Cordelia’s Honor – Lois McMaster Bujold

About the book

In her first trial by fire, Cordelia Naismith captained a throwaway ship of the Betan Expeditionary Force on a mission to destroy an enemy armada. Discovering deception within deception, treachery within treachery, she was forced into a separate peace with her chief opponent, Lord Aral Vorkosigan – he who was called “The Butcher of Komarr” – and would consequently become an outcast on her own planet and the Lady Vorkosigan on his.

Sick of combat and betrayal, she was ready to settle down to a quiet life, interrupted only by the occasional ceremonial appearances required of the Lady Vorkosigan. But when the Emperor died, Aral became guardian of the infant heir to the imperial throne of Barrayar – and the target of high-tech assassins in a dynastic civil war that was reminscent of Earth’s Middle Ages, but fought with up-to-the-minute biowar technology. Neither Aral nor Cordelia guessed the part that their cell-damaged unborn would play in Barrayari’s bloody legacy.

600 pages (paperback)
First published in 1986
Published by: Baen

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Note: There are some spoilers in this review.

I doubt I ever would have read this book if it hadn’t been recommended about a hundred times through the course of Special Needs in Strange Worlds. I kind of have this silent rule, if a book is recommended enough times, I must read it. I put Cordelia’s Honor on hold at the library and was rewarded with a book a few days later, which I immediately started on. I was lucky enough to read this during the course of Special Needs in Strange Worlds, which really added a lot of meaning to my experience.

Cordelia’s Honor combines the first two books in the Vorkosigan series, Shards of Honor and Barrayar. I have been assured that these two books are fantastic setups for the infamous character Miles Vorkosigan. Cordelia’s Honor deals mostly with the journey of Cordelia, Miles’ mother, up to the point of Miles’ birth. While I have been told that this book isn’t completely necessary to appreciate the series, I tend to enjoy starting at the very beginning because sometimes a rich background can serve to enrich a wonderful story.

Shards of Honor tells the story of Cordelia as she gets caught up in layers and layers of political intrigue, together with Lord Aral Vorkosigan, a man who was also nicknamed the Butcher of Komarr. The plot of Shards of Honor really isn’t that unpredictable or noteworthy. It’s easy to see where relationships will form and once the book hits the halfway point, it’s fairly clear how things will end up. However, that doesn’t take away from the overall enjoyment of the novel. Bujold has a way with words. In fact, her prose combined with her amazing world building could easily make the most droll storyline a fascinating adventure to read.

Shards of Honor and Barrayar mostly focus on Cordelia, which means that she’s the most fleshed out character. Aral, while an important component to the books, remains a pleasant background figure. He’s interesting and compelling, but he’s no match for Cordelia in the personality department. However, that’s how it should be. The book is called Cordelia’s Honor, not Aral’s Honor. That being said, while their relationship won’t come as a surprise to anyone who reads the back of the book, there really isn’t any buildup for their relationship. Suddenly a light turns on and Cordelia and Aral realize there is something between them. It takes on a Romeo and Juliette tone, which is fine, but the lack of buildup to their intense relationship did make me feel like I missed something.

Shards of Honor really is just a story about a budding relationship. Barrayar is where the meat of Bujold’s genius really is. Barrayer is an example of incredible world building. Bujold leaves out nothing, from small, easily overlooked cultural nuances, to important complex daily politics and social norms and she doesn’t shy away from how all of this would be perceived from a foreigner’s eye. In fact, the breath and scope of her development of Barrayar is nothing sort of incredible, which makes this a perfect book to read for anyone interested in incredible world building. Honestly, world building doesn’t get much better than what you’ll find here.

The Barrayan culture is a delicious blending of fantasy and science fiction. The technology is advanced. There are space ships, adventures to other planets, interstellar battles and more. However, many of the cultural nuances have a very fantasy feel. Men have more rights than women, social class is important, swords are bought, women wear dresses and more. This blending of fantasy and science fiction make Barrayar a wonderful crossover novel for fantasy and science fiction fans alike. Neither genre is oppressive, but it dabbles in each enough so fans of either genre will feel equal parts comfortable, and challenged.

Barrayar is also where the plot takes some very interesting twists and turns. While Shards of Honor was incredibly predictable, Barrayar is far from it. Politics play a heavy role here, and Cordelia’s position as a foreigner in a complex political world adds to the reader’s confusion. This confusion, in the end, is part of why the book is such an incredible read. You experience the layers of politics and social complexities along with Cordelia, a foreigner to the world. Furthermore, Barrayar is more about politics and Cordelia’s impending motherhood more than anything else. It’s an incredible blend of personal intimacy and political maneuvering. Cordelia’s relationship with Aral still exists, but it takes a back seat to a wonderfully complex plot.

While Shards of Honor was an entertaining, light read, Barrayar is where Bujold really showcases her talent. Regardless, the two books compliment each other well. Bujold shows herself to be a remarkable world builder with an impressive talent for the written word. Cordelia’s Honor is a stunning omnibus setting a firm, impressive foundation for what is turning out to be a landmark series.

4/5 stars

2 Responses

  • Barrayar, the Warrior’s Apprentice and the Vor Game is where Bujold really starts to make her mark, agreed.

    I also am a fan of the novella “The Mountains of Mourning”

  • I’m glad you liked them. I actually started with A Civil Campaign (oops) and loved it so much I had to go back and read all the rest. I think Mirror Dance, while the most painful, might be my favorite so far.

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