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Lois McMaster Bujold – Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance

December 5, 2012

128. Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold (2012)
Vorkosigan Saga, Book 15 (internal chronology) or Book 16 (publication order) (but does not require reading all previous 15!)

Read my review of book:
1. Falling Free*
2. Shards of Honor*
3. Barrayar
4. The Warrior’s Apprentice*
5. The Vor Game
6. Cetaganda
7. Ethan of Athos*
8. Brothers in Arms
9. Borders of Infinity
10. Mirror Dance
11. Memory
12. Komarr
13. A Civil Campaign
13.5 Winterfair Gifts
14. Diplomatic Immunity
15. Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance
16. Cryoburn
(stars indicate stand-alones/starting points)

Read By: Grover Gardner
Length: 16h 39m (432 pages)

Genre: Science Fiction, Romance

Started: 10 November 2012
Finished: 19 November 2012

Where did it come from? Purchased from Amazon.
Why do I have it? New book by one of my favorite authors.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 09 November 2012.

Ivan’s never had
a problem getting girls, but
this one comes with strings.

Summary: Ivan should know by now that when Byerly Vorruttyer, dissolute society rake and secret imperial spy, comes knocking on his door asking for favors, to just say no. However, since this favor involves befriending a young woman – a young attractive woman – who is in danger from some of By’s associates, Ivan agrees to try. But before he can do much more than begin flirtations, the young woman in question has him knocked out and tied to a chair in her apartment – and not in the way Ivan might prefer. The woman – Tej – is on the run with her half-sister, fleeing the brutal and lethal takeover of her family’s business by a rival Jackson’s Whole house. That’s just the sort of trouble that Ivan has spent a lifetime avoiding, but when a moment of gallantry ensures that he’s irrevocably tangled in Tej’s past, he’s going to have to find a way to get clear of the interplanetary mess he finds himself in… if he really wants to be clear of it, that is.

Review: Oh, Vorkosigan Saga, I’ve missed you! (Even though it’s only been six months since I last (re)read one.) I have enthused about this series at length many times before, but I just have to reiterate: they are so, so good. They are in turns funny and romantic and sad and suspenseful and just thoroughly enjoyable. All of that is true in Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, which falls somewhere between the romantic comedy of A Civil Campaign and the political intrigue of Cetaganda or Diplomatic Immunity. (Actually, in terms of structure, it’s probably most similar to Komarr, with the personal problems of the characters playing out against a larger series of family and political issues.) One of the things I enjoy about Bujold’s writing is this sense that it’s never one thing or another; it’s science fiction but it’s also romance or spy story or whatever, and she manages to take the tropes of all of these different genres and combine them in interesting ways. Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance doesn’t do this *quite* as well as A Civil Campaign (although that’s a massively high bar to clear): a lot of the spy stuff seemed unevenly distributed at the beginning and end of the book, and I wish there had been a little more suspense or uncertainty regarding the resolution of the interpersonal “problems” on the romance side of things.

But, these are mere quibbles when stacked up against the real reason that I love the Vorkosigan books so much: the characters. Before reading this book, I don’t know that I would’ve classified Ivan as a favorite; I didn’t dislike him, certainly, but he was just… Ivan. But now that I’ve finished, he’s grown on me, for sure. Similarly, while Tej doesn’t hold a candle to Cordelia or Ekaterin as a female lead – she seemed either dense or willfully obtuse a lot, especially in regards to her family – she’s the perfect match for Ivan. And while the characterization in this book by itself was great, as usual, what really sold me was everything we get to see that resonated with things from earlier in the series. For example, Lady Alys’s role in Barrayar was relatively minor, but getting to relive the day of Ivan’s birth through her eyes was nothing short of heart-breaking – an angle I’d never considered before this. Similarly, Simon Illyan has a pretty sizeable role in this book, and it’s wonderful to watch him be so very Illyan-y, even without his chip. Miles and Ekaterin only get a brief cameo, but knowing the evolution of Miles and Ivan growing up together lends so much humor to their interactions. And while it doesn’t affect the understandability of the story, the significance of the box of instant groats may be lost on new readers.

In short, I absolutely enjoyed this book, and it has made me want to go back to The Warrior’s Apprentice and re-read. Grover Gardner did an excellent job with the narration of the audiobook, as he’s done with all of the books before this. Ivan did sound a little more Miles-ish than I might have expected, but I suspect that comes with having a similar sense of humor, and with the fact that I’ve come to associate Gardner’s voice with Miles’s POV over the past dozen books. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation for someone new to the Vorkosigan Saga: Because it focuses on Ivan rather than Miles, this book is absolutely understandable to someone coming in to the Vorkosigan Saga for the first time. It wouldn’t be a bad place to start, either; it’s got at least a taste of everything that Bujold does well, and although it’s not the best book in the series, it’s better than the other “stand-alone” books like Ethan of Athos or Falling Free. For readers who are still leery about jumping into a series on book 16, I might recommend reading Cetaganda before this one; although it focuses on Miles, Ivan plays a fairly big role, and it would give some relevant background information as to the players in galactic politics.

Recommendation for fans of the Vorkosigan Saga: You don’t need me to tell you this, but in case you do: Go read it!

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

Other Reviews: Smart Bitches Trashy Books
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First Line: Ivan’s door buzzer sounded at close to Komarran midnight, just when he was unwinding enough from lingering jump lag, his screwed-up diurnal rhythm, and the day’s labors to consider sleep.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. December 5, 2012 7:27 am

    I will take that recommendation and run with it! This book has been glaring at me since its release and now that I’ve finally read Cryoburn I don’t think I’ll be able to say no!

    • December 5, 2012 9:19 am

      Meghan – Ack, I forgot to mention in my review, but: in internal chronological order, this one actually takes place *before* Cryoburn, maybe about two years after Diplomatic Immunity (based on the ages of Miles’s kids). Maybe I should change the numbering of my list at the top…

      But in any case, yes! Go! Run! Read!

      • Bill Woods permalink
        December 14, 2012 2:23 am

        The timeline in the back says
        DI: “Miles is 32″
        CVA: “Ivan turns 35″ (Ivan is a few months younger than Miles, sort of)
        Cryoburn: MIles is 39″.

        That isn’t quite consistent with Ivan’s comment in Ch.6 that “my cousin and his wife saw a live performance [of the quaddie ballet] when they were out that way on, er, business last year”, but people in casual conversation have been known to lose track of the passage of time.

      • December 24, 2012 4:41 pm

        Bill – I was mostly going off the fact that Miles’s kids are somewhere in the neighborhood of 18 months-ish old, and they were decanted at the end of Diplomatic Immunity.

  2. December 8, 2012 7:57 pm

    I have this out from the library now. I love the way Ivan’s family listens to them explain that this is only a temporary marriage, nods and welcomes Tej to the family.

    • December 11, 2012 10:31 am

      Bookwyrme – I loved that too! I couldn’t quite decide if it’s because they know Ivan well enough to be able to tell immediately that it’s not really temporary, or if it’s because they’ve been waiting for him to get married for so long that they don’t want to do anything to jinx it. Probably both. :)

      • Bill Woods permalink
        December 14, 2012 2:31 am

        Having found Tej acceptable as a daughter-in-law, Lady Alys evidently made it quite clear to Count Vorpatril that was to be no divorce granted just because Ivan wanted one. And after ten years of wanting to see Ivan married, her standard of ‘acceptable’ was pretty flexible.

      • December 27, 2012 6:53 pm

        Yes, I think both.

        Alys keeps prodding Ivan to say something definite about how he feels; she pretty clearly jinxed their divorce, and she likes both Tej and, later, her family.

        And, yes, Ivan has stayed unmarried while all available Vor women went and paired off, so having found a woman who will accept him, Alys isn’t about to let her go!

        But it isn’t just Alys–Cordelia, Miles, and Ekaterin all respond the same way, so I think they’re reading Ivan better than he’s reading himself, just at that point.

  3. December 27, 2012 6:56 pm

    Yes, I think both.

    Alys keeps prodding Ivan to say something definite about how he feels; she pretty clearly jinxed their divorce, and she likes both Tej and, later, her family, or at least her mother & grandmother.

    And, yes, Ivan has stayed unmarried while all available Vor women went and paired off, so having found a woman who will accept him, Alys isn’t about to let her go!

    But it isn’t just Alys–Cordelia, Miles, and Ekaterin all respond the same way, so I think they’re reading Ivan better than he’s reading himself, just at that point.

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