Bujold, Lois McMaster. Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance.

NY: Baen, 2012.

As the many fans of the adventures of Miles Vorkosigan know, Miles has reached the age of forty (in Cryoburn) and is about to enter upon a new and very different phase of his life. (No spoiler details for new readers, sorry.) His days as the Little Admiral are far behind him and probably even his work as Imperial Auditor is going to be affected. But, of course, Miles isn’t the only inhabitant of the dozen or more novels about him.

Throughout the series, in fact, one of the most entertaining supporting characters has been his loyal but leery cousin, Lord Ivan Xav Vorpatril, who, like Miles, is a descendant of the emperors of Barrayar — although, unlike Miles, he’s not in direct line for a countship, for which he is profoundly grateful. The setting for this latest installment in the series is about five years before Cryoburn, which may be how Bujold now plans to expand the story — thickening it up instead of just lengthening it.

Ivan and Miles are of similar age and pretty much grew up together (along with Gregor, now emperor, who is five years older) and have long been mutually supportive semi-rivals. Ivan, now a captain in the military (there aren’t a lot of career choices for someone in his position), has a reputation for a supposedly idle and sybaritic lifestyle and other people often regard him as a bit thick, just a pretty face with good manners. (His nickname, he says, is “That Idiot Ivan.”) He’s certainly a (usually) successful ladies’ man. But he’s also very, very far from stupid, beneath that carefully cultivated and protective exterior, and his closest relatives and friends are quite aware of it.

When they were younger, Miles was the default heir to the throne, more or less, with Ivan a step or two behind him. But it was questionable whether Miles, with his physical limitations, would ever be accepted by the conservative Vor council, should such an event ever become necessary. And that would put Ivan on the succession hot spot. Ivan knows this full well and has always been extremely careful to never be thought to have any ambitions in that appalling direction. But now Gregor has married and produced a couple of kids and Miles and Ivan are both extremely relieved. Miles also now has a family, which puts extra distance between Ivan and the top of the heap he doesn’t want any part of. But at thirty-five, he’s gotten into the habit of things. Presently, he’s serving as aide and general assistant to the admiral in charge of operations for the fleet (and doing a first-rate job of it, too) and so he finds himself accompanying an inspection team to Komarr. And there he’s approached by a distant relation, Byerly Vorrutyer (well, nearly all the vor are related, one way or another), who works for Imperial Security — ImpSec — an organization which has been responsible for most of the trauma in Ivan’s life and from which he tries always to maintain a careful distance. But By drafts him to try to protect a young female fleeing from a political takeover of her House on Jackson’s Whole — a very unpleasant place, as Bujold’s readers know. Ivan is nothing if not chivalrous (and a sucker) where damsels in distress are concerned, so he agrees, reluctantly, to help out. And so, willy-nilly, he finds himself custodian of Tej and her odd-sister Rish (who is very odd indeed). But in his desperate efforts to hold off the local cops and Komarr’s immigration authorities, he finds himself — to his consternation — getting married. That makes Tej a Barrayaran citizen, Ivan’s dependent, and immune to local harassment. Besides, it’s only temporary; they can organize a quick divorce as soon as Ivan gets his new wife back home. Right?

You can see where this is going. It all has certain aspects of Shakespearean (as well as Wildean) comedy to it and Bujold has a terrific and gleeful time spinning out all the plot threads. And, for some reason, the author finds not-unwelcome opportunities for various characters to recount incidents and explain relationships from throughout the earlier books in the series. But you’ll definitely find yourself grinning as Ivan tries to retake control of his suddenly overturned life. And you absolutely don’t want to miss witnessing the final fate of ImpSec in Chapter 23. Memorable, to say the least. In fact, my only gripe with this book is the terrible cover illustration. It makes Ivan look like a cross between David Schwimmer and Jimmy Durante.

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