30 December 2013

Review: Fortune's Pawn

Fortune's Pawn
Fortune's Pawn by Rachel Bach

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've read a lot of flawed science fiction over the years, and rarely are the flaws outright avoidable. Sometimes it's a concept, sometimes it's just an execution, sometimes it's just that it doesn't work for me. Fortune's Pawn has a lot going for it, and when it succeeds it soars. Much like a malfunctioning robosuit, however, when this book stumbles, it falls hard and leaves a pretty bad taste in your mouth.

Taking a little from Alien, a little from standard mercenary tropes, and a little from the internet, Fortune's Pawn is the adventure of Devi, a mercenary-for-hire who is brought in to a somewhat derelict ship for a year's worth of a security detail. The crew is all fairly unique, each with their own quirk, and some more deadly and illegal than others.

The first book in a three book series, the positives on this is that the story does take a pretty interesting urban fantasy attitude to a straight sci-fi tale. The story is cohesive, but brought together with smaller vignettes rather than a firm focus on one significant story. This means a lot of action in small sections, it means just enough exposition to get the idea without being bogged down too much in details, and there's a little bit for every sci-fi fan, from focus on technology to alien cultures.

The glaring issues, however, are noteworthy. One, this definitely has a "written-for-an-agenda" feel to it. Devi is a strong, independent, flawed, normal female hero, which is surely a breath of fresh air in a male-dominated genre. The problem is when the story won't let you forget how much of a breath of fresh air it is, hanging itself on being so progressive that it almost feels tacked on as opposed to organic. Alien comes to mind on this, where Ripley begins being a hero because she has to be, not because they needed to check a box. Devi, far too often, appears to come across as a "female hero" as opposed to a "hero that is female," if that makes sense. The arbitrary statements that come across as if they were lifted from a Tumblr screed rather than from a place where the narrative needs it. There are ways to do genre fiction without being preachy, and in an attempt to be inclusive it too often felt alienating.

The other big issue is more one of preference. The structure of the narrative, being more episodic than overarching, results in a lot of sections that do little to advance the plot beyond characterization that could have worked within a broader narrative. This is where the urban fantasy feel comes in, as the patchwork plotting adds to the story in some ways and detracts in others. Too often I was getting frustrated with scenes that kept me from learning more about the overall story, which shouldn't happen.

Overall, not a bad read, but not as good as it could (or should) have been. Will definitely appeal to a number of readers (especially fans of Jim C. Hines), but may turn off a lot of others in the process.

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