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Lois McMaster Bujold – Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen

June 28, 2016

Bujold, Lois McMaster - Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen - 4009. Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen by Lois McMaster Bujold (2016)
Vorkosigan Saga, Book 17

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: 12h 40min (352 pages)

Genre: Science Fiction, Romance

Started: 06 February 2016
Finished: 14 February 2016

Where did it come from? Pre-ordered from Amazon.
Why do I have it? OMG NEW VORKOSIGAN SAGA BOOK ABOUT CORDELIA NOT ENOUGH CAPSLOCK IN THE WORLD!!!! (er, um… I’m a big fan of the series.)
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 04 February 2016.

Love and families
are complicated; more so
when tech is involved.

Okay, the rest of this post is pretty much full of spoilers, since I can’t summarize or even talk about this book with out spoiling some key plot points. The short version: I loved it, and if you liked Shards of Honor and are excited about another Cordelia-centric book, just go read it. So, there, you’ve been warned: Spoilers ahead!

Summary: Aral Vorkosigan played such an important role in the Barrayaran Imperium that even several years after his death, the repercussions are still being felt. On a more personal level, his widow, Cordelia Vorkosigan, vicereine of Sergyar, is slowly accommodating herself to life without him. She’s managing governance of the planet just fine on her own – apart from some squabbles over her plans to relocate the planet’s capital – and is contemplating a change to her personal life. She has some genetic samples – frozen gametes from herself and Aral from shortly after Miles was born – and with genetic and uterine replicator technology being what they are, she’s considering giving Miles and Mark some much-younger sisters. Also in the picture is Oliver Jole, Aral’s former aide – and lover – now the Admiral of the Sergyaran Fleet. When Cordelia makes him an astonishing offer regarding those genetic samples, he must make some very tough decisions regarding what he wants his future to look like… and he and Cordelia must puzzle out how the pieces of their relationship fit together around the gap that Aral – the man they both loved – has left behind.

Review: So, when I posted a picture of my newly-arrived copy of this audiobook to Facebook, one of my friends that I’ve gotten hooked on the series responded with the following GIF:

excited cat

I feel like that pretty accurately sums up my feelings a) when I heard this book was coming out, b) when I got my copy of this book, c) while I was reading, and d) after I’d finished it.

Seriously, though, this book was so good. Capslock good. I loved just about every second of it, although it was pretty much written specifically to cater to what originally got me hooked on the Vorkosigan Saga in the first place (namely, Cordelia, who is awesome and I still want to be her when I grow up or at least have her be my best friend so we can sit on the porch and drink a beer and be snarky and awesome together.) I can, however, see how this book might not be to everyone’s taste, particularly those people who like the Miles-centric Vorkosigan books more. I did spend the first part of the book a little wrong-footed, trying to pay attention to every detail in case it became important in a Miles-style mystery or political plot later on, before realizing that this book was more of a character study, and the plot, such as it was, was mostly internal to the characters. And again, I was fine with that (a whole book of Cordelia being Cordelia and therefore awesome? Yes please!) but I can see how the lack of an externally motivated plot could be disappointing to other readers.

The Vorkosigan Saga as a whole spends a lot of time exploring the ramifications of technology – specifically reproductive and genetic technology – on various aspects of life. A lot of the previous books have looked at the political and social effects of technology such as uterine replicators, cloning, genetic engineering, etc. But this book, while those same issues are still at the forefront, looks a lot more at how technology affects people on a much more personal level – not regarding death, exactly, but grief, and recovery, and moving on, and love, and interpersonal relationships. I said this book was a character study, but it’s not just a study of Cordelia, or even Cordelia and Oliver… it’s a character study of Aral, too. Even though he’s dead, he’s not gone, and we learn more about him by looking at the size and the shape of the hole that his death has left, not just in the Barrayaran Imperium, but in the lives of those who knew him and loved him best.

Perhaps the biggest revelation was about Aral’s bisexuality and how that played out in his and Cordelia’s marriage. (Revelation is the wrong word; it’s a reminder, really, since we’ve known Aral was bisexual since Shards of Honor, but I tended to forget about it during the Miles-focused books. This is maybe part of the point of the book – that our parents have inner lives that we, as children, even as adult children, are not privy to, and can’t really understand.) Specifically, we find out that in the past 10 books or so, Aral and Cordelia have been in what is functionally a three-way marriage with Oliver that was largely an open secret. This blew my mind, yet was somehow also still consistent with what I had known about their characters, although it did make me go back and see whether there was any hint of it in Miles’s novels. I’m never entirely sure how much an author has planned from the beginning of the series (particularly in a multi-decade series such as this), and how much is ret-conning. However, judging from what I’ve read in interviews, and by the publication order of the early Vorkosigan series, I suspect that Bujold does a fair bit of ret-conning, and she’s remarkably good at it – it’s always seamless; whether or not she’d intended this triad marriage all along, I found it totally plausible that it was occurring “behind the scenes”. More specifically, Jole does show up as Aral’s aide in The Vor Game… and then not again until he’s acting as one of Aral’s pallbearers in Cryoburn, representing the planet Sergyar. At the time, I was too busy being emotionally wrecked by Gregor’s actions during Aral’s funeral to give any thought to the name of some random other dude, but rereading “Aftermaths” with the knowledge of who Jole was, and who Aral was to him, was just heartbreaking. Again, I don’t know if Bujold already had this book in mind, or if she just latched onto the name and wove this backstory into the gap, but either way, it was devastatingly effective.

I realize that all this rambling isn’t exactly reviewing the book. So, short version: it’s great. It’s got Bujold’s great sense of humor and compelling characters and a sensible worldview and a wonderful love story and a very cool idea for see-through canoes (which actually exist and now I really want one) and some interesting technically-sci-fi-but-not-that-implausible issues to think about (on that note, while the cover art initially left me cold, after reading the book I absolutely love it). The audiobook is narrated by Grover Gardner, who, when I first listened to Shards of Honor, I thought it was weird to have a man narrate a book from a woman’s POV, but at this point, I couldn’t imagine anyone else doing nearly such a good job with Bujold’s words. In short, I loved the whole thing, and I’m so glad for every chance I get to live in the Vorkosigans’ universe for a few hours. 5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Not at all a stand-alone. Basically, if you loved Shards of Honor and you love Cordelia and Aral and got excited every time they popped up in one of Miles’s books, even for just a scene, then this book is for you. If you love Miles and are looking for space battles or a mystery then… maybe not so much. But if you’re anything like me, even a Vorkosigan book that’s not your personal favorite flavor of Vorkosigan book is still usually pretty darn good.

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

Other Reviews: Inside of a Dog, Smart Bitches, Trashy Books and more at the Book Blogs Search Engine.
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: It was a good day on the military transfer station orbiting the planet Sergyar.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Kathy Martin permalink
    June 28, 2016 10:33 pm

    Lois is one of my favorite authors too. When I saw her recently to get Gentleman Jole autographed, I mentioned that I’d already read it twice. She was pleased that I wasn’t one of those who, in her words, bounced off the book. Here is my review of the eARC.

    • July 1, 2016 12:17 pm

      I like that term! There are definitely different “flavors” to the Vorkosigan Saga books, and it just so happens that this book fell pretty squarely into my favorite flavor, but I can totally see how others would bounce off of it.

  2. June 29, 2016 10:04 am

    I am so behind on this series. I should just do it on audio. That seems to work better for me and long series…

    • June 29, 2016 11:54 am

      These audiobooks are great – Grover Gardner is such a good match for LMB’s sense of humor, and for Miles’s voice in particular.

      • Carol permalink
        October 23, 2016 1:32 pm

        Absolutely agree! Grover Gardner is fantastic. One of the hallmarks of these books is the characters’ internal conversations–what they are thinking juxtaposed with what they say out loud, which because politics and diplomacy are keystones of the plot can be really amusing. In the hands of a lesser audio performer, it could also be really confusing, since Bujold (thankfully) does not append “s/he thought” to every internal sound byte. Gardner makes the distinction painless and crystal-clear.

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