Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold
Published by Baen Books, November 2012
Review by Mark Yon
Cryoburn, the previous Vorkosigan book in 2010 (reviewed HERE) was a welcome return to the saga, albeit one of the lesser books in the series. For Book Sixteen (yes, 16!) Lois has pretty much abandoned Lord Miles Vorkosigan and written a main novel about one of the secondary characters.
For those versed in the Vorkosigan series, we have come across the titular Captain Ivan Vorpatril before, mainly in Brothers in Arms (the hostage used to draw Miles out) and most recently in A Civil Campaign (with Lady Donna Vorrutyer, an ex-lover of Ivan, who becomes Dono). Ivan is second cousin to Imperial troubleshooter Miles Vorkosigan, often referred to in a joking way by Miles as “Ivan, you idiot!” In Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, Ivan is generally happy with his relatively uneventful bachelor’s life of a staff officer to a Barrayaran admiral. However, when asked by old friend Byerly Vorrutyer to investigate for Barrayaran Intelligence Tej, a young Jackson’s Whole refugee on a hitlist for a Komarrean crime syndicate, life gets complicated. Ivan finds himself actually held hostage by Tej and her companion Rish, and then finds out that they’re about to be assassinated. Further revelations show that Tej is actually Princess Akuti Tejaswini Jyoti ghem Estif Arqua, whose parents seem to have been killed as part of a coup on Jackson’s Whole.
Cue lots of running about, clandestine activities and secret goings on. Much of the book revolves around what happens about one-hundred pages in, which solves one problem, but creates others.
This is a lively episode in the Saga. It’s all rather James Bond-ian, but with Lois’s intelligence and humour, both important elements of this series, the series seems regenerated. Because this is not focused on Miles, there seems to be a lot more going on, and Lois takes full advantage of the situation, with Ivan being able to do things that Miles can’t do.
It also helps, perhaps, that Ivan is not the same character as Miles. Ivan is not the brightest, but he is faithful, chivalrous and loyal. Unlike Miles, Ivan’s not the sort to be masterminding clever plans. Much of Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance is about Ivan dealing with situations, whereas if it were Miles he’d be thinking ahead more.
It’s not as epic as, say, Memory or Brothers in Arms, but it is a comedy-of-errors (and manners) that uses Ivan’s chivalry to allow things to happen. In places it is perhaps a little too obvious as to what’s going to happen, to the point of being a little forced, and there’s too much happening in the plot by chance/design/misunderstanding, but it is never enough to give up on the book. The book is typical Bujold in that it is warm, humorous and intelligent.
The book also tells us more about the families that run Barrayar. And we have more details about the notorious Jackson’s Whole, the rather riotous planet where assassinations, coups and betrayal seem to be a way of life. The perspective given by the characters from Jackson’s Whole are quite interesting and make me wonder whether it is about time we had a Vorkosigan story centred there.
According to the timeline at the end of the novel, all of Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance happens after Diplomatic Immunity but before the cliff-hanger ending of Cryoburn. Whilst I felt that Cryoburn (until the ending) was a little tired, this one came across as a much more fun novel, to read and perhaps to write. I hope that Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance is evidence that Lois has regained her mojo and that we don’t wait too long before watching *that* event at the end of Cryoburn unfold.
Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance is a return to form for Lois that fans of the series will love. It may not be the best place to start the Saga, and rather predictable, but it is entertaining, and many will appreciate this as a solid addition to the series.
Mark Yon, December/January 2012/13