Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold

Anthony G Williams

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This is the second (in terms of story chronology) of the author's Miles Vorkosigan series, and follows on immediately from 'Shards of Honour', reviewed in this blog on 1 August. Cordelia is now married to Lord Aral Vorkosigan and pregnant with their first child (Miles – who finally makes an appearance at the end of the book). The story follows the fortunes of Cordelia as she first struggles to adapt to life on Barrayar, then faces assassination attempts and finally a civil war with her usual ingenuity and courage.

I was not initially impressed by this story. In the first seven chapters (over a third of the book) not a lot happens, and it is basically an historical romance with a few dispensable SF trimmings: new bride accompanies powerful husband to his homeland and has problems adjusting to strange customs. It is all about the minutiae of social interactions, politics and dress, which isn't what I read SF for.

After that, the story gets moving and Bujold's story-telling ability turns the rest of the novel into a real page-turner. There is even an SF element which is important to the plot: the replicator. One detailed gripe: her decision to call all of the Barrayan nobles Vor-something caused me a lot of confusion, I was forever scratching my head to distinguish between Vortala, Vorhalas, Vorpatril, Vordarian and so on.

So far, I have slightly mixed feelings about this series. Bujold is an intelligent, perceptive writer who can handle action scenes as well as she does the social ones, and her characters are great. She writes as well as anyone I can think of. However, as I commented in my review of 'Shards of Honour', the SF elements tend to be minor aspects of her stories, and in Barrayar this is even more true than in 'Shards'. Despite this, I was sufficiently hooked by 'Barrayar' to want to proceed to the next in the series.

(Originally posted on my Science Fiction and Fantasy blog.)
 

pyan

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the SF elements tend to be minor aspects of her stories, and in Barrayar this is even more true than in 'Shards'.
Whereas I see what you mean, Antony, this is possibly the main reason I was originally hooked by this series - it was such a pleasant change to find an intelligent, well-written SF series that also contained characterisation, back-story, and shades of grey between villains and heroes. Add to this a mutated Russian-style society, wormholes, dome cities, flitters, and a liberal dash of humour - I found them delightful on first reading, and staying so on subsequent ones.


AGW said:
Despite this, I was sufficiently hooked by 'Barrayar' to want to proceed to the next in the series.
Glad to hear it!
There is a small minority that give up after the next book, The Warrior's Apprentice, because they just don't like Miles: but for most readers, it's like going on to the main course after a delicious hors d'oeuvre!:)
 

shadow9d9

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Warrior's Apprentice is fantastic. Skip over The Vor Game and the series gets better each book. The prequels are average.
 

pyan

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Sorry, shadow, I can't agree with skipping The Vor Game - you can't begin to understand the complex relationship between Miles and Gregor later in the series without it.....
 

shadow9d9

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Sorry, shadow, I can't agree with skipping The Vor Game - you can't begin to understand the complex relationship between Miles and Gregor later in the series without it.....
Yes, but if someone is turned off to the series, it won't matter much. The Vor game for some reason uses serendipity to solve problems instead of Miles' ingenuity.
 

williamjm

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Yes, but if someone is turned off to the series, it won't matter much. The Vor game for some reason uses serendipity to solve problems instead of Miles' ingenuity.
I agree The Vor Game is one of the weakest books in the series, the coincidences involved in the plotting just get too unbelievable. That said, I'm not sure I'd recommend skipping it, because I think it is important for Miles' character development and it's still quite good fun despite the weak plotting.
 

Patrician

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I don't know about the weakest book in the series, but 'Memory' is one of my favourite. One of my fondest scenes in the whole series is when Miles and Illyan fish. Superb :)
 
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