We enjoyed Rachel Bach's first military-science fiction adventure, Fortune's Pawn, immensely — but with the second volume in the trilogy, Honor's Knight, she really hits her stride. This is starting to feel like a really epic story that covers some ground that military SF hasn't trodden too much before. Spoilers ahead...
When we reviewed Fortune's Pawn, I had assumed that the book was originally a single volume, split into three books to make a trilogy. That was a bit cynical, and after finishing Honor's Knight, the second installment of Bach's Paradox trilogy, I'm happy to say that it's probably an unfounded assumption. Here, Bach continues the adventures of mercenary Devi Morris and raises the stakes for the entire storyline, all alongside some kickass action.
When we left off with Fortune's Pawn, Devi was working off of the Fool's Gambit, a trading ship that had a nasty reputation for getting into scrapes. She had some romantic entanglements with the ship's cook, shot her way through a xith'cal ship, and became infected with an alien bioweapon and lost a chunk of her memory. And now, it's clear that Fortune's Pawn is almost like the calm before the storm: it set up the chess pieces, and in the second book, the board is flipped over, and the real fun begins.
Honor's Knight picks up right after. She can't remember much of what happened before, her attraction to Rupert has turned to revulsion, and she's being pursued by a group of unknown agents. Quickly, she realizes that there's something going on, and it's not long before they're in the heat of battle once again. Bach drops the bottom out of Devi's world with the revelation that the Fool's Gambit isn't a mere trading ship, but a key player in a hidden effort against an incursion from another dimension: the Joint Investigatory Spatial Anomaly Task Force – the Eyes. At some point, decades ago, aliens began to come through to our reality, and in doing so, cause the destruction of hundreds of worlds. The various alien and human societies came together with an effort to study and prevent this sort of attack. The Gambit's captain, Brian Caldswell, is a top ranking Eye, and Devi has contracted what appears to be the best weapon against them, making her a major asset in the fight.
The problem becomes one of responsibility. Bach resurrects a well-worn question: what level of responsibility is one required to adopt? Devi faces a choice: submit and become a weapon, while losing her identity, freedom and sanity to save trillions of lives, or does she run, saving herself from an oppressive system that'll grind her down? Devi opts for the latter case, and is aided by several unexpected allies, all the while working to understand the power that's now available to her. Along the way, she's forced to figure out who to trust as competing agendas are laid out.
And meanwhile, the book contains plenty of the amazing power-armor action that we've come to expect from Bach. Devi is a fantastic amount of fun: tough, rough and tumble and somewhat naïve. She's a soldier, first and foremost, turned out and required to figure out her own path. Bach's female lead is a nice rebuttal of some of the traditional gender roles in military SF stories, and Devi can go toe to toe with the likes of Johnny Rico. Along the way, we get more from the surrounding characters, where she continues to play with such expectations. For example, one alien character, Basil, is the local equivalent of transgender, an interesting detail that never really makes an appearance.
Honor's Knight feels like Bach has hit her stride in her trilogy. After putting it down, I get a better sense of the world of Devi Morris, from the politics, societies, relationships and the overarching threats posed to their reality. At the same time, it's clear that she's still lining up for the final volume in the story, with a great escalation of the plot. Already, we're looking forward to the final book in the trilogy, Heaven's Queen. If Bach's trajectory holds, it'll be one helluva ride.