I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
Shards of Honor - Betan Cmdr Cordelia Naismith and enemy Barrayaran Aral Vorkosigan are attacked and marooned together. Aral, misnamed "Butcher of Komarr", captures her. They exchange meanings of honor and love, separate for homes. Later demoted to Captain, Cordelia runs into Aral, after his sadistic cousin Vorrutyer, and warped ugly bodyguard Sgt Bothari. Cordelia flees Betans who ignore truth.
Barrayar - Aral is appointed Regent of baby heir by dying Emperor. Cordelia, now pregnant Lady Vorkosigan, breathes antidote to poisonous gas. Her son Miles has fragile bones that break on birth and will limit his adult height and durability.
This is a combined volume, consisting of numbers 1 & 7 of the Vorkosigan saga, Shards of Honor and Barrayar. It is hard for me to believe, but although they are two halves of the same story, there was about 10 years between their original publication dates. I am really glad to have read them together.
I really enjoyed Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan as a main character. She was practical, capable, smart, and sensible. And despite all of that, she fell in love with a guy on the wrong side of a war.
This was kind of an anti-fairy tale romance. Cordelia and Aral are mature people, not impulsive 20-somethings. They talk about the things that are bothering them and they count on one another for support. In short, they have a real relationship.
Cordelia is from a rather Gene-Roddenberry-esque culture, that of the Beta Colony. Decisions are made rationally, government is democratic, knowledge is valued, sexual preferences are publically acknowledged, and frank discussions are seen as normal. Sure, a scientific expedition of Betans is rather like herding cats—everyone thinks they get a vote—but the aim is reasonably pure. I adored Bujold’s idea of uterine replicators to take the nasty part out of pregnancy—and all their medical procedures are first rate.
Contrast that with Aral’s society on Barrayar. A military hierarchy, a royal family, inequality of men and women, hidebound by tradition, a bit primitive in medical technology. As Cordelia struggles to figure out all of the nuances of this society, there are bound to be misunderstandings. Add to that political intrigue, and you’ve got a recipe for a good story.
I also appreciated that there’s no pretense that people have forgotten Earth and its history. They discuss Medieval history and one character in particular has become a devotee of the Marquis de Sade. I’ve always thought it would be a bit weird to have a society forget its roots while still having enormous databases full of information.
Favourite bits: The Betan psychiatrist and the fish tank; Cordelia’s use of a shopping bag at the end of Barrayar. This is my first venture into Ms. Bujold’s writing, but I think I can safely say that I love her style and will happily work my way through this whole series.
Books 211 and 212 of my science fiction and fantasy reading project.