I wavered on my rating for quite a while. I liked this more than some books I’ve read that I rated four stars, but it had some pretty significant pacing and world-building issues that were really jarring, and I just couldn’t ignore them. I’m also hoping that future books will be even better, so I’m saving my higher ratings, I guess.
I’ve been meaning to read this series for YEARS now. Until Ann Leckie came along and I gobbled up her delicious series (that just concluded last month), I hadn’t actually ever read any space opera written by a woman. One of my very favorite genres! This was unforgivable. And both of them bring such a wonderful perspective to it, I’m kicking myself for not reading this sooner. The Vorkosigan saga is almost as old as I am. I could have been reading it all along! Reading about space politics, galactic warfare, espionage, cloning, medical ethics, brainwashing, all that fun sci-fi shit, all filtered through a feminine viewpoint. It’s just so wonderful and refreshing. More ladies need to be writing in this genre if this kind of awesome crap* is what comes of it.
*If you haven’t read Ancillary Justice and its two sequels yet, and you are a fan of the Vorkosigan books, go rectify that immediately.
So apparently the main character of this series is another character called Miles, and this book is the story of how his parents met. It’s a love story, yes, but it’s also a story about keeping honor during wartime. The lovers from opposite sides is one of my very favorite tropes, and it’s done very well here, particularly for the way it illuminates the two cultures as Aral Vorkosigan (the supposed Butcher of Komarr) and Captain Cordelia Naismith (a scientist from a more progressive, less brutal culture) come to actually know one another.
I think a lot of my basic issues with the book could probably be boiled down to two things: this was the author’s first published novel, and it was published in the 1980s. Nowadays, a book with this plot would be probably twice as long, and have a more streamlined structure. This book just ZOOMS through plot. It’s only 300 pages long, and it covers enough time and events to fill probably an entire series. The world-building is extremely economical. So much of the world they live in was not in the book itself, and a lot of it was confusing, because Bujold just assumes you’ll catch up or something. It makes more sense now because I Wikipedia’d a bunch of stuff (whoops, spoilers), but it’s clear that the real stars are her characters, and the world came second, at least here.
The structure is also a bit wonky. The book is split roughly in two, the first half being Cordelia and Vorkosigan meeting on a neutral planet, and having to survive. He takes her prisoner, and she encounters Barrayaran culture for the first time, after she is taken aboard his ship. Then a war starts, and Bujold just skips that entirely. The second half takes place as the war comes to a close, and their relationship comes to fruition. It was jarring, and not telegraphed very well. It worked, but it felt very weird.
Anyway, I’m definitely excited to read the rest of the books in this series. I’ll finally be clued in to what a ton of other people have already known for almost thirty years! Ehhh, it’s never too late. Sometimes sci-fi doesn’t age well, but this book definitely has.