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Book cover of Fortune's Pawn shows Devi's face inside helmet overlaid with LED information screens


This year, Here Be Books is running an SFF Women Book Club. Their January pick was Fortune's Pawn by Rachel Bach.

As you may remember Renay quite liked this one, and her review convinced me to read Fortune's Pawn at the start of 2014 before the whole trilogy was even published. Getting me to start an in progress series that isn't The Raven Cycle is quite the bookish feat of strength.

I felt like I needed a refresher before reading the rest of the trilogy, and this new book club provided the perfect reason to dive back into Bach's comfort blanket of fun, high action, romantic space adventure. I wasn't able to join the Twitter discussion, but Here Be Books created a set of discussion questions for bloggers so here I am, running late, offloading my (many) feelings about the hard drinking Devi, her overprotective love interest, and the crew of The Glorious Fool.

Fortune’s Pawn is a military scifi with romantic entanglements. Was this your first time reading military scifi? What did you think?

I'm not very good at classifying sub-genres but I think this is the first piece of futuristic military sci-fi I've read. I've read futuristic stories featuring ex-soldiers, and I read Promise of Blood, the first book of Brian McClellan's Powder Mage military fantasy series, which is set in an 18th century-esque world. Otherwise, I can't think of any novels that seem to fit this sub-genre.

I so enjoyed Fortune's Pawn. High-action space adventures! Developing relationships among the crew of a cursed space ship! Sarcastic alien crew members! ROMANCE! And then there's Devi.

I'm a fan of the hard drinking female character (blame it on my own alcohol saturated history) and gun loving ladies (this one is a little harder to explain as in real life I'm extremely dubious of guns and am not good at operating them). So, a lot of Devi's surface level characteristics quickly endeared her to me. But there are deeper reasons why the heroine of this fluffy, smash 'em up space opera got under my skin. Surprise - this post is about feminism.

Devi is a female character swaggering about in what was once a typically male narrative. She's a sexually active space mercenary in love with adrenaline, drink and armour. Over the past few years of writing at Lady Business I've said again and again that I like stories which contain overt feminism. So, I'm thrilled to see a woman take over a male archetype and dominate in a story type that has been traditionally associated with male characters. I also liked the way Rachel Bach used Devi to critique the double standards women are held to and to remind readers that women can do whatever they want as long as it's their choice.

So Fortune's Pawn proves once again that feminism + space adventures = fun, but I feel like I have to explain that the feminist backbone of Fortune's Pawn wasn't the only thing I enjoyed about this novel. When I'm working out how I feel about a piece of media, I read with an eye to the gender politics of a work, as well as how a story makes me feel as a woman and a feminist SFF reader. As a feminist reader, I feel great affection for female characters in stories that use a feminist lens to critique established ideas. The pure existence of these female characters and what they stand for is super important to me politically and personally. Give me a novel that deals with feminism, or that features female characters who are somehow a part of the manifold, disparate feminist world, and you'll be giving me a very fine present.

Still, that's not all I read for; I also read for love. Sappy, but wholly true. Characters and their stories have to work through and through for me before they can become my beloved - the one whose name I scream from the ramparts of social media. I have to find my kind of character, my kind of story and then the author has to pull off a story that somehow satisfies me. If particular female characters or feminist stories are just not hitting my ever changing, individual artistic want then my relationship with those characters and stories is different - partial. I'll still support these narratives; I'll still love what they say and champion their female characters, but I won't love those stories.

I have been lucky enough to have found many wonderful stories and characters that are engaged with feminism, stories I adore, but I don't fall in love with all artwork that's got feminist elements. Sometimes I feel I should, but my heart is greedy and it wants everything. And of course that greedy spirit is why I'm sometimes also disappointed by the politics of novels whose artistry I adore. As always, it's complicated.

So, I enjoyed seeing Devi flip what feels like a typically male narrative, I often found the novel's feminist commentary smart and fist-pumpingly relatable, and reading a novel about a capable professional lady never gets old, but it was also Devi's individual character that made Fortune's Pawn such a smash hit for me.

Devi has a casual, genuine narrative voice which allows her to fully communicates her zest for the life she's chosen. Her dedication to her profession, which she refers to as a calling, is integral to her personality and that passion shines out of her. I loved learning that her motivation for being a mercenary and her pursuit of high sprang from internal passion. It's rare to see a character as individualistic as Devi without it being hinting that they are somehow incomplete, and it made a lovely change to see a professional driven female character who is fulfilled by their job. I just jumped right into Devi's story, happy to follow wherever she led and I think that's because, even when the world gets frustrating, Devi bleeds an infectious enthusiasm for living and doing what she cares about. <3

I have been loving all the SFF action-romance books that have come out over the past few years. Authors like N. K. Jemisin, Kate Elliott and Jacqueline Koyanagi have taken tropes and techniques from the romance genre and built them into epic SFF stories, making the romance a highly important element of their stories. And now I've found Rachel Bach. SFF produces such interesting results when it embraces genre cross pollination.

The author has said that Devi’s personality would be over-the-top macho and absurd in a male character. Do you agree?

I have no sensible answers to this question because:

1. Truth - I think I would find 90% of Devi's behaviour super hot in a man. I like super macho guys; it's the side order of misogyny that can accompany macho culture which I have a problem with. 'So you say this hero like guns, hard drinking and sit-ups? Describe his muscle mass in terms of Tom Hardy roles.... I see.' I would probably laugh at some of the more outrageous action moves. And if I saw a straight male character with Devi's attitude towards sex that would make me really unhappy. Otherwise, I would probably dig this kind of male character.

2. I can't stop imagining this question as a fan-fic prompt 'Version of Fortune's Pawn where Rupert is in love with a macho male merc'. Just think about the rain scene for a moment.

Seriously though, I don't think a male character would look absurd if they had the same personality as Devi. Devi is an adrenaline fiend who loves winning and enjoys no strings sex - all traditionally macho characteristics. Macho heroes are often undermined by their recklessness; they make stupid decisions, which harm others, because they need to do the macho thing. Sometimes their stories even comment on how badly they acted (although often they still get a pass because they end up saving the day in the end). Macho characters like Cotter, who we are supposed to find somewhat ridiculous, do the same kind of things and round their poor decision making out with boasts they can't cash and a heap of sexism. Devi distinguishes herself from negative macho culture because she never harms others in pursuit of her interests, or ventures beyond what she can prove, or uses drives like her ego as justification for acting irresponsibly.

No doubt, a male merc character with a similar 'go hard or go home' attitude could easily become absurd. Cotter proves how easy it is to make a character who is obsessed with appearing macho look the fool. However, that male character's interactions and personality would need to be written with a less well-developed sense of ethics, boundaries and responsibility than Devi possesses, making him quite a fundamentally different character.

And… this is not quite the question you asked. Let's move on from my rambling!

What did you think of Glorious Fool’s captain and crew? Can Devi trust them (esp considering events near the end of the book)?

The crew were my favourite part of this novel so a large part of me wants to believe that Devi can trust them. Realistically, she probably can't - at least not all of them.

Rupert's proven that Devi can trust him to keep her safe, but his focus on her physical safety also makes him deeply untrustworthy. Wiping your crush's mind to keep her safe? Say it with me now:

image shows April Ludgate shouting No


Not cool. And, if I know my media tropes, it's probably going to put her in more danger later. Well done Rupert *slow clap*.

As for the rest of the crew, I suspect Mabel knows about Caldswell's secret and is involved in keeping it quiet. I actually hope she's involved in his machinations because then she might get a bigger part in the next book. At the moment she's a sadly underused rad engineering lady.

Basil seems too self-involved to notice any plotting going on around him. And I suspect he's too much of a egotistic fusspot for Caldswell consider letting him in on important family business.

So that leaves us with my favs: Nova and Hyrek. Unless this book is pulling a huge bluff, I think Nova is as straight up as she seems. As for Hyrek, it's difficult to know whether the xith'cal is in on the Captain's secret. Hyrek is so dry and inscrutable, I can't get an accurate read. Both of these characters seem to be forming a genuine friendship with Devi, and I'm going to be gutted if they turn out to have been party to any deceit so I'm going to assume innocence until I'm forced to accept otherwise.

I'm not sure whether these two would side with Caldswell or Devi if it becomes necessary for them to choose sides. I suspect it will. Both are very grateful to Caldswell, both appear to be loyal crew members, and their relationships with Caldswell is long standing, so Devi might lose out. I think it'll depend on what kind of clash takes place between Caldswell and Devi, and whether he's behaving unethically to save Ren or whether there's a profit motive behind whatever deception he's running.

How did falling in love change Devi? Were they positive or negative changes?

I know Devi feels that falling in love changes her drastically. She thinks that love makes her stupid and careless. She worries that she loses her self-respect as the romance grows and often thinks her behaviour around Rupert is silly.

I don't agree. I think Devi is largely unchanged by falling in love, and I found it hard to tie anything she did, apart from the plans she makes to hit on Rupert, back to a romantic motivation. The only change I can see is that she's in love and that this leaves her feeling a little more uncertain about her romantic life than she usually is. There's never enough love in the world so I'm going to say it's mostly a positive change.

Speaking of romance, what did you think of Rupert as Devi’s romantic interest? Was he a good match for her?

This question is too hard! Devi and Rupert make a very hot couple, and they're obviously a great physical match. They also have a personal spark that goes beyond the physical. However, you can't help but be wary of a guy who will blank out a lady's memory, even if he only does it to keep her alive.

And I wasn't keen when Rupert's caring instinct slipped over into denying Devi the agency to make decisions. I'm not personally too bothered about the way he refuses her advances when she's wasted. Anyone making choices on that amount of alcohol is probably not exerting as much independent agency as they think they are, and even if they say it's fine the other person has got to be able to live with themselves in the morning. Making choices goes two ways. However there are other occasions where she's making sober decisions and Rupert chooses to shut her down for her own safety.

I haven't read a lot of romantic fiction, but I have something tickling at the back of my mind telling me that Rupert refusing Devi ties in with a trope of modern romance writing. I feel like there are lots of narratives around where male romantic leads try to act honourably, but instead ends up being an ass and denying a female romantic lead the right to make her own decisions, so the female character feels rejected; then they fight/talk about it and overcome this block (then maybe have some wild sex). Maybe Rupert and Devi's relationship is going to progress in a similar way and the book will return to the unfair way Rupert frustrates Devi's wishes. At least, I hope so, because otherwise I'm going to find it difficult to get behind Rupert as Devi's romantic interest, except in a 'Devi is awesome and should have exactly what she wants' kind of way. So, I guess my answer to this question is 'We'll see':

Gif shows lady saying You better watch it


There are several interesting alien cultures in FP, including one species which eats humans. Which was your favorite?

The xith'cal! It's kind of inevitable; the xith'cal is the culture we have the most access to, and the only group Devi has a lot of experience with, so we learn more about them. There's so much interesting detail about the xith'cal in this book: their appearance; the gendered structure of their society; the way their group is organised in space. I want to know more about their history, especially about Stoneclaw's leadership.

If I can include human shaped alien culture then Paradoxian culture sounds fascinating. Bach says they're 'a hyper advanced spacefaring society that still uses a feudal system, scorns democracy as heretical, and worships a divine god-king'. I want to find out how that all works in closer practise and learn more about the common citizen's life.

Any last thoughts? Are you planning on reading the next book?

Just that Devi Morris is awesome and everyone looking for a slick, fun piece of military SFF should try this book out. And yes I want to read the other two books Honour's Knight and Heaven's Queen

Supplemental Material
Renay's review of Fortune's Pawn
#SFFWomen Discussion, Jan 25th 2015
SFF Women Book Club

Other Reviews
The Book Smugglers
Gail Carriger
SFF Book Review
Girls in Capes

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