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Lois McMaster Bujold – Barrayar

May 17, 2010

26. Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold (1991)
Vorkosigan Saga, Book 2

Read my review of book:
1. Shards of Honor

Read By: Grover Gardner
Length: 11h 41min (304 pages)

Genre: Science Fiction (but only technically; it’s really this wonderful action/political intrigue/romance hybrid – just set on another planet. So, I guess it’s properly termed a Space Opera.)

Started: 25 February 2010
Finished: 07 March 2010

Where did it come from? From the publishers for review.
Why do I have it? I absolutely loved the previous book, Shards of Honor.

Culture shock isn’t
so bad, as long as no one’s
trying to kill you.

Summary: Barrayar, the second book of the Vorkosigan saga, begins almost immediately following the events of Shards of Honor. Cordelia Vorkosigan (née Naismith) has given up almost everything of her former life on Beta Colony to be with the man she loves. She’s finding life on Barrayar somewhat hard to adjust to, however; its class and gender stratification, its emphasis on familial lineage and military might, and its lack of technological progress, all make the entire planet seem somewhat backwards, to Cordelia’s way of thinking. To make matters worse, Aral, her husband, has been unwillingly thrust into a position of vast political power: regent to the four-year-old emperor. Learning to navigate the currents of Barrayaran politics is challenging enough, but the planet is full of people who will not hesitate to use Cordelia – and her unborn son – as pawns in their plays for power.

Review: I’ve yet to read anything by Bujold that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy, and Barrayar is no exception. She seems equally at home writing fantasy and sci-fi, because what she’s really writing isn’t either: she’s just writing wonderful, character-driven stories, dressed up in the trappings of the genre. Barrayar is actually less science-fiction-y than most, in large part due to the setting. Barrayaran society is roughly modeled on feudal Russia, and there are just as many horses and swords as there are aircars and nerve disruptor pistols. So, while the genre label might say sci-fi, it’s actually really a family saga and political drama… it’s just set on another planet.

But the worldbuilding, as good as it is, is not why I love Bujold’s writing, and not why I loved this book. What I really love are Bujold’s characters, and most of all Cordelia. She is smart, practical, has a wicked sense of humor, and is made of stronger stuff than three of your typical literary heroines put together, but still shows enough emotion and has enough flaws to make her feel real. (I am not ashamed to admit that I now have a raging girl-crush on Cordelia; I want to be her when I grow up, or, failing that, I at least want her to come over so we can sit on the back porch and drink a beer and talk about science and boys.) Aral is equally wonderful, and most of the supporting cast are quite deftly drawn as well. I had less trouble keeping secondary characters straight in this book than I did in Shards of Honor, although there were still a lot of similar-sounding “Vor______” names to keep track of.

The audiobook itself was very well done, although I still find it strange that they selected Grover Gardner to narrate a book that is told almost exclusively from a woman’s point of view. All in all, though, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and cannot wait for Blackstone to release the rest of the series. 5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: I’d certainly recommend Barrayar to just about anybody who appreciates a good character-driven story, whether or not they typically read science fiction. Actually, I’d recommend the whole series to just about anybody – Barrayar follows closely on the heels of Shards of Honor, and not a lot of summary or explanation is provided, so they really should be read in order. But they’re both such wonderful books that I don’t think anybody should miss out on either one.

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

Other Reviews: Dear Author (as part of Cordelia’s Honor), Smart Bitches Trashy Books
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: I am afraid. Cordelia’s hand pushed aside the drape in the third floor parlour window of Vorkosigan House.

Cover Thoughts: Eh, it make sense in the context of the book, but it doesn’t really grab me, either.

This review was originally published at SFsite.com.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. May 17, 2010 9:17 am

    I don’t usually read sci-fi, but you’ve made this sound very appealing. Calling it a “Space Opera” has made me very curious.

    • June 9, 2010 10:16 am

      bermudaonion – I really do hope you check these out; I love Bujold’s writing, and I think it’s a shame she’s not more widely read.

  2. January 9, 2013 11:26 pm

    Bujold did it again. She snuck the science in and the reviewers don’t even notice. The science character in Barrayar is Vaagen and the significant science plot to this story starts in the conversation when Cordelia first meets Vaagen.

    “I ran a literature search,” said the captain unexpectedly, staring out the window, “and there was that calcium experiment.
    True, the results they got weren’t particularly heartening-”
    “I thought we’d agreed not to bring that up,” glared the Residence man.
    “Vaagen, that’s cruel,” said her own man. “You’re just raising false hopes. You can’t make the Regent’s wife into one of your hapless experimental animals for a lot of untried shots in the dark. You have your permission from the Regent for the autopsy-leave it at that.”
    Her world turned right-side-up again in a second, as she looked at the face of the man with ideas. She knew the type; half-right, half-cocked, half-successful, flitting from one monomania to another like a bee pollinating flowers, gathering little fruit but leaving seeds behind. She was nothing to him, personally, but the raw material for a monograph. The risks she took did not appall his imagination, she was not a person but a disease state. She smiled upon him, slowly, wildly, knowing him then for her ally in the enemy camp.
    “How do you do, Dr. Vaagen? How would you like to write the paper of a lifetime?”
    The Residence man barked a laugh. “She’s got your number, Vaagen.”
    He smiled back, astonished to be so instantly understood. “You realize, I can’t guarantee any results… .”
    “Results!” interrupted her man. “My God, you’d better let her know what your idea of results is. Or show her the pictures-no,
    don’t do that. Milady,” he turned to her, “the treatment he’s discussing was last tried twenty years ago. It did irreparable damage to the mothers. And the results-the very best results you could hope for would be a twisted cripple. Perhaps much worse.
    Indescribably worse.”
    “Jellyfish describes it pretty well,” said Vaagen.
    “You’re inhuman, Vaagen!” snapped her man, with a glance her way to check the distress quotient.
    “A viable jellyfish, Dr. Vaagen?” asked Cordelia, intent.
    “Mm. Maybe,” he replied, inhibited by his colleagues’ angry glares. “But there is the difficulty of what happens to the mothers when the treatment is applied in vivo.”
    “So, can’t you do it in vitro?” Cordelia asked the obvious question.
    Vaagen shot a glance of triumph at her man. “It would certainly open up a number of possible lines of experiment, if it could be arranged,” he murmured to the ceiling.
    “In vitro?” said the Residence man, puzzled. “How?”
    “What, how?” said Cordelia. “You’ve got seventeen Escobaran-manufactured uterine replicators stored in a closet around here
    somewhere, carried home from the war.” She turned excitedly to Vaagen. “Do you happen to know a Dr. Henri?”

    That is the start for the mutie Lord Miles Vorkosigan. That is what makes this REAL SCIENCE FICTION.

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  1. Barrayar – Lois McMaster Bujold « Bibliophage's Buffet

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