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Sunday, April 28, 2013

2013 HUGO Award Nominee "Captain Vorpatril's Alliance" by Lois Bujold (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

"Book fifteen in the best-selling Vorkosigan series. This time the story moves away from Miles Vorkosigan, the protagonist of the earlier books, to his cousin, Captain Ivan Vorpatril.

Captain Vorpatril is happy with his relatively uneventful bachelor’s life as a staff officer to a Barrayaran admiral, assigned to the planet Komarr, far from the Byzantine court politics of his home system. 

This content existence is shattered when an old friend in Barrayaran intelligence asks Ivan to protect an attractive young woman, who may be on the hit list of a criminal syndicate. Ivan’s chivalrous nature takes over, and it seems danger and adventure have once more found Captain Vorpatril.

Tej Arqua and her half-sister and servant Rish are fleeing the violent overthrow of their clan on the free-for-all planet of Jackson’s Whole.  Now it seems Tej may possess a hidden secret of which even she may not be aware. It’s a secret that could corrupt the heart of a highly regarded Barayarran family and provide the final advantage to the thugs who seek to overthrow Tej’s homeworld.  But none of Tej’s formidable adversaries have counted on Ivan Vorpatril.  For behind Ivan’s facade of wry and self-effacing humor lies a true and cunning protector who will never leave a distressed lady in the lurch–up to and including making the ultimate sacrifice to keep her from harm"

Captain Vorpatril's Alliance is a fun and smart Lois Bujold romantic adventure novel and a part of the Vorkosigan Saga, though as is obvious from the title/blurb, it is a side novel in many ways. Chronologically, the book takes place before the last Miles proper adventure, Cryoburn - which as it happens is the only one I have only browsed so far, while I've read the rest a few times each, with my current favorite being the other romantic comedy/adventure one, A Civil Campaign, as after a while it is much easier to enjoy Miles and co in their lighter mode. 

There are allusions to earlier events throughout and of course the main characters of the saga appear either in person or by name-checking, so while  Captain Vorpatril's Alliance can be read as a standalone, familiarity with the universe will enhance its enjoyment.

Always having a bit-part in the Miles novels - and actually being a co-star in Cetaganda - Ivan Vorpatril is a high Barrayaran noble ("High Vor") whose place in the line of succession (during Gregor's minority and then before Gregor's marriage and children, so essentially for most of his life, Ivan was the unofficial but sure to be contested in the event heir to the Barrayaran Empire), domineering mother and overachieving cousin (Miles of course), convinced him that his best bet for safety and a long and enjoyable life was playing the nice "fool", somewhat too fond of parties and women and always eager to help his friends as long as that doesn't include too much physical discomfort.

Currently aide-de-camp, ie glorified secretary, to a powerful Navy Admiral on a tour of inspection on Komarr, Ivan is approached by one of his shadier acquaintances and another bit part player in the saga, Byerly Vorrutier, who wants to exploit Ivan's gallantry and have him help rescue a mysterious woman who may be in danger due to By's present covert mission. And so it starts, though Tej and her spectacularly looking and obviously genetically engineered friend Rish - who grace the fun cover above alongside Ivan - are not quite the defenseless women in distress as Ivan learns somewhat painfully...

When the situation gets messy and Ivan now entangled with Tej, offers to marry her so she can escape the sticky situation on Komarr - marriage to be dissolved asap on Barrayar when Tej's trip to safety could be continued properly - little does he know that he actually marries in the galactic scale version of the mob with all the colorful in-laws he will ever want. Actually, he knows it "theoretically", but well, like in the various "in laws" comedies one is familiar with, actually meeting them turns out to be a bit different than anyone expected. And of course Ivan has his relatives to consider too...

If you look for a "serious, tackle current problems of the world" novel - which incidentally mostly tends to reveal the ideology of the author more than anything else,  you won't find it here and the world building is of course the older fashioned hand waving one of the classical space opera sf which is very easy to nitpick, but I would say that those objections miss the point as Captain Vorpatril's Alliance is just pure fun written in the wonderful style of Lois Bujold and a book to cherish and enjoy whenever you want something to lift your mood...

Highly recommended for a light and fun adventure with great characters, a bit of wish fulfillment and considerable entertainment value. 


Tao - Fortress Geek said...

Would you care to expand on the 'hand waving world building' comment? Curious to see where you see the flaws in her writing since I find the social / cultural (and to some extent economic) world building she does much more solid than many 'new' SF stories.

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