Hoo-RAH! The Paradox series is so, so fun and so good. It’s basically Kate Daniels In Space, and as a huge Ilona Andrews/Kate Daniels fan and sci-fi/space opera fan, these books were like catnip. They center around a merc-for-hire named Devi Morris, who is the most competent, take no shit, battle trained soldier around. She’s a native Paradoxian, which makes her human but distinct from other humans called Terrans who are more closely connected in lineage to the original Earth. Paradoxians and those in Paradoxian colonies have an interesting feudal government, a seeming regression from the governments that would theoretically have been present on Earth at the time of first colonization, but it seems to work for them. They like and worship their divine ruler just fine, and have a Spartan approach to their military: it’s an honor, the nobles and peers are all highly trained ranking officers, and there is enough of a meritocratic element that the best soldiers can themselves rise in the ranks and earn titles through performance. Enter Devi, prodigy among her peers.
I have a total crush on her and her unfailing confidence in herself. Some may call her cocky, but she earns it. Her beloved custom armored suit and high-powered weaponry are more important to her than family, and she is truly, deeply committed to her work. I found this so refreshing in light of the romance subplot (romance hot take: it was good) where so often heroines start out being really into their jobs only until a man comes around and then it’s like “Wait, when is it that you work? Do you still work?” And yeah, I get it — much like Kate Daniels, the romance is secondary to the competent woman kicking ass against all manner of foes, but Devi is honestly a little bit inspirational as a female character. She’s tough as nails but not stereotypically masculine in that way were sometimes “Strong Female Character” means “no feelings” in the hands of lesser writers.
The first book in the trilogy is Fortune’s Pawn, where we are introduced to Devi and her ambition of becoming a Devastator. The Devastators are the personnel who form the most elite protective fighting force directly guarding the King of Paradox. Having ascended through the highest ranks of Paradox’s “Blackbirds” unit (probably something like US Black OPS? Maybe Navy Seals? Obviously: I am bad at military designations) and needing to make even more of a mark, Devi is told that living veterans of a seemingly innocuous security position aboard a run-of-the-mill trade freighter have surprisingly found themselves with cushy, high-profile jobs at the end of the contract. The reason? The freighter is besieged by bad luck and has a history of running into trouble and cycling through security at an alarming rate. Devi likes a challenge, and so she takes the position. Of course, things on the ship are as bad and dangerous — or worse — than advertised, so Devi finds herself and the crew not only in non-stop peril, but in some deeply weird situations that are beyond standard combat. Invisible monsters, time slowing down and stopping, glowing bugs, and memory loss all threaten Devi’s sense of reality, and in addition to just being pure, plot-chewing fun, these things all set up a promising larger arc upon which to hang the trilogy.
Honor’s Knight begins with Devi waking up after a head injury and not remembering much about the fight that got her stuck in the medbay. As it turns out, though, the convenient forgetting was engineered by actors other than herself to “protect” her from knowing too much. That can only go so far, though, because the ship keeps finding itself in bizarre situations that don’t add up. As Devi’s memory returns and she is able to put more pieces into place, she realizes she may be morally at odds with the crew she has signed on to protect. A consummate professional, Devi’s loyalty has never been in question, even on shady contracts, but what she learns about herself following one salvage trip gone wrong, and about the larger mission of the ship, proves to be beyond her capacity to simply follow orders.
Heaven’s Queen, being the final book in the trilogy, is packed to the gills with shit hitting the fan and Devi needing to fight her way out of multiple situations where her capture will result in certain captivity. To be as vague as possible and avoid spoilers, I’ll just say that Devi has learned or been told many of the gory details that had been intentionally kept from her before, and that her knowing became a necessity as she was involuntarily involved in the development of something like a bioweapon and that involvement makes her indispensable. Still, though, she’s too much of a risk to just be running loose, so there are certain entities who would prefer to just have her locked down. Naturally this is not gonna fly with our Devi, so she’s on the run and trying to formulate her own plan to get herself out of this mess but also use what she knows to kill several birds with one stone (and as few casualties as possible.)
These books were a blast to read. I am not even going to pretend at “objective” criticism. Everything worked perfectly for me here — the story, characters (lead and supporting), romance, and world-building were exciting and written almost exactly to my taste. I really have no complaints, and really highly recommend them.