She raised a thoughtful eyebrow. "How do you know? The histories of those times were all written by minstrels and poets. You try and think of a word that rhymes with 'bleeding ulcer”
This is a novel that grows on you. When I first read it back in 2005, I reasonably liked it. Except for Cordelia's Honor it was the best part of the saga up till that point in the narrative, but I didn't love it. So I only reread parts of it, but never in its entirety - until now. And boy, this time I absolutely fell in love with it. It has a bit of a slow start (which costs it the half star-reduction), but once the shit hits the fan it's one tour de force of psychology and emotion that keeps you biting your finger nails.
After 2 years, Mark turns up and basically kidnaps the Dendarii posing as Miles for a raid of House Baraputhra's cloning facilities on Jackson's Whole (where he was created as well). Miles races after him and arrives just as the mission fails spectacularly. He ends up shot in the chest and put in a cryotube which then gets lost in the following chaotic retreat. Mark and Elena have the unenviable task of relaying the news to the Vorkosigan parents which means for Elena a return to a difficult past - and for Mark a step into an uncertain future. But the race to recover Miles (dead or alive) isn't over, and Mark won't stop until there's certainty of his clone-brother's fate.
This is Mark's story, who he was, who he is and who he ends up to be. The various roles he has to or chooses to play showcase this, from impersonation, to reluctant and unsure son, to brother and business man - dealing with doubt, guilt, and all the aftereffects that his upbringing with Galen (which is elaborated on here) left him with. Add to that the torture he's put through here, and you get a young man who's somehow toeing the line towards insanity, but nevertheless has never felt more sane and true to himself. It's a veritable tour de force to come to that point, and some chapters are incredibly difficult to read (the black gang's emergence) and make no mistake, Bujold doesn't pull any punches here. This might be the most explicit book in terms of violence and torture against one of her main characters in this saga so far (and overall), and even immoral acts perpetrated by a main character, but it's so rewarding nonethess. Honestly, up till now I've never liked Mark, but in a way Bujold managed to bring him to life in just one (albeit very long) book just as much as she did with Miles. And the Vorkosigan-universe is richer for it.
Miles himself takes the backseat here, but of course he gains a new perspective in life - having an brother, not just a clone, for once not being in the heart of things... and a glimpse of mortality. But his resurrection doesn't come without a price as we'll see. Among all the psychology and character-drama the plot surrounding the Duronas and the despicable machinations on Jackson's Whole get a bit sidelined. But I guess we'll revisit both. Overall, I love the image of reciprocity in this novel: every action has a reaction, just like in the Mirror Dance, a popular dance on Barrayar, and that's transferred to practically everything that's going on here.
Other than Mark himself, the parts that most fascinated me (and the ones that I kept coming back to) are set on Barrayar: the effects Miles' not-quite death has on the Vorkosigans, Mark's introduction into this family, Aral's health crisis which suddenly turns an academic question of succession into a very real one, Cordelia going toe to toe with Simon Illyan, even the small glimpses and huge nudges of Gregor and Kareen Koudelka who both accept Mark for who he is from the start - not just as Miles's clone, but as an individual.
Overall, a stunning novel.
I’ve been Bujold’s fan since my first reading of one of her Vorkosigan novels. Miles Vorkosigan, the hero of the series, is definitely my favorite sci-fi hero, but Cordelia, his mother, is much more. I love Cordelia. Her humanity and strength are humbling and uplifting. I hope such women exist in our lives, not just in Bujold’s sci-fi world.
Although I read and reread most of the books of this series more than once, this is my first review of this novel. It is Cordelia’s story, and it is divided into two parts: Shards of Honor and Barrayar.
The first part, Shards of Honor, opens with Cordelia as a Betan survey ship captain, exploring a newly discovered planet with her colleagues. Suddenly, her world explodes around her. Her scientific camp is destroyed. Some of her ship officers are dead or wounded. Unknown dangers threaten from every tree and bush, and her only ally in the frightening chaos is a Barrayaran officer, Aral Vorkosigan, who takes her prisoner. From that perilous position, Cordelia finally escapes, thanks to her courage and ingenuity, but her troubles are only starting.
Her twisty path weaves through the brutal war; she suffers capture by the Barrayaran military and the POW camp, but even when she at last reaches safety at home, troubles follow her in the person of the army psychiatrist who wants to wipe her mind clean of all she had endured. Especially from her love for Aral, the love that crept on her unawares, the love that changed her life.
Their love triumphs, of course, huge and poignant. The second part, Barrayar, begins after Cordelia’s frantic flight from her home on Beta Colony, one step ahead of the charges of treason and the dratted psychiatrist. Now, she is quietly married to Aral. Both are middle-aged, ready to settle down. He is retired from the military, and both of them are prepared to enjoy their retirement. They plan to start a family.
Barrayar interferes. The old dying Emperor of Barrayar asks Aral to become a Regent to his orphaned grandchild, five-year-old Prince Gregor. A patriot and an aristocrat to his bones, with honor imprinted on his psyche, Aral can’t say NO. Thus, Cordelia is thrust into the maelstrom of Barrayar’s turbulent politics, as the planet climbs from its almost feudal mentality towards galactic standards under Aral’s guidance. The resistance of the proponents of tradition is fierce, and Aral and Cordelia’s son Miles pays the price.
But Cordelia never gives up. She stands beside her husband, proud and free, a symbol of the new possibilities. She fights for her husband as only a Betan ship captain could, and she fight for her son’s life as any loving mother, and she wins in the end, although that victory comes with a painful price.
Cordelia is a marvelous human being, compassionate even to her enemies and a role model to countless young women on Barrayar. Loving and forgiving is her default mode, understanding and acceptance her dual mottos, but she could be ruthless to her enemies and acidic towards fools. I love Cordelia and I enjoyed her story. For me, it was, together with its sequel, Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, the best two books of the entire Vorkosigan saga. And the best heroine in the sci-fi genre.
This book is a sci-fi adventure in form, a love story in essence, and an exploration of several deep and penetrating issues humanity has been wrestling with recently, from feminism to democracy. Although it is at times hysterically funny, the laughter is frequently tinged with sadness. So many of Barrayar’s problems mirror our own that Cordelia’s tale sometimes slips into satire. Other times, into philosophy. It captivates its readers with all its multiple facets and its irresistible heroine.
A lovely, amazing book.
So I'm excited for the month of March!
Aside from what I'm presently reading, here are some of the things in the TBR.
As you can probably tell, there is some science fiction/fantasy picks in there. I was going through withdrawal. And one can't go back to reading the genre without a Vorkosigan novel. I've also decided to continue with the Greatcoats series as the first book was a five star read.
I've thrown some mysteries in there as well as I've gotten back into reading them and have been enjoying myself.
Edgar and Lucy was an impulsive Netgalley pick last month. My literature picks off Netgalley have been mediocre at best, but this one was well reviewed. So I'm gonna try.
In the midst of all the chaos of recent events, Penric and the Shaman was a gloriously gentle read. We jump back into Penric's life about four years after the events of Penric's Demon, after he has become comfortable with his place in the world. But when Senior Locator Oswyl asks for the support of a sorcerer in chasing down a dangerous shaman, Penric finds himself setting off on a quest led by the rather disapproving Oswyl into the rural mountains in search of a stolen ghost.
I thought Penric and the Shaman did a nice job unifying the world of The Hallowed Hunt with the rest of the Five Gods stories: we get to see the uneasy interactions between the church of the Five Gods and the nature-worshipping shaman, and the interplay between their two magics. The story itself is told from three perspectives: that of Penric, Oswyl, and also Inglis, the shaman himself. It's a bit slow-paced, and I had a hard time seeing how things could be brought to a conclusion that would fit the mood of the rest of the book, but I found myself satisfied throughout, always able to enjoy the gentle banter and measured pace. I especially loved how it explored the humanity of all the players in the story-- there are no true villains in the book, which makes it a wonderful read if you're feeling stressed and depressed. Last, I love the way this whole series respectfully explores religion. For instance, take one of my favourite quotes:
"For all that we trust the gods, I think we can trust them to know the difference between humor and blasphemy."
~~I received an advanced reader copy of this ebook through Netgalley from the publisher, Subterranean Press, in exchange for my honest review. Thank you!~~
Cross-posted on Goodreads.