All Good Stories Must Come to an End, For Better or For Worse – A Review of Heaven’s Queen by Rachel Bach

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(Warning: spoilers ahead.)

I have a great many bad habits, but the one I’m at fault for the most (and the one I find hardest to break) is procrastination. I never really got into the habit of just getting things done as soon as possible, unless it’s something completely onerous to me and I’d rather just get it done now so I can completely forget about it; it’s something I’d really like to do and can’t wait to get started; or it’s a favour for a friend or family member, in which case I’d rather much do it as soon as possible because I wouldn’t want to cause any inconvenience to someone I’m fond of. But for a lot of other cases and situations in between, I’m not above just delaying things as long as I possibly can, because there’s always something better, or more fun, or more interesting—or all of the above—to do, and I’d rather much do those things.

That kind of procrastination can happen with the stories I engage with. I can procrastinate on watching the next season of a television series, for instance, especially if I don’t find it all that interesting anymore. I can also procrastinate with book series, especially long book series, for the same reason. Sometimes this leads to me dropping the series entirely, but in such cases I don’t particularly mind. If it wasn’t able to hold my attention anymore, then I suppose it’s best to just drop it and make room for something that will—and when it comes to books, I could always use more room for the good things.

But sometimes—very rare times—I procrastinate because I don’t want the story to end. This doesn’t happen very often, and only applies to series that are so good I don’t want to get to the end of the story. I could reread the series, of course, but it wouldn’t be the same experience as when I first read it, without knowing anything ahead of time. There’s a certain kind of magic that comes with the first time one reads a book (or a series of books, for that matter), and rereading just doesn’t capture that particular spark. It’s why so many Harry Potter fans, who grew up with the books and waited in line for the midnight releases just so they could be the first to read the next book in the series, look back on those days with nostalgia, and look forward to the day when they, too, can share the books with those younger than they, and watch the light go on in their eyes as they read about Harry’s adventures for the first time.

So when I encounter a series like Rachel Bach’s Paradox series, which was so good that I didn’t want it to end, I tend to procrastinate. I could have spent the weekend finishing the last book, Heaven’s Queen, but I decided to put it off by doing other things instead. But all good things must come to an end, and I knew that if I didn’t just get it over with, I wouldn’t be able to move on and (hopefully) find something just as good. So I’ve finally finished the third and last novel, Heaven’s Queen, and I have to say, while I’m pleased with the series overall, there’s something about this ending that doesn’t quite sit right with me.

Heaven’s Queen picks up almost immediately from where Honour’s Knight left off. Devi and Rupert have just been dropped out of hyperspace in a xith’cal escape pod, and are looking for a safe place to land and lie low for a while. After everything that’s just happened, Devi would most certainly welcome a breather, not least because she needs to figure out what she needs to do next. However, one thing is clear to her: she has the means to end this whole mess with Maat, the daughters, the Eyes, and the phantoms once and for all, and she’s going to do it—even if she must pay with her life.

One of the first, truly noticeable things about this novel is how slow it is to start. To be sure, the first two novels were fairly slow, but they picked up the pace quite quickly and things were pretty much downhill from there. Heaven’s Queen, though, is off to a comparatively slow start, focusing as it does on Devi and Rupert and their relationship—a start which, frankly speaking, bothered me, and for good reason, as it turned out.

It’s not that I begrudge the whole romance plot line in the first place—I loved it, actually, when it was first introduced in Fortune’s Pawn. It made Devi seem more real, more like an actual living, breathing human being that she could experience lust and love and all these other emotions that had nothing to do with being a deadly armoured mercenary. I also liked (for the most part) how Devi reacted to Rupert’s betrayal of her trust in Honour’s Knight: who wouldn’t feel that kind of anger and bitterness at someone who did what Rupert did? It also proved, again, that Devi was human—if not to the reader, then to herself, because she always believed she was immune to that kind of “foolishness”, but it turns out she’s just as vulnerable as any other person to those kinds of emotions, and it’s a lesson she seriously needs to learn.

But what bothers me most about this portion of the novel—and some of the other portions of the novel, for that matter—is how wildly Devi’s emotions swing from one end of the scale to the other. I wanted her to stabilise, to get a grip, because there were far more important things going on that needed her attention. I also realise, however, that this judgment could be unfair on my part because I’ve never been in a romantic relationship before, and therefore can’t say for sure whether or not it’s possible to control one’s emotions so very well.

It also doesn’t help that Rupert hits a wall in terms of his characterisation, in this novel. I know that he has a dark past, and I know that that can be played for characterisation, but I’m not entirely happy with his development in this novel, because it rather feels like he hits a wall once he and Devi “kiss and make up”, so to speak. I was also especially not happy with the pissing contest he seems to have with every man he encounters who might have meant something to Devi before she met him. In one instance he pulls rank on an old comrade of Devi’s, and a few chapters later he goes into an all-out fight with Anthony, who was Devi’s lover before she met him, and who was in love enough with Devi to actually propose to her (sort of). While I’m not entirely happy with Anthony’s reasons for wanting Devi to stay with him, I can’t say I blame him, either, for reasons that are explained in the novel itself. Neither do I like the way that he and Rupert get into a fight over Devi. It doesn’t look like that, on the surface, but it doesn’t take a really clever reader to see what’s really going on,

Essentially, that whole plot line kept on bothering me as I read the novel, and it took me a while to realise just why: it had taken centre stage in a way I didn’t really appreciate. Again, I don’t mind a good romance plot line in anything I read, regardless of genre, but I felt that the focus on the romance undermined everything else that I so thoroughly enjoyed about the series, leaving less room for things like Devi being clever and hotheaded and trying to find ways wherein, to quote the Ninth Doctor, “Everybody lives!” I’d gone into this series wanting to read about Devi the hero, not really Devi the lover, but that’s not quite what I got.

Despite that, though, the rest of the novel (where the romance doesn’t interfere overmuch) is still the amazing joyride it’s been thus far in the last two books. I was rather skeptical about the whole “Chosen One” angle Devi’s characterisation had taken when she found out in Honour’s Knight just what the xith’cal virus could do, but that was mostly because I was happy to have Devi stay, well, Devi: essentially, wonderfully human. Thankfully, the virus didn’t really add anything else to Devi except give her a goal to focus on, which I think was necessary anyway, given the direction the plot was taking. She remains herself, for the most part, if a bit altered because of her relationship with Rupert, but she is still herself, for the most part—which is probably why I was able to still enjoy this novel immensely, despite the problems I mentioned earlier. After all, I was drawn into this series because of Devi, and as long as she remains who she is, mostly, then it’s easy to put up with everything else.

As for the other characters, they change too, though the winner in that regard is Brenton. I won’t go into what happens to him, but suffice to say it made me very sad, because while I agree with Devi that Brenton did the wrong things, he was doing them for the (mostly) right reasons, and it’s kind of hard to find fault with a man who does that. Caldswell also gets some further development in this novel, but as for the other members of the crew—Hyrek, Nova, Basil, and Mabel—they get the short end of the stick. I don’t mind it much with the first three, but in Mabel’s case I’m extremely disappointed that the reader doesn’t get a bit more backstory about her—not least because of what was revealed about her in Honour’s Knight. In that regard, I think Bach could have cut back on the romance, and expanded a bit more on the other characters, and not really lost a lot of ground in terms of plot.

Speaking of the plot, that is still the very fun roller-coaster ride that it was in the first two books—again, where the romance does not interfere. Several important questions posed in Honour’s Knight are finally answered, not least who the real villains are in this series—though I’m sure that careful readers will already have picked up on who that is in the second book. Still, it’s nice to be able to say “Ha! I knew it!” when the reveal is finally made, especially since the confusing greyness of other characters’ motivations and actions still interferes with everything else, though not to the same degree as they did in Honour’s Knight.

My one last qualm about this novel is the ending: I’m not entirely sure I’m happy with it. A part of me feels that it wasn’t quite earned, as if a price hadn’t been paid in full to ensure that the novel deserved to be capped with the ending it has. It’s not that Devi doesn’t deserve a happy ending—heavens know she most definitely does, after everything she’s been through—but there was something that felt too tidy about the whole thing. Considering everything that had happened up until that point, I was expecting something a bit more bittersweet: a sharper loss, perhaps, or some kind of situation that might not have been absolutely ideal, but was otherwise workable. As it stands, the novel’s ending sits just a touch too saccharine for my tastes.

Overall, Heaven’s Queen is a mostly-excellent conclusion to the story begun in Fortune’s Pawn and continued in Honour’s Knight, but it’s not the absolutely perfect cap to the trilogy that I might have wanted. It has its problems, some of which were already hinted at in the second novel, and which were exacerbated in this one, and the ending leaves something to be desired, in my opinion. But for all of that, the series as a whole is one of the most enjoyable reads I’ve ever done in a long time, and I’m very happy to have read them all, despite my misgivings, and I’m quite sure I’ll go back and reread the whole thing again when I’m in an appropriate mood, if only because reading about Devi getting the job done is a very great pleasure indeed, even the second time around.

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