Thursday, July 21, 2011

Cordelia’s Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold

About two years ago, shortly after I started this blog, I approached Lois McMaster Bujold for an interview. To my delight Bujold agreed and I decided that before I put together the interview questions I would read a few of her Vorkosigan books, which is the series that she is particularly well-known for (until then I had only read her fantasy books). Unfortunately getting a hold of these books was a lot more challenging than I had expected it to be. Apparently these books are so popular in Israel that they are always sold out in the bookstores, and so I can never find them. So after two years that interview has yet to be written because my mission is still unachieved. 

I finally decided recently that I’m just going to order each of the books from The Book Depository, treating myself to one book a month. I started with The Warrior’s Apprentice, which introduces the charismatic hero of the series, Miles Vorkosigan, and which left me eager to read more. But after finishing The Warrior’s Apprentice I discovered that there were a couple of prequels to the book which center on Miles’s parents and I decided to read those books first in order to get some of the back-story that is occasionally hinted at in The Warrior’s Apprentice.

Cordelia’s Honor is an omnibus which includes the two books, Shards of Honor and Barrayar, which chronologically take place before The Warrior’s Apprentice, although they were actually written afterwards. In Shards of Honor we meet Cordelia Naismith from the planet of Beta Colony who is taking part of a routine survey mission to an unexplored planet when she gets captured by Captain Aral Vorkosigan and his Barrayan army. Aral’s reputation as the Butcher of Komarr has made him universally feared and hated and Cordelia doesn’t know what to expect from him when the two of them get stranded together alone on the unihinted planet. To her surprise Cordelia finds Aral to be intelligent and kind and the two develop an unexpected rapaport as they struggle through the unfamiliar turrain to where help should arrive. Once home again Cordelia is assigned to an expedition that puts her directly against Aral Vorkosigan and the Barrayans, but when treachery is discovered the two of them end up working together again to end a galactic war.

In Barrayar Cordelia Naismith and Aral Vorkosigan are now married and looking forward to spending some quiet time together. Unfortunetly their newlywed bliss is interrupted when the emperor dies and Aral is assigned to be the guardian of the young heir to the imperial throne of Barrayar. Not everyone is happy with the emperor’s choice for a guardian and someone is determined to eliminate Aral from a position they they want for themselves.

Since I had already read The Warrior’s Apprentice I already knew, in a general way, how both stories would end so the element of surprise was largely missing. I knew that Cordelia and Aral would end up together, because they are Miles’s parents, and it also mentions it on the book’s back cover. I also knew about a dramatic even that happens to Cordelia while pregnant because that too is explained in Warrior’s Apprentice. So while I enjoyed reading both books and getting to know better some of the minor characters from the Warrior’s Apprentice, I kind of wished that I had read these two books first so that I could have been more surprised by the climatic events.

After reading Cordelia’s Honor a lot of pieces fell into place for me and many details from The Warrior’s Apprentice made a lot more sense. What I particularly enjoyed was getting to know Miles's parents better and finding out more about Bothari, Milo’s bodyguard, a deeply complex character who’s dark history is hinted at in The Warrior’s Apprentice. These two books also provide more of an explanation about the culture that Miles grew up in, and helped me understand the extent of his difficulties in being handicapped in a culture that despises weaknesses of any kind.

I will admit to being a little disappointed that the romance between Cordelia and Aral wasn’t a bit more, well...romantic. I had expected the development of their relationship to be a lot more dramatic, since they were supposed to be enemies, but even in their initial meeting neither of them seemed to feel any real animosity towards the other so there wasn’t that tension in their relationship that makes a romance fun to read about. They also fall-in love with each other really quickly, considering the painful experiences each of them had been through, but I didn't let myself dwell on it too much. This wasn't really meant to be a romance novel and I found myself satisfied with the quiet romance that does develop here.

So far I am really enjoying Bujold’s Vorkosigan series, which surprises me somewhat since military science fiction does not usually appeal to me. But the characters are so interesting and multi-faceted that I just keep wanting to read more about them and even the military and political parts are exciting enough to keep me interested, although if do occasionally get lost when things get heated. I’m now really looking forward to returning to Miles’s story with The Vor Game, which is already ordered and on its way to my mailbox. And hopefully one day soon I'll feel prepared to finally put together that interview for Lois McMaster Bujold.


I do hope that you can send that interview to Bujold one day *good luck!*

This series must be quite the thing if they're always sold out in Israel. It seems like you're on your way to mastery of Bujold's books - you should have some thoughtful and interesting questions for her when the time comes.

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