The Warrior’s Apprentice (1986): Lois McMaster Bujold

★★★

The Vorkosigan Saga: Book 3

Well, folks, here we go: it’s the first of the Miles Vorkosigan books. Some of you will look at the rating and squeak with indignation. Others warned me, wisely as it turned out, that it might take me a while to warm up to Miles. And don’t despair: after all, I thought Lymond was a complete swine when I first encountered him, and look how that turned out. Miles is not a swine, but he is implausibly brilliant. I need to spend just a little more time with a character before I can suspend disbelief to the amount required in certain sections of this novel. If Miles Vorkosigan at the age of seventeen can provoke such disruption to the galactic order, then heaven help us all, say I. This is undoubtedly the most impressive ‘What I Did On My Holidays’ report ever compiled, not just on Barrayar but throughout the known universe.

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Falling Free (1988): Lois McMaster Bujold

★★★½

The Vorkosigan Saga: Book 0

A couple of points before I begin. First, there are numerous different entry points into the Vorkosigan Saga and I’ve based my reading order on the inner chronology of the series. This is not the only reading order: it just happens to be mine. Secondly, you might object that you can’t really have a ‘Book 0’ of a series. Well, this is a prequel to the main saga, set 200 years in the past, and you could even argue that it doesn’t really belong to the Vorkosigan Saga at all, because it doesn’t involve any of the same settings or characters. Nevertheless, it’s set in the same universe and people have told me that I should read it, so here we are. I thought I’d go back to Falling Free before getting stuck in to Miles Vorkosigan’s story arc in The Warrior’s Apprentice. I will confess to a moment’s alarm when I saw that this was a novel about futuristic welding engineering – not one of my strong points – but, as ever with Bujold, it actually turned out to be a story about people… ethics in space, which is a subgenre that she really has made her own.

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Barrayar (1991): Lois McMaster Bujold

★★★★

A Vorkosigan Saga Novel: Book 2

It’s taken me over two years to write up my thoughts on Barrayar, the second in the loosely-knit Vorkosigan Saga. I’ve actually read it twice in the interim, but for some reason never quite managed to put pen to paper (or, more accurately, fingers to keys). Picking up the story immediately after the end of Shards of Honour, it reintroduces us to our protagonists Cordelia and Lord Aral Vorkosigan as they adjust to newly-married life. The adjustment is greater for Cordelia, who is unused to the rituals and customs of aristocratic Vor life on the planet of Barrayar, and also unused to Barrayar itself. It seems far more archaic than her own home-world, and she finds it hard to believe that she’s given up Betan technology and egalitarianism for this old-fashioned hierarchical world under the rule of an Emperor. But she has done so for a good reason: her new husband, who is one of the most honourable, caring and upright men she has ever met. And Vorkosigan will need all those qualities for, as Barrayar opens, he is about to be made an offer he can’t refuse, which will place him and his entire household in the gravest danger.

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Shards of Honor (1986): Lois McMaster Bujold

★★★★

A Vorkosigan Saga Novel: Book 1

I didn’t know what to expect when I started reading this book, which was from a series I’d never heard of, by an author I’d never read. All I knew about the Vorkosigan Saga was that it was evidently sci-fi. After reading the back, I thought I had it pegged. Plucky heroine on alien planet falls into the clutches of her enemy, the infamous Lord Vorkosigan. Obviously said heroine would be something like Ripley from Alien: tough, resourceful and determined. And Vorkosigan? Well, obviously, with a name like that he was going to be some kind of horribly overweight, slug-like sadist: a cross between Jabba the Hut and Baron Harkonnen from Dune. Hmm. I wasn’t that far off in my expectations for the redoubtable Cordelia Naismith, but I couldn’t have been more wrong about Vorkosigan. This wasn’t at all the space-cadet shoot-em-up I’d been half-expecting. On the contrary, it’s a nuanced exploration of duty, honour and human compassion. And love.

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