Showing posts with label Miles Vorkosigan series. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Miles Vorkosigan series. Show all posts

Monday, February 27, 2012

Impressions: Shards of Honour by Lois McMaster Bujold

Cordelia Naismith is enjoying a baptism of fire. Her first mission is to captain a throwaway warship of the Betan Expeditionary Force on a mission to destroy an entire enemy armada. Discovering deception within deception, treachery within treachery, she is forced into an uneasy peace with her nemesis: Lord Aral Vorkosigan. Discovering that astrocartography is not the soundest training for a military leader, Cordelia rapidly finds herself the prisoner of the Barrayaran Captain Aral Vorkosigan, also known as 'The Butcher of Komarr'. But the notorious captain is not quite the beast Cordelia was expecting and a grudging respect develops between the two of them. As captor and prisoner on an abandoned outpost planet, the honourable captain and the resolute scientist must rely on each others' trust to survive a trek across dangerous terrain, thus sparking a relationship that shares the struggles of culture and politics between their worlds.
I finally began reading the Vorkosigan science fiction saga by Lois McMaster Bujold. Although I understand that Miles, their son, is the main character throughout the rest of the series, I decided to begin at the beginning by reading Cordelia Naismith and Aral Vorkosigan's story. I figured the backstory would help me understand Miles' character better later on. I think it was a good move.

As the first full-length novel in the series Shards of Honour is key. It serves two purposes: one is to give the readers of this series Miles' family history from both sides, and the other is to introduce the complex political, military and cultural differences between the Barrayaran and the worlds they war against, the Betan included.

Bujold uses the slow developing and low-key romance between Cordelia and Aral to build her world through exchanges of information and conversations between the two main characters. They first meet as enemies, but slowly the need to fight for survival in an alien planet brings them together and Cordelia and Aral form a bond of trust through honor and finally affection.

Honor and valor are also key to this story. It is what drives Aral and what he finds in Cordelia -- that, plus strength and will. Cordelia is not only Aral's ideal of a warrior's wife, but everything he himself would like to be as a warrior. Yet, she is not a warrior but a scientist. Aral is a man of honor through and through, but he is also a military strategist and in his heart, a politician. As such, he must make tough decisions that bruise his sense of self. Cordelia understands him and soothes his soul.

Barrayar's politics are quite complex in this story, and what begins as an attack on Cordelia's scientific party in an alien planet balloons into a disproportionate situation that places more than just a few people in danger. There are betrayals behind betrayals, secrets, and massive amounts of people die or are tortured, planets go to war and in the end Bujold leaves the reader with gray areas as to where responsibilities really lie for the loses and slaughter, and even Cordelia must make a tough choice between her own world and Aral's.

Shards of Honour is most definitely a science fiction novel though. Bujold incorporates the necessary details seamlessly into her worldbuilding. Beginning with the alien planet where Cordelia and Aral meet, and where they both use whatever futuristic science there is to survive, and ending with the space ships and developing edgy science used to win and lose wars.

However, I walked away from Shards of Honour thinking mostly about characterization and complex plotting. The romance that Bujold developed between two mature adults that grows from admiration to an almost quiet, deep love was rather enjoyable, and the complex political circumstances and militaristic Barrayaran culture fascinating. So I'm on my way and can't wait to continue by reading the second book in the series, Barrayar.

Category: Science Fiction
Series: Vorkosigan Series, Book 1
Publisher/Release Date: October 1, 1991/Baen Books
Grade: B

Visit Lois McMaster Bujold here.

Read as part of The 2012 Science Fiction Experience.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Review: The Mountains of Mourning by Lois McMaster Bujold

[A Miles Vorkosigan Story] Twenty year old Ensign Miles Vorkosigan plays detective in a murder case, and tests the balance of power as a member of the Barrayaran nobility.

The Mountains of Mourning was originally published as a stand-alone novella in the May 1989 issue of Analog. It was then included as the first of three novellas that make up the novel Borders of Infinity (October 1989). For the novel, Ms. Bujold added a short "framing story" that tied the three novellas together by setting up each one as a flashback that Miles experiences while recovering from bone-replacement surgery. The other two novellas are Labyrinth and The Borders of Infinity.
Here's a short story I highly recommend for those who have not yet read Ms. Bujold's work. It is science fiction, yet this short is written as more of a detective story. The setting is Barrayaran, Miles home planet, and sufficient details are provided to give the sci-fi feel to the story without it overwhelming the plot. The focus remains on Miles and the mystery he is attempting to solve.

Our story begins when a young woman from a mountain village comes to Prime Minister Count Vorkosigan's court to report a murder. This young woman, Harra, appears ragged, hungry and her anger has no limits. She reported the murder to the Village Speaker and he dismissed her accusation as nothing. She then went to lodge an appeal with the district magistrate, but he was absent from his office and not due to return for two weeks. Unwilling and unable to wait that period of time, she now stubbornly sits at the Count's doors and demands her right to be heard by her count's court. Harra wants justice!

Miles, son and heir to Count Vorkosigan, is home after graduating from the Academy and is on leave after receiving his new officer's commission in the Barrayaran Imperial Service. He is the one who comes upon Harra while she is being told by the guard to leave. He facilitates the audience she seeks with the Count.

They are in for a shock as they find Harra is not just reporting murder but a case of infanticide. The motives behind this horrible deed are clear to the Count, Miles, the Countess and Harra, who turns out to be the murdered infant's mother. Ignorance and old beliefs seem to be behind it all and the Count is determined to bring these incidents to an end -- for this is no isolated incident. Miles capabilities are about to be tested in more ways than one. He'll have to use his powers of deduction to solve the murder and he'll have to learn how to use his future overlord powers to impart justice.

I downloaded this short story on to my eReader from the Baen Free Library and it has been sitting on my TBR pile for a while, I'm sorry it took me so long to read it. This short is part of Bujold's novel "The Borders of Infinity" and the novel is part of a larger series about the Vorkosigans, but this short story stands alone very well on its own.

I want to clarify that The Mountains of Mourning is science fiction, not romance. Ms. Bujold manages to give enough detail about the Vorkosigans and their world to make this not only an interesting read, but to also hook the reader into wanting to know more about them, certainly more about Miles' "damaged" character, his trials, tribulations and triumphs. It is an excellent who-done-it with an arresting plot and unforgettable characters. I was definitely hooked.

I already have the other two short stories that make the "Borders of Infinity" novel, plus the book that introduces Miles, Book #1, "The Warrior's Apprentice." I can't wait to find out if the other books have the same quality when it comes to both plot and characterization, plus I really want to explore this world Bujold created.

Find out more about Lois McMaster Bujold here.