Review: Honour’s Knight (Paradox #2), by Rachel Bach

Honour's KnightDevi Morris’s stint as security aboard the Glorious Fool isn’t exactly off to a shining start. She has no memory of the attack that left her with a near-fatal gut wound, broken limbs, and a fellow merc to bury. The ship’s cook whose name she can’t remember, whose very visage sends inexplicable waves of revulsion through her, wants her off the ship for reasons she doesn’t understand but isn’t about to put up with. Weirdest of all, although her return to health allows her a return to duty, she can’t shake her visions of the little glowing bugs that trail her through the ship, or the painful black stain that sometimes spreads across her hands.

There’s a lot to like about Honour’s Knight. It’s a real page-turner, with a much broader portrayal of Bach’s intricate world-building than the largely shipbound first book, and, especially in the latter half, tightly-wound suspense in its many action sequences. The beating Devi took at the end of the last book doesn’t hold her back from being her usual kickass self in this one, and I think if anything she has a bit more agency this time around, because she’s so critical both to the climax of the story — she was a bit sidelined, though not for invalid reasons, during two of Fortune’s Pawn’s tensest action scenes — and to the future on a larger scale.

The novel also starts on a surprisingly dark note, elevating the trilogy from pure popcorn by introducing the moral theme of the value of the individual versus the security of the collective. There aren’t any black hats here because everyone, at least on the human side of things, has a sympathetic motive, and the conflict arises from their differing views on if and when the sacrifice of the one for the many is a choice we have the right to make. Everyone who played a minor role in the first book gets very well fleshed out in this one, and I really like the addition of Cotter’s replacement, Rashid. He puts a human face on the consequences of Caldswell’s operation.

That said, I can’t help but find this novel a bit weaker than Fortune’s Pawn because of its scattershot pacing in the first half. I hate memory loss storylines. I generally feel that it’s a cheap way of hitting the reset button so that more drama can be mined from treading already-trodden ground, from re-establishing relationships that we’ve already seen established, and I don’t find it dramatic, I find the wait for a return to the status quo boring. I anticipated spending a lot of Honour’s Knight gritting my teeth.

Devi’s story doesn’t really slow down too much. One of the frustrating parts of a memory loss storyline is waiting for the protagonist to catch up to what the reader already knows, but thankfully this isn’t a situation where we have the full story and are just waiting for Devi to get with the programme. Her encounter with Brenton at the end of the last book created more questions than it answered, and even if she had her memories she’s still got to find a lot of pieces to put the puzzle together, which come pretty fast. There’s not a huge gap between the point where the reader has enough information to see the bigger picture and the point where Devi can also, which minimised my annoyance. But she accepted her circumstances far too easily and the lack of impetus to investigate what she learned about Caldswell before her memory wipe means she has to be led by the nose more than I liked — or yanked by the spine, based on the uncomfortable description of her out-of-body encounter with Ren.

It’s got a bigger impact when it comes to her relationship with Rupert. Being subjected to him moping and giving her soulful looks gets tedious fast; when he demonstrates his willingness to put the mission before Devi with fatal consequences, it kills my interest in seeing her do anything except promptly get her memories back and put a bullet in him. The character becomes really unrootable and while I like that Bach allowed Devi her fury, it wasn’t enough. Anything more than a reluctant alliance should be dead in the water.

Yet… although logically, the pairing doesn’t work at all, the chemistry still does kind of rise off the page. It’s annoying that I can’t really name any reasons why Devi should be drawn to Rupert at this point besides ‘Well, he’s pretty’, but when they’re in a scene together the pages somehow fly by. When they’ve both got their memories, at least.

There isn’t an ending so much as a cessation so abrupt that I had to check I hadn’t missed something, and I’m glad I had the third book to go onto immediately. This trilogy feels a lot like one book chopped into three and I think some of my pacing quibbles stem from that. Put together it is greater than the sum of its parts.

3 stars

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