Sunday 9 September 2007

Review: Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold

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.

1 comment:

Bill Garthright said...

IMHO, this is one of the lesser books in the series (I was very surprised that it won a Hugo Award). Also, I think you'd have liked this one better if you'd known who some of the next generation would be (like Miles' cousin Ivan). That's the problem with reading them in chronological order, rather than by publication date. By the time this book was published, her fans knew what names to look for. But admittedly the early books are 'light-weight' compared to the later ones, so who knows what's really best?

The next in the series, The Warrior's Apprentice, is where Miles is really introduced. This is the actual beginning of the series. It's lots of fun, but not very deep (like Shards of Honor). And you're never going to find unusual SF elements in these stories. They're all very much character-driven.