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Lois McMaster Bujold – Shards of Honor

September 16, 2009

95. Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold (1986)
Vorkosigan Saga, Book 1

Read By: Grover Gardner
Length: 8h 41min (239 pages)

Genre: Science Fiction with definite traces of Romance

Started: 05 August 2009
Finished: 07 August 2009

Who says that grown-ups
can’t fall in love, even on
a big ol’ spaceship?

Summary: Cordelia Naismith, like all inhabitants of Beta Colony, has heard the reputation of the Barrayaran military: efficient, soulless, and ruthlessly brutal. So when the base camp of her Astonomical Survey team is destroyed, and she is taken prisoner by Barrayaran Captain Aral Vorkosigan, the Butcher of Komarr, she has more than a little reason to worry. However, as the two make their way back to his ship, she begins to discover that reputations are not always all they’re cracked up to be, and that the man behind the rumors is very different from what she’d expected: a brilliant military strategist, yes, but also humane, loyal, and honorable.

Although she’s officially a prisoner – Barrayar and Beta Colony are at war, after all – Naismith is treated more like a guest… at least when she’s under Vorkosigan’s command. As the war progresses, she begins to return his respect, and even his love, but her feelings are not without their cost: even once she’s repatriated, how can she go back to a world where everyone believes the man she loves is a war criminal? But, then again, how could she, a free-thinking, liberated Betan, make a life for herself on the rigid, political world of Barrayar?

Review: Far be it from me to judge a book by its cover, but based on surface characteristics, I probably shouldn’t have liked this novel. First, it’s sci-fi (and more particularly, sci-fi on spaceships), a genre that I heartily enjoy on TV but have had only middling luck with in book form. Second, it’s focused on the military, and again, while military/political strategy and big battles are fine on film, it’s something that tends to put me off in books. So, a book that, on its surface, seems to be about military strategizing in space should have had me running for the hills. But I’d read Bujold’s Chalion books (which are fantasy, my preferred genre of speculative fiction), and I trusted her enough as an author to pull an interesting story out from the depths of the spacefights, and, lo and behold, I was not disappointed.

Shards of Honor is sci-fi, but it’s character-driven sci-fi. The technology is not the point of the story; you could replace all of the ray guns with swords and the spaceships with boats, and the novel would work just as well as a medieval fantasy. That’s because it’s not about the spaceships, it’s about the people, and Bujold does an excellent job of creating rich, multi-dimensional people who you care about from the first few chapters. It was also incredibly refreshing to read a speculative fiction story with a protagonist who is a mature female. No teenage angst, no desperation to prove oneself, no damsel-in-distress nonsense. Just a woman who knows who she is, what she wants, and what she believes, and is willing (and able) to fight for those things.

While the protagonist was enjoyably original, the plot was slightly less so. At first, it seemed like it was going to be a simple star-crossed-lovers storyline, and to a large extent, it was. (No joint suicides here, though; Naismith and Vorkosigan are old enough to know better.) However, Bujold’s plot does have a few tricks up its sleeve, and while I saw some of the twists coming, a few did effectively throw me for a loop.

My biggest problem with the book was that I had a hard time keeping track of the characters – or, rather, a hard time matching characters to names. There are a lot of Barrayaran military personnel, most with a last name that starts with Vor. When they were present in a scene, they were easy to distinguish by personality (oh, that’s the friendly helpful one) or by job (right, that one’s the spy), and occasionally by voice. However, when a character was off-screen (or dead), and referred to only by name, I had the damnedest time remembering who they’d been… and with an audiobook, it’s hard to thumb back through the pages scanning for the proper Vor_____ name.

Grover Gardner did do his part to help me out; male voices were all nicely differentiated, and his voices for females weren’t squeaky or shrill. However, while there were many more male than female characters in the book, it does seem a little strange that the audiobook producers chose a male narrator for a book that’s entirely from a female point-of-view.

Overall, while this book wasn’t the most technically accomplished book I’ve ever read, it thoroughly entertained me, introduced me to two wonderful characters, and definitely made me eager to read the rest of the series. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: For those who, like me, are prone to think “Sci-fi? Enh.”, give Bujold a chance. It’d be a shame to miss such an enjoyable story based on a pesky little thing like a genre label.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: These are both for Cordelia’s Honor, which is an omnibus edition of this book and the second book in the series, Barrayar: Dear Author, Smart Bitches Trashy Books
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: A sea of mist drifted through the cloud forest, soft, grey, luminescent.

Cover Thoughts: I like how, even though there’s a spaceship on the cover, it’s the last thing my eyes go to. They go to the people first, which fits the tone of the book well. Is it just me, though, or does the guy look like a person while the woman looks like a cartoon character? I mean, I’m sure Cordelia’s pretty, but she just didn’t seem like the kind of gal to spend quite so much time plucking her eyebrows.

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