Lois McMaster Bujold: Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen – Vorkosiverse #16 – for your reading pleasure

If, like me, you are a fan of not only Lois McMaster Bujold’s writing in general, but her Vorkosigan series in particular, you probaby grabbed it on its first day of publication. I jumped the gun and shelled out for the e-arc from Baen in advance of the official publication day on 2nd February 2016. I’m so glad I did. Every book that Ms Bujold writes is subtly different. Stories set in the Vorkosiverse have varied from military SF, through murder-mysteries, conspiracy plots and even Regency romance in space. Apart from the first two, now offered as the omnibus: Cordelia’s Honour, most of the others feature the hyperactive Miles Vorkosigan, stunted runt with a brain the size of a planet. This book takes us back to Cordelia, some forty odd years after the events in Cordelia’s Honour where as captain of a Betan astronomical survey ship she unwittingly landed her ship and crew in the middle of a war and met the love of her life Aral Vorkosigan.

Cordelia has been there throughout Miles’ adventures, often on the sidelines, but always a force of nature. Now, three years after Aral’s death, she’s back in her own right. Yes, that’s right – kudos to Ms Bujold she has a heroine in her seventies (though Cordelia’s lifespan could well reach 120 or more as she’s a Betan, so seventy is the new fifty). Even so, a fifty year old heroine? Respect! (Bujold has, of course pulled this off before in her fantasy novel Paladin of Souls, set in her Five Gods version of Earth.)

So Cordelia, three years a widow and still Viscerine of Sergyar, ruling in the name of Emperor Gregor, decides that it’s time to make some changes. Aral’s death has left a hole in her life and in her heart, but with a potential fifty years left to her it’s time she did something for herself. It’s no accident that the cover has strands of DNA twirling across it as Cordelia decides it’s time to give forty-something year old Miles some siblings, courtesy of frozen eggs and sperm which she and Aral ‘banked’ many years earlier, and which she now has legal control over.

Admiral Oliver Jole, Aral’s one time protégé and now admiral in charge of the Sergyar fleet, finds himself unexpectedly drawn into Cordelia’s plans which, in turn, causes a re-examination of his own life and aspirations.

Miles, now Count of the Vorkosigan district since Aral’s death, but also a ferociously dogged Imperial Auditor, comes to investigate his mother’s plans and finds more than he bargained for.

No further spoilers. Read the book. Compared to a lot of Vorkosigan books this one is quite domestic in nature, but it manages to cover the ins and outs of developing a colony on a planet with bio-systems still barely explored, plus the reproductive technology that Cordelia introduced into the Barrayaran system and which – forty some years ago – saved baby Miles’ life.

It’s also a thorough character study of old and new protagonists. I don’t remember Jole from other books (though he appears to have been a very minor character and I must go back and re-read) but now in retrospect we see that things were somewhat different to our imaginings. We learn a lot about the retrospectives of Aral, Cordelia and Jole’s lives, together and separately, and so – to his surprise – does Miles.

While not a comedy this is funny and sweet while remaining intriguing. Highly recommended.

About Jacey Bedford

Jacey Bedford maintains this blog. She is a writer of science fiction and fantasy (www.jaceybedford.co.uk), the secretary of Milford SF Writers (www.milfordSF.co.uk), a singer (www.artisan-harmony.com) and a music agent booking UK tours and concerts for folk performers (www.jacey-bedford.com).
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