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Lois McMaster Bujold – The Vor Game

March 4, 2011

18. The Vor Game by Lois McMaster Bujold (1990)
Vorkosigan Saga, Book 5

Read my review of book:
1. Falling Free*
2. Shards of Honor*
3. Barrayar
4. The Warrior’s Apprentice*
7. Ethan of Athos*
8. Brothers in Arms
(stars indicate stand-alones/starting points)

Read By: Grover Gardner
Length: 11h 02m (345 pages)

Genre: Science Fiction

Started: 21 January 2011
Finished: 02 February 2011

Where did it come from? From the publishers for review.

Miles has trouble with
following orders, but that
may be what’s needed.

Summary: Miles Vorkosigan – crippled son of Barrayar’s Prime Minister – has just graduated from the Barrayaran Military Academy, and like every graduate is desperately hoping to be assigned to ship duty. But instead of being put aboard the Barrayaran fleet’s newest interstellar cruiser, he’s assigned instead to the post of meteorology officer at a remote arctic training base. But even in that far-flung outpost, Miles can’t stay out of trouble for long. After he steps in to diffuse a tense and deadly mutiny, he’s shunted back to the capitol, where his superiors realize that Miles’s quick thinking and problems with subordination mean that regular military life may not be the best fit.

Instead, Miles is dispatched to conduct a military intelligence survey of the Hegen Hub, a critical nexus in the wormhole system and the junction of the trade routes of some heavy political powers. What he finds there is a surprising mishmash of plots and schemes, along with some very surprising people, including the Dendarii Mercenaries, a group that Miles assembled over three years previously, now under new – but not improved – leadership, and Gregor Vorbara, Miles’s childhood friend… and the current Emperor of Barrayar.

Review: The Vorkosigan Saga novels are kind of like cupcakes: even when a particular one is not my favorite flavor, it’s still pretty darn good, and I’ll still be a happy camper after I’ve finished it.

Okay, that’s a lie: I don’t have a least-favorite flavor of cupcake. But I do have some Vorkosigan Saga novels that I like better than others, and unfortunately, The Vor Game didn’t quite measure up to most of the other books in the series. Again, based on objective standards, it’s still very, very good; it just didn’t enchant me the same way that some of Bujold’s others have.

Part of the problem might have been that I’m reading these books out of chronological order. If I hadn’t already read later books in the series, The Vor Game might have been more successful at building up suspense regarding the fates of some of its key players. I’m usually okay with political scheming, particularly if it’s Bujold writing it, but it’s a lot better when I don’t know exactly how things are going to shake out. Likewise, if I’d read this book immediately after The Warrior’s Apprentice (which is where it falls in the internal timeline of the series), I might have had the relevant details of the formation of the Dendarii fresher in my head.

However, a larger part of the problem was that I thought this book sticks a little too closely to the general Vorkosigan script. Miles’s big mouth and reckless streak get him into trouble, then his vast intellect and prodigal gift for tactics get him back out again, lather, rinse, repeat until you’ve reached novel length. While I don’t mind that pattern in general – it’s the same as was used in The Warrior’s Apprentice, Borders of Infinity, and Brothers at Arms, which I’ve enjoyed just fine – The Vor Game didn’t have enough going on around that basic plot to give it the depth and context I wanted. The latter two-thirds of the book felt more-or-less like all scheming, all the time, and it started to lose its gloss by the end. The one side story that I did enjoy was that of Gregor. The Vor Game takes him from a cardboard cutout to an interesting and multi-dimensional character, and I wish we could have spent more time with him.

I was also a little bit less taken with the narration in this installment. Grover Gardner’s voice acting is generally superb, and he really embodies the voice of Miles. However, his pronunciation of Dendarii is back to his initial version of not pronouncing the second “i”, which was disconcerting after finally getting used to hearing it the other way. More damning, there were a few times in which he changed his pronunciation of Ky Tung’s name within the space of a few paragraphs, which was distracting, and seems like an error that shouldn’t have been allowed to slip through the cracks. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: On the whole, The Vor Game is an entertaining story, with solid characters, quick-witted dialogue, and a fast-moving if not entirely ground-breaking plot. It’s not a pivotal installment in the Vorkosigan Saga, but once you’re hooked, it’s certainly an entertaining way to pass some time with Miles & company.

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

Other Reviews: Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: “Ship Duty!” chortled the ensign four ahead of Miles in line.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. March 4, 2011 12:06 pm

    I really need to read the Vorkosigan Saga, but haven’t started yet. One of these days!

    • March 11, 2011 12:09 pm

      Kailana – Yes you do! They’re so good… If you’ve got an e-reader (or can read on your computer/phone/whatever), you can download at least some of these books for free from the Baen Free Library.

  2. March 17, 2011 11:41 am

    I’ve read a couple of these but keep getting the series’ order muddled. Maybe it’s because this is one of those cases where prequel stories were published later, so you have to choose when to go back “to the beginning” because where the beginning has shifted? Or maybe it’s just my being muddled all by myself. The two that I read were about Miles when he was rather young and his role in political events ever-increasing, and although the stories didn’t have the complexity of, say, Le Guin’s sci-fi, I wholly enjoyed them. Should figure out what I’ve read and start to fill in the gaps!

    • March 17, 2011 11:55 am

      BiP – You may or may not be getting yourself muddled, but it’s a pretty muddling order to contend with. The internal chronological order is not at all the publication order, and it’s not just a case of prequels – there are books that fill a gap in between two earlier-published books, too. My listing at the top is based on the series’ internal chronology, and that’s more-or-less the order I’ve been listening:
      There’s also the publication order to compare:

      In any case, I really hope you go back and read some more! I don’t think they ever get as complex as LeGuin, but the one I’ve finished most recently (Mirror Dance) was close, and just mind-blowingly good.

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