The Vorkosigan series by Lois McMaster Bujold is one of my all-time favourite series. Regardless of genre.
So when Kerry mentioned the e-version of the latest book CAPTAIN VORPATRIL’S ALLIANCE was officially on sale at Baen’s website* (hardcover release is early November), I immediately bought it and dove straight in. Review below – spoiler: I loved it.
*I’ve probably mentioned this before, but big thumbs-up for Baen’s policy of releasing the e-version a couple of weeks earlier than the print version and for a decent price.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Well, this was satisfying on so many levels.
A new Vorkosigan book is a rare sighting, and is therefore accompanied by rather high expectations on my part. And this was Ivan’s book. Ivan, who has been in Miles’ shadow for so long, and always cast in the role of (very) unfortunate sidekick (summary version: “Ivan, you idiot”). Ivan, who we all knew had to have hidden depths – it takes incredible talent to be dismissed as amiable but useless when you’re so closely related to the Vorkosigans, and a hair’s breath away from the throne. And so, this is the book where it’s Ivan’s turn to take centre stage, which he does reluctantly, but brilliantly.
There was so much for this book to live up to – and it did. This was a wonderful madcap adventure reminiscent of Miles at his finest. CAPTAIN VORPATRIL’S ALLIANCE was Ivan’s version of “forward momentum” and gosh, was there a lot of that. Each chapter brought yet more pitfalls and entanglements – definitely a case of the author thinking “what’s the worst thing that can I do to Ivan?” and doing it. Poor Ivan.
LMB excels not just at coming up with hilariously-evil-yet-convincing plots but also portraying relationships, the more difficult the better. Here, I enjoyed Ivan’s fumbling steps towards figuring out his relationship with his um-stepfather. And Tej was the perfect heroine for Ivan – one with a fascinating/terrifying family to rival his (and that is no mean feat) and with no baggage and preconceptions about Ivan, which in turn also allowed us to see Ivan (and Barrayan society) through fresh eyes.
There were in-jokes for the long-time Vorkosigan readers (I nearly choked when Ivan had cause to ponder Cetagandan experiments with animal and plant genes), yet I don’t think they detracted from the reading experience for those new to the series. I suspect that what a first-time reader would miss (or fail to appreciate) is how long-standing repercussions from events in previous books were seamlessly weaved into this book. I especially liked how we got to see Simon (and everyone else) dealing with the fallout from Memory (which remains one of my favourite LMB books). While the whole Vorkosigan gang was present and accounted for, I was impressed by how Ivan was very much the main character and not overshadowed by any of his illustrious relatives (though I’ve to say, The Gregor did steal several scenes – can we have a Gregor book please?).
Really, I loved every single word of this book, and have nothing negative to say, except that it ended way too soon. If you haven’t started reading these books, you need to. ASAP. They are all fantastic books, and CAPTAIN VORPATRIL’S ALLIANCE is an excellent addition to the series.