Saturday, July 13, 2013

Captain Vorpatril's Alliance

Book Review

Captain Vorpatril's Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold.

This is the latest addition to the Vorkosigan Saga series. And as such I surely had to read it.

But the Vorkosigan Saga started many, many moons ago. And I read the majority of those books, all dozen-plus of them, many, many moons ago.

Okay, okay.  Almost twenty years ago, to be a bit more precise.

And then I had to move on to reading other things, since the author moved on to writing other series.

Now, she's back. Back to writing about the Vorkosigans and their clan.

So, of course, I have to keep up with her. There's no letting a Vor book slip past me.

Here we go on another Vor adventure!

Captain Vorpatril's Alliance

This is the umpteenth book in the Vorkosigan Saga, known for its swashbuckling science fiction adventures. I say "umpteenth" because there is no way to count the number of narratives in the series anymore, since many are novellas or short stories and many have been republished in different groupings than originally published.

It's all confused.

It also doesn't help that the stories have been written out of internal chronological order. So, this book happens to include events occurring before the events of the previously written book in the series, which I read three years ago.

It's so confused.

In any case, this book falls in well with its predecessors. We get a great sci-fi plot, with worm hole jumps between far away worlds, genetically engineered characters, space politics, and a sprinkling of old fashioned romance, future style (not quite shotgun wedding, but nearly a stunner wedding).

Ivan Vorpatril, Miles Vorkosigan's cousin and our protagonist, is on duty on the planet Komarr and gets himself into a tight little predicament not ordered by his boss. Somehow he manages to provide useful information to his superior and get enveloped in a whole separate alliance, all in one fell swoop.

I love Bujold's writing. I like her style, except for the occasional sentence that runs for several lines with multiple clauses. Her pacing is superb. Her characters are just plentiful enough, with no extraneous fillers.

Bujold has been my favorite author for many years. But I'm not so sure I still like her better than Steinbeck. Or Capote. But it is close. And it doesn't really matter.

I love how she twists the characters' predicaments into solutions, many of which I just don't see coming.  I usually don't know how she managed to craft such solutions. Crafty. Clever. Canny. Cunning. She masterfully imparts the right few characters with the right amount of cunning to get themselves out of some of the oddest predicaments. 

Unfortunately, this book was not flawless. It relies on far too much Vor Saga backstory. For anyone who has not read the entire series and remembered every political nuance and detail, small parts of the book are hard to follow. The author relies too heavily on these details, which may provide the backdrop for the current drama, but they drag the pacing down to a crawl. A more complete description woven into the plot would help carry the unenlightened reader along.

Also, I was a bit disappointed to discover our author resorted to some quite banal and stereotypical physical characteristic descriptions. And then she occaisionally referred to them. They did not help the story. It only detracted from the other strong writing aspects.

I don't remember these detractions in her older Vor stories. Were they there too? Or is my attention to the writing increasing? Is my taste for the writing evolving? I don't remember and I can't say.

Either way, Bujold has a well-honed skill for crafting plots. Action plots. Adventure plots. Action and adventure with sly and slick characters. This is the fun part. I still like this part of her writing.

If you have liked the Vorkosigan Saga to date, you will likely enjoy this. You might enjoy it even if you are unfamiliar with the Saga, but you could get bogged down in the missing backstory.

For those in the know:  Note that Ivan is no Miles. Miles is much more calculating and inventive in his escapes. But we knew this about Ivan. I just don't want you to be disappointed.

Action, adventure, and semi-crafty-Ivan-style characters in a sci-fi framework. They're all here.  Enjoy!

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