This is the origin story of Cordelia Naismith and Aral Vorkosigan as we find them meeting and falling in love against all odds after a violent first encounter.
I don’t remember if i read this before or after I first read The Warrior’s Apprentice (I think after), and this is the first time I’ve reread it. My copy is packaged with Barryar, the sequel to this novel, and that seems fitting.
The two other first novels by Lois McMaster Bujold, this and The Warrior’s Apprentice, are very similar in scope and writing style, but they clearly narrate two very different stories with completely different and almost contradictory tones. This is jarring. In this novel, we find the Barryaran Empire in the confusing cultural throes before a violent revolution. So the society we’re getting feels barbaric and officious in ways that are still present in the later novels, but not the primary tone and style of the Empire.
So this novel has works best and more successfully to my after rereading all the other novels first. This novel is not super successful as a first novel in the series because of the incredibly sharp turn the series takes after. Also, even if read with Barrayar there’s still a big jump, but one that makes more sense. Instead, I like it as a prequel because throughout the length of the whole series, we see further and further social progress being achieved in Barrayar, in part because of the works of the Vorkosigans, and certainly because of Emperor Gregor. So this is a fitting way to close off the story by rereading and reassessing how we all began.