December 11, 2012 by Reader's Connection
Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold is another fun book in the Vorkosigan series. Finally, Ivan gets his own book. Ivan Vorpatril is the cousin of major Bujold hero Miles Vorkosigan, often pulled unwillingly into Miles’s dangerous schemes. In Ivan’s last appearance, in A Civil Campaign, he surprised himself and others by showing heroic qualities.
Ivan has carefully avoided marriage for many years by avoiding long-term relationships. However, at age 35, with his short-term relationships growing less frequent and less fun, he thinks maybe it would be time to settle down. But the pool of suitable women has dried up and now marriage seems to be avoiding him. His duties as staff officer to an Admiral take him to the planet Komarr. Byerly Vorrutyer is working there as an undercover agent for Imperial Security (ImpSec) and shows up one night with a request for Ivan to check up on a young woman who might be in danger. He wants Ivan to ask her out so she won’t be home when a kidnap attempt is rumored to be taking place.
Ivan flirts with the woman and asks her out; but instead gets stunned and tied to a chair in the woman’s apartment — when the kidnappers indeed show up. The young woman, nicknamed “Tej,” turns out to be a very important person indeed and determined to get away from being very important, since “very important” and “soon to be dead” appear to be equivalent labels.
Bujold has experimented with many science fiction forms and genre combinations in her series, with her own twists. Her early novels were often space adventures. Memory was a detective story with the murder being slowly in progress; it was also a story about surviving near death and becoming a real adult. A Civil Campaign was a drawing-room comedy-romance filled with witty dialogue. Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance is a romance caper, with Ivan taking the Cary Grant role (EARLY Cary Grant, handsome but confused). As always with Bujold, the plot is twisty and the dialogue and writing are witty. You are pretty sure how the story will turn out; but it gets there in clever and unexpected ways.
Bujold writes her books with an attempt to give them the ability to be read as stand-alones. You can see that in this book as she gives enough background to Ivan’s family and life to balance the current story. However, I have read all of the Vorkosigan books at least twice and can no longer tell if a reader new to the series would appreciate these later volumes. If you have already gotten into the series, you’ll enjoy this one. If not, I recommend as starting points the collections Young Miles (the first two novels about Miles, with a prize winning short story) or Cordelia’s Honor (the two novels about Miles’s parents). Each collection includes novels which have won the Hugo Award for best novel. Bujold is probably the best writer of character in science fiction and one of the best writers of character in any genre.