DOUBLE REVIEW: “Honor’s Knight” and “Heaven’s Queen” by Rachel Bach

honorsknight_rachelbachFinal Ratings: fivecupsFIVE CUPS OF AHAHHHHA YESS

Available On: Goodreads: (Honor’s KnightHeaven’s Queen)

Welcome to Mandaray Reads’ first-ever double-review~! I basically devoured both of these books in quick succession, so writing separate reviews about them seemed silly. Buckle up, kids, ’cause we’ve got double the trouble today!

Before we dig in, be aware that there are some minor spoilers contained within this review, simply because I have to mention specific character names in order for my review to make sense. So if you’re one of those folks (like me) who doesn’t want to know Who Lives and Who Maybe Doesn’t Live from a review, skip this post and just go read the books. They’re fantastic, and this review is basically just going to be me saying that in different ways for 1,000+ words. 😄😉

We’ll be starting sequentially with the 2nd installment in the Paradox trilogy, Honor’s Knight.

Honor’s Knight picks up almost immediately after Fortune’s Pawn ends, following Devi as she tries to put the pieces back together after the absolute hell she’s just been through. What she needs is a long vacation and probably a lot of back-rubs, but of course that’s not what she gets. Honor’s Knight is pretty much non-stop action, even from the start, and it doesn’t let up until the very end of the book. Most of the time, I find this sort of pacing exhausting. Facing a constant onslaught of fictional enemies or conflicts just tires me out, (which is why I find the third LoTR movie so intolerable), but despite Devi being knocked down every time she’s about to get back up, there’s enough levity, character building, and world discovery happening in between all of the (awesome) fight scenes that it keeps a good rhythm. I never wanted to put this book down, only keep turning pages to find out What Happened Next.

I don’t want to say too much about the plot of Honor’s Knight for fear of spoilers, but it’s definitely one of those books where the reader knows more about what’s going on than the protagonist does. Again, normally this annoys the piss out of me, because most authors use this as an excuse to make the characters do ridiculously foolish things that they would never otherwise do. Not so with Honor’s Knight. Again, Bach finds a perfect balance, because instead of being frustrated, I was on the edge of my seat, hoping, wishing, and maybe even shouting (in a good way) that Devi will get to do what I knew she needed to do. And my emotional investment eventually paid off in a big way, because Bach gives the reader that moment they’re craving even earlier than I thought she would…and then immediately follows it up with a huge plot twist. It’s good stuff.

Pretty much my biggest complaint about Honor’s Knight is that it does suffer a nasty instance of The Black Guy Dies, compounded by the fact that he dies largely for the sake of giving Devi sadfeels. If the character in question had been a long-standing one in the series, I could see this situation being more acceptable; but of course, he’s not. He’s a character who is introduced solely for Honor’s Knight and then removed when it is most emotionally crucial. I was also sad to see slavery being used as an indicator for how ~evil~ and scary a species is, which…meh. This is a tired shortcut which needs to stop being used, particularly in sci-fi. These are two nasty speed-bumps in an otherwise fun ride, and while I still loved the book, I would feel remiss if I didn’t mention these moments.

There is, of course, quite a bit of plot development in Honor’s Knight; but there’s also a lot of character development. I really appreciated how much emotional range and agency Devi is given in the book, especially since considering how Fortune’s Pawn ended, I was a little worried how that was going to play out. Even though I was personally just dying for Devi to throw her arms around You-Know-Who and make out with him for all of time, it wasn’t the right choice for either of them at the time, and there are understandable reasons for that. It was nice to see Bach yet again working hard to keep Reader Expectation separate from what the characters would do, thus keeping their actions realistic and true to who they are.

***heavensknight_rachelbach

And from non-stop action we slide into a much quieter state of mind with the beginning of Heaven’s Queen, which I noticed got slightly fewer stars than the other two books in the series. I imagine this is because where Fortune’s Pawn and Honor’s Knight were very action-heavy, Heaven’s Queen is like a nice, quiet sigh of relaxation, and a lot of people don’t like that. (I am not one of them) Devi and Rupert are alone together for the first time since the events of Fortune’s Pawn, and for once, nothing is exploding, and pretty much no one is breathing down their necks. They get a much-deserved respite, and even once the action starts to pick up again, it’s nowhere near the blistering intensity of Honor’s Knight or the latter part of Fortune’s Pawn. In fact, I’d say the first (generous) quarter of the book is less like an action scene, and more like a very slow dance between Devi and Rupert as they try to repair their relationship.

There’s also a lot of Angry Male Jealousy in the beginning of the book, largely on the part of men from Devi’s past who all think they owned her because they just happened to put their genitals near her genitals. Normally, this kind of macho posturing bullshit really irritates me, but once again Bach manages to balance it perfectly. In most romance novels, (and yes, the Paradox series is, at its core, a romance series) the requisite Man Fights Other Man For Hand of Lady scene does two things: It removes all agency from the female character by turning her into an object to be fought over, and it somehow makes said lady all hot in the panties because boys are fighting over her and that’s supposed to show us how much the men ~care~ about her. It’s a lot of biological essentialism bullshit, and it needs to go from the romance genre for like, ever and ever.

But this is Deviana Morris, and it will be a cold day in hell before a man takes away her agency. Devi shouts down all-comers, and even comes pretty close to punching a few of them into submission because they’re being complete assholes and they need to get with the program. It’s fantastic. I practically cheered reading it. She even lets Rupert have a few rounds for being a broody and overprotective mother hen, ripping apart romance tropes one-by-one as Rupert tries to start Ye Olde “oh but I’m too dangerous to love” pity-party, and Devi throws it back in his face. The only real danger, she tells him, was keeping her out of the loop, because so far there hasn’t been a goddamn thing the universe has thrown at her that she hasn’t been able to grind under her boot heel. Best part is, she’s right. And Rupert is given the choice to either do it Devi’s way, or hit the highway. DID I MENTION I WAS CHEERING AS I WATCHED DEVI SET FIRE TO THE BROODY MALE PROTAGONIST STEREOTYPE FOREVER AND ALWAYS?? 😂 Oh, sweet, sweet vindication.

Once we’re done reeducating all the silly boys who think they’re hot shit, it’s straight back into Saving the Universe mode, and the action returns with a bang. Again, I don’t want to say too much for fear of spoilers, but some Major Shit Goes Down. The author manages to find balance once again, because even though Devi is clearly extraordinary, she never feels superhuman in what she achieves. She uses not only her brute force but her own cleverness to win unwinnable battles, and she also knows when to ask for help when she needs it. It’s really refreshing after way too many books with the Indestructible Plot Armored Protagonist. Obviously there wouldn’t be much of a series if Devi got vaporized, but the fact that I can suspend my disbelief long enough to buy into why she’s not getting vaporized is really nice.

And I’ll be honest: The ending of this book is pretty much just pure wish-fulfillment. But you know what? I don’t care. The ending of this series felt fantastic. I literally stayed up until almost 2am reading because I just HAD to finish it; and once I did, I felt like running fucking laps around my house. It was awesome. Oh sure, there will be some who look on the ending and cry “this is unrealistic nonsense!” but come on, this is a book series with giant telepathic squid people, practically indestructible lizard-mutants, Space Marines, and enormous invisible space octopi that eat planets. Realism went out the airlock a while ago. AND THAT’S A GOOD THING.

I love this series. I truly do. I haven’t had this much fun reading in…well, I don’t even remember how long. If you haven’t figured it out by now: Go read these books. Go! Do it now! You can thank me (and their amazing author) later. 😘

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