This is the second (in terms of story chronology) of the author's Miles Vorkosigan series, and follows on immediately from 'Shards of Honour', reviewed in this blog on 1 August. Cordelia is now married to Lord Aral Vorkosigan and pregnant with their first child (Miles – who finally makes an appearance at the end of the book). The story follows the fortunes of Cordelia as she first struggles to adapt to life on Barrayar, then faces assassination attempts and finally a civil war with her usual ingenuity and courage.
I was not initially impressed by this story. In the first seven chapters (over a third of the book) not a lot happens, and it is basically an historical romance with a few dispensable SF trimmings: new bride accompanies powerful husband to his homeland and has problems adjusting to strange customs. It is all about the minutiae of social interactions, politics and dress, which isn't what I read SF for.
After that, the story gets moving and Bujold's story-telling ability turns the rest of the novel into a real page-turner. There is even an SF element which is important to the plot: the replicator. One detailed gripe: her decision to call all of the Barrayan nobles Vor-something caused me a lot of confusion, I was forever scratching my head to distinguish between Vortala, Vorhalas, Vorpatril, Vordarian and so on.
So far, I have slightly mixed feelings about this series. Bujold is an intelligent, perceptive writer who can handle action scenes as well as she does the social ones, and her characters are great. She writes as well as anyone I can think of. However, as I commented in my review of 'Shards of Honour', the SF elements tend to be minor aspects of her stories, and in Barrayar this is even more true than in 'Shards'. Despite this, I was sufficiently hooked by 'Barrayar' to want to proceed to the next in the series.