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cover of Fortune's Pawn

Devi Morris isn't your average mercenary. She has plans. Big ones. And a ton of ambition. It's a combination that's going to get her killed one day — but not just yet.

That is, until she just gets a job on a tiny trade ship with a nasty reputation for surprises. The Glorious Fool isn't misnamed: it likes to get into trouble, so much so that one year of security work under its captain is equal to five years everywhere else. With odds like that, Devi knows she's found the perfect way to get the jump on the next part of her Plan. But the Fool doesn't give up its secrets without a fight, and one year on this ship might be more than even Devi can handle.

If Sigouney Weaver in Alien met Starbuck in Battlestar Galactica, you'd get Deviana Morris — a hot new mercenary earning her stripes to join an elite fighting force. Until one alien bite throws her whole future into jeopardy. (source)

Holy fuckballs, friends, I love Fortune's Pawn.

When [ profile] ellenbwright said, "Once lindsayetumbls and I decided our equation for the perfect science fiction book was FEMINISM + EXPLOSIONS." all I could do was go, YES THIS ABSOLUTELY. I am such a fan of the loud, boisterous, filled-with-explosions action adventure, especially IN SPACE with ladies. The only way Fortune's Pawn would have been better for me is if a) Rupert had been a lady, and b) Devi had spent as much time fawning over Rupert as she did her armor and her guns. Although I completely understand fawning over her guns. Her guns are fantastic. Devi is the best.

"If Caldswell takes you, yes,” he said. “Don’t know if they’ll listen, they mostly don’t, but I’ll be sure to tell everyone what a reckless glory hog you are."

Devi Morris, our reckless glory hog of a hero, has serious ambition to become one of the guards to the Sacred King, the Devastators, for the promise of more guns, infinite potential for more recognition, and chances to shoot at things. Too impatient to wait for the years of experience to pile up so they'll issue her an invitation, she interviews for a position for a tour on the Glorious Fool, the ship of Brian Caldswell. Caldswell is mysterious tradesmen with a reputation for slicing through hired guards like butter, a ship full of holes, and a mishmash of crew members from human to aeon (giant birds) to xith'cal (lizard-like aliens).

And then there's the cook, Rupert Charkov. Devi totally wants to shove him up against a wall and take off his pants. I approve. I have a thing about taking the pants off powerful people, too, Devi, and making them a mess. Get it, girl.

But the main romantic relationship in the book is between Devi and the Lady Gray, her armor:

The Lady Gray was broken up into a series of interlocking pieces that fit over my body like a shell. Each segment overlapped and locked into those around it, connecting via a close-gap system, no wires for me. The disassembled armor looked stunning in the case, but it was when I put her on that the Lady’s true beauty showed. My suit was the color of morning mist, a light, silvery gray chased through with a spiraling pattern that was only visible in direct light. It was a speed suit, built for strength and flexibility, but the money I’d spent really showed in the suit’s size.

Pretend there's about 600 more words about the Lady Gray and you'll get the picture; it happens every chapter. It's sexy as hell and I love Devi for it. She does the same with her guns, Sasha and Mia, and her sword, Phoebe. Passages of loving, narrative caresses, pride and joy...a girl with her guns. *happy sigh*

Devi packs a punch, both in and out of the suit. She's loud, ambitious, judgmental, unabashedly sexual, stubborn, but also kind and friendly when a situation doesn't call for her smart ass mouth.

Meanwhile, I loved almost every interaction she had with the rest of the crew in this book. There's a lot to be said for happy, functional, Whedonesque teams that love and support each other and believe in ~friendship~, and teams like this which could be there but really aren't yet, and perhaps might never be (and that would probably be okay). Although the crew beyond Rupert, Caldswell, and Devi aren't as thoroughly drawn, I really appreciated the intricacies of the ensemble cast. Their different species, different backgrounds, prejudices, and untempered dislike did a lot of the heavy lifting. That way more space could be had for Devi waxing poetic about her guns, hitting things, seducing/deducting Rupert, and also for the mystery of Ren, Caldswell's daughter, who Rupert spends most of his non-Devi time babysitting. Nova is my favorite, because her friendship with Devi, when it comes around, is so great. Devi appreciates her and they seem to genuinely like each other. They hang out! They have conversations! Between her low-gravity upbringing and easygoing nature (she's friends with Basil. Girl, you're stronger than me), and the vast expanses between her experiences of space and Devi's, I am 100% on board with more Devi/Nova adventures.

There's Basil, the bird-like aeon second-in-command, who for all the skill he has flying the ship is a xenophobic fuckmuppet who, unlike Devi, doesn't even try to find common ground with his co-workers:

"Nova is our systems analyst. She helps me run the bridge. The two of you will be bunking together until I can talk some sense into the captain.”

His head swiveled to glare at me. “Honestly, if we weren’t short on room, I’d never have let it happen. A nice girl like Nova shouldn’t be exposed to Paradoxians. Sometimes I don’t think you people even understand words that don’t have to do with armor, fighting, and king worship.”

“We also talk about shooting, sir,” I said dryly. “And bird hunting.”

Basil is like this the whole time. He drove me bonkers. I wanted Hyrek to eat him.

There's Devi's partner, Cotter, Completely Obvious Obligatory Sexist Meathead:

“Morris,” Caldswell said as I walked in. “This is Jayston Cotter, the other half of your security team. Cotter, this is Devi Morris.”

The man’s face broke into an enormous grin as soon as the captain said my name. “I’ve heard of you,” he said, eying me up and down even though he couldn’t possibly see anything of interest through my armor.

And Rupert, Dude with Obligatory Mysterious Past, who sealed the fate of his pants really early on with compliments and being attractive:

“Your fight with Cotter,” Rupert said as he scraped the white turnip sticks into a bowl. “You were fantastic. That flip was what, forty feet?”

There's Hyrek, the carnivorous xith'cal ship doctor, who I kept picturing as a cross between a velociraptor and the queen from Alien and who shares my opinion of Basil (chicken dinner):

Sadly no, the xith’cal typed. Our dear captain is still rather squeamish about some things and we are forced to waste good meat. If it makes you feel better, though, Basil is the first on my list if we’re ever stranded in deep space and forced to eat one another. Aeons are most delicious.

Hyrek was a mix of things: a predator race (Devi and Cotter's reaction is, at the outsets "ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?" and they're pretty gross about it) with sexual dimorphism (at least, I think so? Ugh, I have forgotten every biology class I ever took). Hyrek is "neutral" rather than female or male, and chooses to present as male. There's a lot happening with Hyrek's character, both race-wise and gender-wise, but what I really liked about his storyline is that Devi, after her initial reaction, comes to banter with and seem to genuinely like him (and trust him as her doctor). I had a lot of feelings about Hyrek and Devi and their developing friendship. I'M DOOMED TO LOVE INTERSPECIES RELATIONSHIPS.

There's Mabel, the ship engineer. She was the worst of the blank spots in the crew (MORE DEVELOPED LADIES, YYYY?), but she has Devi's number from the start:

I shook her hand, careful not to squeeze too hard with my armor. “Devi Morris.”

“Paradoxian.” Mabel sounded impressed. “Good. Last time Caldswell went to Paradox he got a pair of Terrans. Horrible waste. Why hire on Paradox if you’re not going to get actual Paradoxian armored mercs?”

And my favorite of all the crew:

“Novascape Starchild,” she said, taking my armored hand and holding it between her palms in a motion that looked both ritualistic and utterly ridiculous.

I had no idea what “novascape starchild” meant. I mean, I knew the words, but they didn’t make any sense, and the fact that the girl was still holding my hand was throwing off my translation attempts. Finally, I gave up.

“I’m sorry,” I said, pulling my hand away as gently as I could. “I don’t understand what that means. I’m a little rusty at Universal.”

“No worries,” the girl said, smiling beatifically. “All languages are but crude translations of the music of the cosmos. We are all of us struggling to speak to true meaning.”

Hell, I want to be friends with Nova.

The only character I was really disappointed in was Cotter, and that was simply because he was too on the nose as a sexism deconstruction device.

I gritted my teeth. Of all the crap that got thrown my way, “slut” was the putdown I hated the most. Sure I had a lot of flings, but all mercs did. It was stupid not to live your life to the fullest when you could die tomorrow, and I sure as shit wasn’t about to take hell for that from some macho skullhead idiot.

Okay book, I get it, slut shaming is wrong and Cotter is an asshole and this will lead to he and Devi having a fraught relationship. Arguably, this was the biggest problem I had with this book. It felt a little like Sexism 101 when Devi would deconstruct why something bothered her, as if 20th/21st century Old Earth gender politics had simply been transplanted into the future and no progress had been made at all so there could be handy lessons. There was no nuance; it felt like the book was simply dobbing spaces on the sexism bingo card in order to entrench Devi's position as a take-no-shit badass lady. Now, I love some badass ladies, but I suspect some things would have changed in the light years between Old Earth and Paradox, unless there's something I missed about Old Earth not being the origin of the spread of human life into the galaxy and beyond (no...really, did I miss something?). The thing I have noticed about oppression as time goes on isn't that it gets more obvious, but that it gets more subtle, harder to pin down, and much, much harder to call out with words, much less fists and guns. What, we can transform and rework the World Wrestling Entertainment company and associated projects to fit another planet's lust for pounding on one another in armor, revive monarchism with future-centered sensibilities, but upgrading the subtly of sexism and misogyny is too much work? Okay.

Beyond Cotter, though, I do really like the character work here when it's available. Although Rupert does get the lion's share, seeing as Devi has girded her loins in anticipation of him. The other great character work is done with Nova and Hyrek, showing sections of the world Devi lives in. But my absolute favorite for transforming characterization from the beginning to the end is Hyrek, because he's so fucking sassy.

“Thanks, Hyrek. I’ll get this back to you soon.”

Take your time, he typed with a grin. I completely understand if it takes you a little while to read something that doesn’t have to do with killing or armor.


“Don’t eat the staff,” I said.

Hyrek turned up his snout so fast I thought I’d actually insulted him, but then I saw his handset. Spoilsport.

And finally, although a lot of shit gets shot at, blown up, tossed around, banged up, and punched (including Devi herself), which I love, I really, really did like the romance even though I had serious consent issues with the end of this book (serious, screaming-and-clawing-at-my-face issues). I'm having a lot of romance feelings recently; I'm very obnoxious about it and wear stompy boots wherever I go. Doubly so because so much of the commentary about the romance in this book has made me want to strip naked, coat myself in caramel and lay down in front of a field full of fire ants under the scorching sun.

So yes, unlike tons of other reviewers who have casually insulted the romance because clearly they've never read terrible fanfic where there's zero lead up to passionate soulmate/destiny fucking and declarations of true love, I wanted more romance between these two people thrown together unexpectedly in a stressful work environment. (Although, sidenote, I would love some soulbonding in space. DOES THAT EXIST…?) Honestly, life affirming sex is just that — life affirming sex. It's lust, until it's not, and who gets to decide that? I assume Devi gets to decide; it's her heart, after all, and surely taking until halfway through the book to realize she's got feelings for Rupert, born of attraction and affection, is enough narrative construction to justify such a relationship? Perhaps my problem with the criticism of the romance comes on the heels of the claim that the book would be "better" without the romance. To me that equates erasing an important part of who Devi is. She enjoys sex, she's open about it, and she's not ashamed of her sexuality. She's a physical character and part of that physicality is fucking dudes and, I assume, enjoying the hell out of it. The complications start when she gets attached to the wrong man at the absolute worst time. Well, welcome to life. You don't always plan it.

Of course, I'm a greedy person. At the beginning of the book there's a situation that I found eye-rollingly trite, and I would so have preferred that space have been used for more character development. There wasn't enough of Devi and Rupert washing dishes together, or Devi bragging about her armor, or letting Rupert admire/stroke her guns (and there's a scene that would have been perfect for additional admiration!) while Devi worked on her armor, or talking excitedly about all the things she's blown to smithereens, or simply being together without something attacking, exploding, or going wrong. You can certainly infer it. I sort of do that by default, anyway, because it's just a skill I've learned reading a million words of badly written fanfiction romance, but sure, I could have used more courtship. It would have been really good for me. But I don't think it would have made the romance any more believable. Devi doesn't face her feelings until chapter 14 (out of 16). Fandom, what. Really?

You're killing me, Smalls. Seriously.

When a male protagonist hooks up or falls in love with a lady, how often do we complain about that and wish for it to be stricken from a narrative (especially one written by a man)? Do we do so in the same way? Do we hand out insta-love pink slips (I have certainly been guilty of this myself in the last year until I finally caught myself doing it and cut that shit out.)? Do we define the book by the sexual and romantic choices the man makes on his adventures? Do we judge his decisions to fuck whomever he wants? Do we police his feelings, should he develop them and complain they're not deep enough, pasted on, insufficiently convincing? The reactions to this book and Devi and Rupert's relationship have bothered me since the book went to wide release and everyone began picking it up and tons of folks started going "god, I sure wish this romance wasn't here." Seriously, I have this cliff here, please walk directly off of it onto the sharp rocks of my disdain below.

Why are Devi's sexuality and romantic feelings such a negative? Is it just Rupert's Mysterious Past and Dark Secret? It's a trope, but given the story, there's a reason for said trope (whether I find this trope entertaining/effective is another story, which has a more complicated, spoilery answer with a lot of feels about physics, and is probably a post for another day). Why does it matter if Devi isn't as physically strong as Rupert? Have we swallowed too much Strong Female Characters kool-aid? What's going on? I feel like we might want to examine our prejudices and preconceptions about romance just a tiny bit. Get out that Sexism 101 bingo card, free space this time is "ew, ladies enjoying sex and having interpersonal-type feelings is boring". Why is it boring when the same thing about a man would likely be considered deep? Is it because it's actually boring, or because we're conditioned to give women's perspectives and relationships short shrift in whatever form they take, but especially in ~tales of love and romance~? And maybe it's just a case of simple dislike, which is cool, but I am so weirded out by the Stepford response to this particular aspect of this book that I will just sit here boggled and shocked and grumpy and complain on the Internet.

Anyway, like I said: I am defensive and unimpressed. I've wanted a mainstream science fiction novel with romance like this ever since John Scalzi spent the entirety of Old Man's War cockblocking me re: John Perry and Jane. (Never forget! ) I would buy all the books like this, with adventures in space and explosions and interspecies friendship. Probably Susan is scoping out this review right now going, "JUST PLAY MASS EFFECT!!!!" (Yes, Susan, I know. I KNOW.)

In closing, just read Fortune's Pawn and come write Devi & Hyrek fanfic with me where they prank Basil. Do it because you love me.

this is the best!

Other Reviews:
The Book Smugglers, Book Den, Bookworm Blues, Parnassus Reads, Science Fiction & Fantasy Book Reviews, Strange Charm, Stefan Raets (, Staffer's Book Review, nerds of a feather, yours?

Date: 2014-02-14 05:56 am (UTC)
janesgravity: (Default)
From: [personal profile] janesgravity
Every time I read one of your reviews, I add to my to-read list. Thanks. :P

Date: 2014-02-15 03:13 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I loved Devi and I loved the world and the romance but the ending also made me want to claw my face off I think there was yelling and muttering under my breath for days.


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