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Review Revisited: Lois McMaster Bujold – Shards of Honor

May 18, 2012

Re-read. Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold (1986)
Vorkosigan Saga, Book 2 (or 1, or somewhere in the middle…)

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. Cryoburn
(stars indicate stand-alones/starting points)

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

Genre: Space Opera (Romance / Sci-Fi)

Originally Read: 07 August 2009
Re-Read Started: 01 May 2012
Re-Read Finished: 02 May 2012

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

So, this isn’t going to be a proper “Review Revisited”, since I’m not going to post the entire text of my original review. Instead, I’ll post the summary, and some snippets, but mostly I want to use this post to enthuse about how much I love this series, and talk about its ideal reading order.

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?

Thoughts on a Re-Read: This will come as a shock to absolutely no one who’s been hanging around these parts for the past few years, but I absolutely love Lois McMaster Bujold. I recommend The Vorkosigan Saga far and wide, whether or not you’re a sci-fi fan (especially since all but one of the ebooks are available for free!), but it’s a hard recommendation to make, because there are a ton of books, and they don’t go in a strict order… there are two books that are related but not essential to the main storyline (Ethan of Athos and Falling Free, and two other books that serve as equally valid entry points to the main series (this one and The Warrior’s Apprentice. Adding to this difficulty is the fact that the publication order does not always line up with the internal chronology of the series, and the fact that most books in the series have been re-packaged in one or more omnibuses, which are often easier to find than the individual books themselves.

So the question is: when I finally convince someone that they really should start reading the series, where exactly do I tell them to go first? I started with Shards of Honor – it was the first one published, and it’s the earliest in the series’s internal chronology (except for Falling Free, which is an in-universe prequel, but set centuries before the rest of the books). However, there are a number of people – including Grover Gardner, the amazing narrator of the series’s audio versions – who recommend starting with The Warrior’s Apprentice and saving Shards of Honor and Barrayar until later, if not last. I was initially convinced these people are nuts, but now that I’ve finished the series and started re-reading from the beginning, I think I might be coming around. I present the case for each side below.

YOU SHOULD START WITH SHARDS OF HONOR:

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.

My main case for this side of the argument is “I started with this one, and look how well that worked for me!” I knew from fairly early on in the book that I was good and hooked for however long the rest of the series might be, and that hook came in two forms: Aral Vorkosigan and (especially) Cordelia Naismith. I’ve read reviews that are (not unreasonably) critical of how fast Cordelia falls for Aral, and how it’s maybe bad form to be thinking about how the man who is ostensibly holding you prisoner has really sexy hands. But the thing is, I really didn’t mind, or even notice all that much, since I had already completely fallen for both of them myself. I can’t imagine anyone reading this and not finding the pair of them completely engaging and charming, and worth reading about for another 13-odd books.

(As an aside: While I may be being a tad hypocritical about the “stop thinking your captor is sexy!” thing that bothered me so much in Insatiable and others, the difference here is that Aral is holding Cordelia prisoner under the most formal and proper of military protocols, not for any personal motives, and has already shown himself to be a decent guy by digging a grave for her fallen colleague. Also they’re both just awesome and therefore exempt from any number of requirements I might put on lesser characters.)

YOU SHOULD START WITH THE WARRIOR’S APPRENTICE:

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.

I was really impressed, on this re-read, with how many ideas that crop up much later in the series are threaded throughout Shards of Honor. Characters and worldbuilding tidbits and history and all sorts of things just crop up all over the place. (For example, Simon Illyan’s eidetic memory chip that I couldn’t ever remember being mentioned before it becomes a major plot point in Memory? Is introduced in Shards of Honor, nine books ahead of time.) On the one hand, it’s kind of amazing that Bujold either had her universe and her series that well plotted out in advance, or is really, really skilled at ret-conning (or possibly both). But on the other hand, it means that a lot of these details will go zipping over the head of a first-time reader who who has no way of knowing that they’re going to be important later.

Revisiting this book after having read the whole series meant that I was able to keep the characters straight without a problem, since the events and people of Shards of Honor reverberate throughout the rest of the series. Already knowing about Vorkosigans and Vorbarras and Vorrutyers and their politics and allegiances made it much easier to follow the nuances of the plot. Also, knowing what was coming made a lot of elements of that plot have much weightier significance; listening to Aral talk about not wanting to leave the political mess of Komarr for the next generation gave me a lump in my throat, knowing that Aral’s son will still be dealing with that mess eleven books down the line. It was also amazing how much I could see of Miles in his parents, and to be reminded of the backstory about how they all got where they are.

YOU SHOULD READ ___________ FIRST:
Ultimately, I don’t have a right answer for where to start on this series. Luckily, I think that means that there isn’t a wrong answer, either. But for those who do start with Shards of Honor, I’d definitely recommend going back and revisiting it after you’ve read through the Miles books – it’s better the second time around. 5 out of 5 stars.

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

Other Reviews: These are all for Cordelia’s Honor, which is an omnibus edition of this book and the second book in the series, Barrayar: Dear Author, Medieval Bookworm, 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.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • Location 3469: ““Aral, my boy. Good to see you looking so well. And is this your Betan Penthesileia?”” – the daughter of Ares and queen of the Amazons, whom she led to the aid of Troy. She was slain by Achilles.
    .
  • Location 3594: “He shook his head irritably, “Not true. Salic descent.”” – derives from the Salic Franks whose law code mandated Agnatic succession, that is in the male line only.
    .

© 2012 Fyrefly’s Book Blog. All Rights Reserved. If you’re reading this on a site other than Fyrefly’s Book Blog or its RSS feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is being used without permission.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. May 18, 2012 2:01 pm

    I will definitely be reading this over after I finish Cryoburn! I have put that one off for months now because I don’t want the series to be over (at least the published ones). I think a reread will be required regardless. And, thank you for pushing this series so hard – I’ve been doing the same and I discovered it because of you!

    • May 21, 2012 9:06 am

      Meghan – Ha! I did exactly the same thing with Cryoburn. And after I broke down and finally did read it, I let eight or nine months go by before I decided my life was seriously lacking in Vorkosigans and started re-reading.

      You read Warrior’s Apprentice first, but Cordelia’s Honor fairly early on, am I right? I’m in the middle of Barrayar at the moment, which I think is particularly crucial re-reading after A Civil Campaign… I’d forgotten what Kou and Dru were like as kids. Plus I love watching Cordelia and Aral flirt with each other, which is something that we don’t get a lot of in the Miles books.

  2. May 29, 2012 12:31 pm

    Ah! So that explains why I did, many years ago now, start with The Warrior’s Apprentice; someone obviously told me to do that, even though now it seems more popular to suggest beginning with Shards of Honor; I was quite confused on that, because I *thought* that I’d had a plan at the time. Now, however, it’s been about ten years, so I basically need to start over, so perhaps I’ll take the other route now!

    • June 15, 2012 5:52 pm

      BiP – People are really strongly divided on the matter, and very set in their opinions, it seems like. But as long as people are starting this series somewhere, I don’t really care where!

  3. Bill Woods permalink
    May 31, 2012 3:32 am

    As long as you’re doing recycled reviews … The Hallowed Hunt seems to be the only Chalion book you’ve got. Have you done reviews of the first two?

    • June 15, 2012 5:54 pm

      Bill – Nope, I read those before I started blogging. Although I did reread The Curse of Chalion last year, and have been procrastinating the review ever since.

  4. Carol permalink
    July 18, 2014 3:55 pm

    I just recently reread this one and, like Fyrefly, was utterly amazed at how it meshes with books written years later and out of (internal) chronological order. Bujold is amazing, and I can only hope she continues the series after Cryoburn, even if it changes direction. I discovered her books late, and only because of online reader reviews. For all we may bemoan the demise of bookstores, I find online reviews along with Amazon/Audible automated “recommendations” have led me to a number of stellar reads that I probably wouldn’t have found by browsing bookshelves.

Trackbacks

  1. REVIEW: Cordelia’s Honor (Shards of Honor and Barrayar) by Lois McMaster Bujold » Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog
  2. Lois McMaster Bujold – Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen | Fyrefly's Book Blog
  3. Lois McMaster Bujold – The Spirit Ring | Fyrefly's Book Blog

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