This is an omnibus edition containing what I’ve found out are the first two novels in the Vorkosigan saga. Unfortunately, if you’ve read my review of Young Miles, or heard anything about the series, you know that most of it centers around Miles, so you probably know the outcome of this book as much as I did. So I’ll avoid spoilers to some extent, but assume you’ve read my earlier review.
We start out with Shards of Honor. Captain Cordelia Naismith is heading a scientific survey of a new planet when things go very wrong and she winds up a prisoner of the Barrayarans, under their leader Aral Vorkosigan, the “Butcher of Komarr”. Barrayar and Beta, Cordelia’s home world, are complete opposites; the Barrayarans are a military-led society, very firm with rules, while the Betans are more relaxed in almost every way. While struggling to get Cordelia’s wounded comrade to safety, Aral and Cordelia learn that they actually have a lot in common; namely, a sense of honor and a surprisingly strong attraction.
This is Bujold’s first book, and since I’d accidentally read later work first, I could kind of tell. That doesn’t mean I enjoyed it any less, though, because like most women would I immediately fell in love with Cordelia – the best kind of honorable woman who does the best for her country and herself, with a whole lot of brains to back her up. She’s strong, but not so strong as to be stupid; she knows where her heart lies, and she’s the appeal of the book.
But this is really the story of how Cordelia and Aral meet and come to fall in love – it’s obvious that they will do so from the first page – and the conflicts of two similar people from very different cultures coming into contact. I preferred Cordelia to Aral, but both characters were wonderful, and with the adventure mixed up with romance, I found this overall to be a very appealing book that I enjoyed greatly.
The second book, Barrayar, comes after Cordelia and Aral are married, and while Cordelia is pregnant with Miles, who takes center stage for most of the rest of the series. Aral’s political career, not so much a factor in the first book, is taking off, and he finds himself in the dangerous position of being in charge of the infant Emperor. Dangerous for not only him, but also for Cordelia and their unborn child as the enemies of the Regent appear.
For me, the appeal of this second book wasn’t really in the plot, but in Cordelia’s growth as a character. Barrayar is a difficult place for a Betan like her to live. She isn’t used to the rules, to the idea of birthing her baby herself, to the lack of privacy that her husband as a political figure has. Despite the action, this is a very character-driven novel.
As Bujold says herself, the book is also about motherhood. It’s not only Cordelia learning to be a mother; other characters also learn the difficulties and the joys of having children. This was written after some of the Miles books, so I felt like it was appropriate here that I knew what Miles was going to become. Seeing the way his mother felt about him – as well as the evolution of Barrayar society – really shed light on the book I’d read already and the ones I have read since.
I keep talking about it, but I just loved the characters in this book, and in the series as whole. They just come to life, leaping out of the page, with all their flaws and problems and little quirks intact. It’s simply brilliant. I haven’t read a series so addicting in what feels like years – probably, in fact, is actually years. Read this; you truly won’t regret it.
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