This is a full trilogy review for Paradox including the 2nd and 3rd titles, Honor’s Knight and Heaven’s Queen.
The one thing I’ll always credit Rachel Bach/Aaron with is her ability to thoroughly entertain me with her stories, and the Paradox trilogy is yet another proof of that.
By now, most of you will already know that I swear by Rachel Aaron’s books. They are go-to comfort reads; I’ve never picked up one of her books and not found it enjoyable. Her knack of creating great characters is matched by her ability to create worlds which at first glance seemed familiar but is packed with imagination. It’s as if her love of all things geeky brought together some pretty cool influences in her worldbuilding.
For example, Paradox is the name of a planet; named as such because in spite of it’s super advanced space-faring people, it runs on a feudal system and the people worship a divine god-king. For this, Aaron mentioned heavy influence from Warhammer 40k. And I believe it’s not only in respect of the god-king, but the powered armours worn by the operatives.
There is so much more cool stuff in this universe, which I’ll only briefly mention because the fun is in the discovery. Aside from the usual spacey stuff like space stations, battleships, hyperspace travel, and aliens (will come back to this later), there is the existence of a type of ‘energy’ which is wielded almost like magic. Some humans are more sensitive or powerful at using it, while most are not. The aliens form the best part of the worldbuilding, I kid you not. We have a physically superior yet brutally violent lizard-like race, an avian species who are known as the best space navigators, and alien beings of almost pure energy. Two of these species play a very significant role in the narrative and made it a no-holds-barred intergalactic conflict with truly dire consequences.
Deviana Morris, the main character of this trilogy is a badass, in-your-face female mercenary who loves her powered space armour and weapons so much that she named them and proclaimed that she’ll hold a funeral for them when they go out of commission. Aaron mentioned that her inspiration for Devi ranged from Toph Beifong from Avatar: The Last Airbender, to Paksenarrion from Elizabeth Moon’s Deed of Paksenarrion, Killashandra from Anne McCaffrey’s Crystal Singer series, and Ellen Ripley from the Alien movies.
It may be too easy to classify Devi as a Mary Sue character, but I think she is a bit more complex than that. Yes, she is a badass fighter who got to where she is with a combination of skill, implacable determination and burning ambition. However, with her story told from the first person perspective, her inner voice (which can be quite funny sometimes) gave out a sense of self-awareness and vulnerability underlying all that bravado. Especially when the romance angle started to take shape in the story. While I won’t say that the love story dominated the narrative, it was one of the pivotal arcs of Devi’s character development. I believed that Devi’s choices and motivations are partially influenced by her romantic entanglement. I’m not a fan of romance novels, and as some parts of these books read like one, it became a bit of a distraction. Admittedly, it did make tear up a bit in the end. So I’m not heartless after all.
Once you take away the romance though, these books are filled with high-octane space-faring action that is worthy of a blockbuster movie. The concluding climax was an adrenaline-pumping and breathtaking non-stop action sequence involving aliens and a top-secret government space station armed to the teeth. And what’s at stake? Pretty much the whole universe if Devi was wrong.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading these books and tore through them at my usual speed when it comes to one of this author’s books. Her writing is so accessible that it is easy to breeze through her books. One more thing I need to mention is the way the story builds up from one title to the next. Rachel Aaron never seemed to let subplots creep in to divert the story away from the main narrative and kept the momentum going all the way. The first book alluded to secrets and started dropping clues. A lot of the answers came in the sequel, but it was left to the concluding volume for the real revelations to come forth. In short, masterful pacing and storytelling which culminated in a satisfactory ending.