Bujold, Lois McMaster. Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen.

NY: Baen, 2015.

The appearance of a new episode in the immensely popular “Miles Vorkosigan” saga is always cause for rejoicing. This fifteenth book is a bit odd, though. It’s been three years since the sudden (and entirely natural) death of Admiral Count Aral Vorkosigan, ex-Regent, ex-Prime Minister of the Empire, and for the past dozen years or more Co-Viceroy with his wife, Cordelia, of the new colony world of Sergyar, which is in a key location between Barrayar and the rest of the universe as regards wormhole gateways.

Miles, now in his forties, is the new Count Vorkosigan, which somewhat limits his activities as roving investigator for Emperor Gregor, and he has a relatively small part to play this time. The story revolves instead around two other characters, one of them Cordelia herself, still Vicereine, and doing a smack-up job of governing the world, too. She’s seventy-six now, but being Betan, that barely makes her middle-aged.

The other major player is Admiral Oliver Jole, whom we’ve never met before, but who turns out to have been a major player in the Vorkosigans’ private as well as professional lives all along. Turns out Count Aral was actively bisexual and that he and Oliver and Cordelia had a very happy but carefully concealed three-way relationship for many years, beginning back when young Jole was the admiral’s aide. Now Cordelia has returned to Sergyar from her annual reporting visit back to Barrayar and has brought along the spare ova she had stored decades before, as well as Aral’s matching sperm. The couple had meant to produce more kids besides Miles, via replicator, but never found the time. And now she’s planning to have six daughters, one right after another. And she gifts the never-married Oliver with some of Aral’s plasm so he can have a few sons of his own — which means the late count would be the other parent, sort of. (It’s socially complicated.)

This sends Admiral Jole off on a voyage of discovery of his own. Does he really want to be a parent? Can he do it by himself? And, of more direct importance, what will his relationship be now with only Cordelia? Can they sort of reset and restart their long-time relationship in a new two-way pattern?

No space fights this time, no strange new worlds, no interstellar intrigue. Instead, it’s a mostly domestic drama centered on the two principals and the next stage in their lives. There’s also Cordelia’s decision to retire to Sergyar rather than returning to the Barrayarans, whom she feels have taken enough of her life. Sergyar is where she and Aral first met and fell in love, back at the beginning of this lengthy saga. But she still has to run the government for another year or two, and there are always problems, both diplomatic and economic. She wants to move the planet’s capital to a more logical location, for one thing, before it gets too large. And that means dealing with government contractors. Much of the comic relief is provided by Oliver’s young aide, Lieut. Kaya Vorinnis, who takes herself very seriously and who doesn’t quite know how to handle the advances of an equally young Cetagandan cultural attaché And many of the more serious points come to a head when Miles and Ekaterin arrive with their own brood and are finally told of the late Count’s hidden lifestyle.

It’s not a bad story — Bujold is incapable of telling a bad story — but I suspect it won’t set well with some of the author’s fans, since it changes our perspective on two of the saga’s major characters so completely. (Fans generally don’t like fundamental change.) And I definitely would not recommend it as a starting place for the new reader. Without all the back-story in the previous volumes, you won’t really understand a tenth of what’s going on. And it’s not clear whether this volume is meant to close out the saga, either.


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