Bujold, Lois McMaster. Cordelia’s Honor.

NY: Baen, 1996.

When I tackle new series — new to me — I generally try to begin at the beginning. Why make things more difficult for myself in figuring out what came before? The first novel listed in the multiple-award-winning “Miles Vorkosigan” saga, The Warrior’s Apprentice, though the first published, and which I read a couple months ago, turns out not to have been the first written, nor the first by internal chronology.

This present volume includes Shards of Honor (1986) and Barrayar (1991), which tell the story of Miles’s mother, Cordelia Naismith, her introduction under very strange circumstances to Capt. Aral Vorkosigan, and their courtship and marriage. And, since the second book begins immediately after the end of the first one, you can treat it all as just a single long novel. And I found it better written, actually, and more exciting than the volume I actually had read first.

Cordelia is the head of a Betan planetary survey party, investigating a new world at the other end of a recently discovered wormhole. Unknown to her, the Barrayarans are also interested; the planet is nicely situated as a supply depot and staging point for yet a third world which Barrayar covets. Her scientific party is attacked and partly escapes, but she’s unavoidably left behind and is captured by Vorkosigan, who used to be a very young admiral but was demoted for personally executing one of his officers. (Though with good reason. He’s like that.) They have to trek a couple hundred kilometers to the supply depot, which allows them to become thoroughly acquainted — and for the captain to decide, somehow, that this is the woman he wants to marry. Barrayar is an interesting world, cut off for centuries from the rest of galactic civilization — the “Time of Isolation” — and having evolved a semi-feudal, heavily military society. Beta, on the other hand, being very poor in resources (especially water), is closely controlled, thoroughly socialized, and very technologically advanced. Barrayar may be more “free” in certain ways, the way the author paints it, but Beta is far more civilized. And Cordelia and Vorkosigan are each very much the products of their worlds, a psychological disparity that threads itself all through the narrative.

The second book continues the story of Cordelia and Aral with their marriage, and then with the Admiral’s selection as Regent for the four-year-old emperor, when the boy’s grandfather finally dies (his appallingly dissolute father, the prince and heir, having been carefully disposed of in the first book for the good of everyone concerned), and suddenly Cordelia has a whole set of new responsibilities. And then there’s the assassination attempt with a military chemical weapon which affects their unborn son, whom no one is sure, now, will even survive. But he does, having been transferred to a uterine replicator — and shortly afterward becoming a hostage in a civil war staged by one of the aristocracy who wants to be emperor himself. The second half of the second book, in fact, is the story of this unwanted war, and the last hundred pages, in which Cordelia herself undertakes a rescue mission to save her son is some of the most exciting writing I’ve read in quite some time. You won’t want to stop until you come to the end of the adventure.

These two books are space opera of a superior type (as, I am beginning to discover, is the whole series), which I found strongly reminiscent in certain ways of Carolyn Cherryh’s Union/Alliance books — heavy on politics and psychology, with a leavening of military tactics and controlled violence, and with very deeply developed characters, even the spear-carriers. Sgt. Bothari, especially, is a fascinating study in pathology under restraint; having read the next volume in the series, I already know what the future holds for him. Although I enjoyed The Warrior’s Apprentice, I wasn’t exceptionally impressed by it at the time, nor did I entirely appreciate the rabid fan base the series has accrued. I’m beginning to understand it now.


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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hi Booksmith!

    I’ve been reading through your blog in reverse order, then split off to read the science fiction tagged posts, I am up to page 8 of that and have read 3 books recommended.

    I think we share similar tastes! I’ve kind of put off getting into the Vorkosigan saga due to the rabid fan base, however if you think it’s worth the time then that is good enough for me!

    I think I found this blog through the subreddit /r/printsf where you are an active commenter, it is such an amazing resource, please keep it up!

    • The Vorkosigan saga is very much worth reading. Bujold is one of the more original purveyors of space opera out there. Just ignore the fanboys and read the series for its own sake. (In order, of course.) Both her style and Miles’s character change somewhat over the course of the story, and both for the better.

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