Captain Vorpatril's Alliance

by Lois McMaster Bujold

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Series: Vorkosigan #14
Publisher: Baen
Copyright: November 2012
ISBN: 1-4516-3845-0
Format: Kindle
Pages: 432

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This is the fourteenth book in the long-running Vorkosigan series (not counting a few side works). It shifts viewpoint characters, following Ivan Vorpatril instead of either Miles or Cordelia, and could be read on its own since the necessary background is at least briefly explained. But it's probably best read in its proper context in the larger series, since otherwise many of the prior events mentioned here won't have much resonance.

Ivan Vorpatril, Miles's cousin, has appeared in multiple previous books along with the rest of Miles's extended family, but he's stayed out of the center of the plot. And he clearly likes it that way. Ivan is not at all ambitious, tries to avoid politics, and just wants to live a quiet life (insofar as that's possible in the Barrayaran military), sleep with a few women, and stay out of trouble. But given his relations — and his job as aide-de-camp to an admiral — this doesn't always work. In this book, the not working comes in the form of Byerly, ImpSec (Imperial Security, the Barrayaran equivalent of the CIA), and a request to find out more about a woman who seems to be the target of a bounty. Fairly quickly, Ivan finds himself hopelessly entangled in both politics and in someone else's complex life, and is not entirely sure what to do about either.

It's been months since I read this book and I'm only now writing a review, in part because I find it hard to know what to say about it. While Ivan doesn't have Miles's manic energy, the tone of this book is very similar to the rest of the Vorkosigan series, as is the plot and most of the characters. Ivan tries a more laid-back approach and doesn't actively seek danger the way that Miles does, but his persistent efforts to do the right thing in the face of unexpected events lead mostly to the same places. There's a bit of humor, a bit of danger, some galactic politics, some scheming, and a slow process of understanding other people better — in short, Captain Vorpatril's Alliance is very similar to the thirteen books that proceeded it.

This is obviously not a bad thing. If you've read this far in the series, more of the same is probably just fine. I enjoyed the book. Bujold is great at telling stories, the plot mostly moved right along, and I quite liked the two women Ivan meets over the course of the story. But there wasn't much about the story that grabbed me or, I suspect, that I will find particularly memorable.

One reason for my somewhat "meh" reaction is that the core of this story is a romance, and while much of that romance is well-done, there is a large segment in the middle of the book where the suspense of the plot derives mostly from one of the two characters refusing to confide in the other. This is Bujold, so this isn't as much of a train wreck as it might be in the hands of another author, and it is for valid plot reasons. But even with those justifications, I never like that plot element. There were about a hundred pages where I wanted to grab Tej and shake some sense into her, which doesn't endear a character to me. And the leads in a romance, at least this sort of romance, should be endearing.

I think one reason why Bujold went for that approach to building tension is that there weren't a lot of options available. The basic outlines of what's going to happen are obvious from early in the book and essentially forced by the structure of the series. We know from past books that Ivan is both trustworthy and related to a staggering variety of powerful people, almost all of whom are highly competent and honorable. It's fairly obvious that, as soon as the necessary people trust Ivan and let him and his family solve their problems, all the problems will be solved. It's also fairly obvious how the romances will play out, and that all the new characters will end up a little in awe of how competent and trustworthy all the Barrayarans are (a few misdirections aside). Therefore, much of the book, for a long-time reader of the series, involves waiting until those things happen, and meanwhile getting increasingly annoyed at characters who refuse to trust obviously trustworthy people.

All that said, I still quite liked the beginning of the book, because Tej and Rish are a wonderful pair and have a great interpersonal dynamic, and the very end of the book once everyone gets past the communication problems and the plot can deliver on its promises. Both together make up for some noticeable sagging in the middle section of the book. Captain Vorpatril's Alliance is not up to the standards of the most memorable books of the series, but it's a solid dose of "more of the same" and provides its money's worth of entertainment.

I'm still hoping for more Ekaterin and more fireworks in the next book, though.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2013-10-05

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