Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance is the latest book in Lois McMaster Bujold’s long-running Vorkosigan series of space operas. It takes place between Diplomatic Immunity and Cryoburn, and though Miles Vorkosigan makes a brief appearance this is a book solidly about Miles’ cousin Ivan Vorpatril.
Long-time readers of the series will be familiar with Ivan, who’s been a foil for Miles in a number of the books; he plays the comic relief in Cetaganda, gets trapped in a giant water pump in the Thames estuary in Brothers in Arms, throws Miles in a tub of ice water in Memory, and helps foil a plot or two in A Civil Campaign. Still, he’s usually the comic relief; and unlike his cousin he’s not at all the go-getter type. What Ivan wants is a quiet life; and for most of his life, due to his dreadful nearness to the throne of Barrayar, having a quiet life has required being unambitious and unnoticed. Ivan, like Claudius, has spent his life hiding his light under a bushel. We see this cover slip a bit in A Civil Campaign, where he gets caught up in some intrigue with Imperial agent Byerly Vorrutyer; and it comes all of the way off in this latest book.
It seems that Ivan (who’s not at all stupid, even though Uncle Aral has always called him “that idiot Ivan”) has risen to the rank of aide to the admiral in charge of operations for the entire Barrayaran fleet. He’s invaluable in that role because of his highly developed political sense, and he likes it because the admiral is a good boss, and he usually gets to stay in the capital, Vorbarr Sultana. As the book begins he’s on Komarr with the admiral conducting a surprise inspection, when Byerly Vorrutyer catches him and (Miles-like) gets him totally wrapped up in something that doesn’t concern him…until suddenly it concerns him very closely indeed. He might even (consternation, uproar!) end up….married!
I have long been in the habit of reading Bujold’s new books aloud to Jane. They read aloud well, and they are usually funny in spots, and we enjoy trying to figure out where’s she’s going before we get there. This one came out on the Tuesday, 6 November, and I had to finish reading it to her by Saturday, 10 November, because I was getting on a plane first thing on Sunday. It was rough, but I managed it, and enjoyed every minute.
The whole series is good; the worst are pretty good and the best are really amazingly good. The last really amazingly good one was A Civil Campaign, which is brilliant; the next two were at the lower end of the scale, and this one pleasantly comes in about the middle of the pack: a solid entry, and some good storytelling.
If you’ve not read anything by Bujold, start with Young Miles or Cordelia’s Honor and work your way through.