Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The e-ARC had the usual skips and errors, so of course I’ll be reading the official release, too.
The Vorkosigan saga is unique in its memorable characters, and the kind of tales it takes to tell their stories. In some ways, “Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance” consolidates most of the major events of the Vorkorverse, seen from a very different point of view.
The long-standing supporting character, Ivan Vorpatril, finally gets his turn in the spotlight. Ivan lives the life of a smarter moth. Standing too close to the Barrayaran throne for his own comfort, no way does he want to fly close enough to the fire to go up in flames. But he often gets dragged into scrapes–interstellar scrapes–as the unwilling foil to his cousin Miles’ manic schemes. This time, Miles doesn’t drag him into trouble; neither is he around to pull Ivan out of the fire. And it was kind of weird reading a Vorkosigan tale without Miles in it except as a domesticated husband and father…weird, but an enjoyable grace note to the story.
No, this time it’s By Vorrutyer’s scheme that disrupts Ivan’s peaceful life as the promotion-avoiding aide de camp of the Barrayaran military’s ops chief. But for the sake of the girl and Barrayar, Ivan rises to the occasion, as he’s done in the past despite his inclination to fly under the radar. In doing so, we get an interesting peek at Ivan’s lingering demons, the truth behind his suave facade. Hey, despite his usual nonchalant attitude, he’s gotta have a few, growing up on Barrayar in interesting times with Miles as a cousin.
I’m not quite sure why Bujold chose to place this book before “Cryoburn,” and I don’t know why that bothers me so much. Perhaps because I want the Vorkoverse to keep moving forward. Although I’ll admit the tone of the book is happier than might have been possible in Cryoburn’s aftermath. Happier, but also retrospective. The characters have all grown up, done wonders and marvels, made mistakes, and learned from it. Even Ivan. I can’t help but wonder (or is that hope?) that having given us a glimpse of life going reasonably well for the main characters, Bujold is cooking up another major challenge for her incredible cast of characters in the near future. Using Bujold’s maxim of the “worst possible thing,” possibilities are boiling in the back of my mind, but mentioning them would involve spoilers, so…hmmm.
Why four stars? More than a bit unfairly, I’m rating a Bujold book against Bujold’s body of work. There’s a reason Bujold is my favorite author. Her best stories are…spectacular. As much as I enjoyed reading this, CVA isn’t “Shards of Honor,” “Memory,” or “A Civil Campaign.” So call the CVA rating a “Four Stars with Palm” for filling in the spaces in a really remarkable ‘verse.
Now…when’s the next one???