Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold

  (23 ratings)

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Book Information  
AuthorLois McMaster Bujold
SeriesMiles Vorkosigan
GenreScience Fiction
Book Reviews / Comments (submitted by readers)
Submitted by Anthony G Williams 
(Sep 12, 2007)

This is the second (in terms of story chronology) of the author's Miles Vorkosigan series, and follows on immediately from 'Shards of Honour'. Cordelia is now married to Lord Aral Vorkosigan and pregnant with their first child (Miles Ė who finally makes an appearance at the end of the book). The story follows the fortunes of Cordelia as she first struggles to adapt to life on Barrayar, then faces assassination attempts and finally a civil war with her usual ingenuity and courage.

I was not initially impressed by this story. In the first seven chapters (over a third of the book) not a lot happens, and it is basically an historical romance with a few dispensable SF trimmings: new bride accompanies powerful husband to his homeland and has problems adjusting to strange customs. It is all about the minutiae of social interactions, politics and dress, which isn't what I read SF for.

After that, the story gets moving and Bujold's story-telling ability turns the rest of the novel into a real page-turner. There is even an SF element which is important to the plot: the replicator. One detailed gripe: her decision to call all of the Barrayan nobles Vor-something caused me a lot of confusion, I was forever scratching my head to distinguish between Vortala, Vorhalas, Vorpatril, Vordarian and so on.

So far, I have slightly mixed feelings about this series. Bujold is an intelligent, perceptive writer who can handle action scenes as well as she does the social ones, and her characters are great. She writes as well as anyone I can think of. However, as I commented in my review of 'Shards of Honour', the SF elements tend to be minor aspects of her stories, and in Barrayar this is even more true than in 'Shards'. Despite this, I was sufficiently hooked by 'Barrayar' to want to proceed to the next in the series.

Submitted by Archren 
(Jul 06, 2006)

Although "Barrayar" is the Hugo winner, I preferred its predecessor, "Shards of Honor." In that book, the central relationship was between Cordelia, our intrepid heroine, and Aral Vorkosigan, military leader and noble of the planet Barrayar. In this second book, the central relationship is between Cordelia and her unborm child, Miles Vorkosigan. You may have heard of him. Heíll feature in at least 12 books after heís born, so itís probably not too much of a spoiler to say that he survives the events of this story.

At the end of the last book, Aral had been appointed regent of his planetary government, since the grandson of the previous emperor is only five years old. As with any case of less-than-solid-sucession, civil war ensues. Aral spends almost all his time away dealing with matters of state, and so is mostly an absent figure. This struck me as a shame, since the interplay and dialog between he and Cordelia struck me as the best part of the previous book.

Cordelia is pregnant with Miles at the beginning of the book. A later assassination attempt leaves the fetus at grave risk. He is removed from her womb and sent to a military hospital where an experimental treatment, delivered while he is in an artificial womb, might give him a chance of survival. When the capital city is held by the other side during the civil war, Cordelia must strike out on her own to try to save her child and others that she cares about.

She does so with a fairly engaging cast of side-characters, most of whom we knew from "Shards." Bothari is still largely insane, but mostly benign. Lieutenant Koudelka is getting over his nerve disruption and has a massive self-esteem problem. This causes problems when Droushnakova, Cordeliaís personal bodyguard, falls for him. One of the biggest subplots is Cordeliaís efforts to make sure those two get together. A little trivial, but helpful for lightening the otherwise fairly dour mood.

There is much more at stake in "Barrayar" than there was in "Shards," and as such it is perhaps a little less fun. Still, the plot hangs together without the need for improbable coincidences, and once again Cordeliaís fundamentally confident, competent nature helps her win through. The constant "That isnít how we do things on Beta" can get a little grating, and one starts to feel that Beta colony was a living paradise. But isnít that how we always feel about our homes when weíre far away? In other ways Bujold helps us to remember that Beta isnít as perfect as Cordelia is remembering. Itís balancing touches such as those that indicate the masterful writing and storytelling style underlying the entire novel.

Submitted by Anonymous
(Mar 27, 2000)

Yet another Miles Vorkosigan novel. Except this one does not feature Miles as an active protagonist.

This is the story of how Miles came to be crippled with short stature and brittle bones.

It is a story alluded to throughout the rest of the series, so it is good to be able to read the entire tale.

Whereas the majority of the other books in the series are told from Miles's viewpoint, this one is told through the eyes of Miles's mother.

In Cordelia, an offworlder, Bujold has the opportunity to show Barryaran society and history from a new perspective. On many occasions, Cordelia can be heard to say that all Baryarans are mad, but Bujold takes us further and shows us why.

As ever, her observations are poignant and valid to whatever (Western based), society one lives in.

The story kicks off with Cordelia arriving on Barryar. Recently married to Aral Vorkosigan, everything is strange.

The situation developes with the realisation that the Barrayaran emperor is about to die with no heir old enough to take the reins.

Aral Vorkosigan is chosen to act as regent in the interim, which starts a number of plot elements in motion.

It is not giving too much away to state that a number of Vor lords would prefer not to have a regent, not to have a Vorkosigan as a regent and some would rather not have an emperor at all.

In addition the Cetagandan Empire would like to make something of the instability in Barrayaran politics at this time.

The story proceeds at a furious pace culminating in a civil war, an ideal vehicle to show characters at their best and at their worst...

And characters is what Bujold is best at.

There are six or seven main characters in this tale, all of them fleshed out, believable and sympathetic. Even the minor characters have moods, ambitions and motives.

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