very few authors take this approach because it’s extremely difficult to maintain two sets of rules reliably. You have to be constantly aware of both what’s really happening in a situation and how the narrator’s native prejudices and assumptions color it. When an author pulls it off successfully though, it adds an incredibly deep layer of verisimilitude to their story, and, for me anyway, alters how deeply I invest in the people, the problem, and the place itself. This is world I don’t want to lose.
If you haven’t jumped into the world of the Paradox series yet, I’d recommend doing it now. The books are coming out rapidly with the third book releasing in April. And check back in tomorrow for our interview with author Rachel Bach and a couple of Kindle giveaways.