RogerBW's Blog

Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, Lois McMaster Bujold 14 May 2016

2016 science fiction, sixteenth novel in the Vorkosigan universe. Three years after the death of Aral Vorkosigan, his widow Cordelia starts to move her life in a new direction. Oliver Jole, Admiral of Sergyar Fleet, finds himself caught up in unexpected ways.

Bujold said of this work: "It is not a war story. It is about grownups." Certainly, in terms of physical action, almost nothing happens here: no invasions, no plots to overthrow the empire, nothing to laugh at at all. A bit of peculation by a local construction company, and encounters with inflammable local wildlife, are about the limit of the external threats here.

Instead this is a social comedy with romantic elements (though not, thank goodness, the clichéd "they want to but they can't because of the Big Misunderstanding"). It is very much a book "about grown-ups": about being the person that one is, about turning down opportunities because one wants one's own life rather than a high-powered job, about how an extended lifespan allows one to start afresh when the path one is on has been exhausted – and about how one's children will feel about learning that the old folks have lives that don't revolve round them. (Especially when one of those children is Miles Vorkosigan, now feeling his way into his role as Count and paterfamilias.)

There's a certain amount of retroactive continuity, changing the shape of Aral and Cordelia's past relationship in a way that I suspect will annoy traditionalist SF fans (and even more so traditionalist romance fans). Jole's previous presence in the series was a paragraph in The Vor Game and very occasional mentions thereafter; he has now become much more important, though in events that were largely off-narrative.

The title is frankly more swashbuckling than the story, and that's a small shame; I'd have liked a book that lived up to it. But this one will do, yes indeed. On the other hand I definitely wouldn't suggest starting the series here; at the very least you should have read Shards of Honor and Barrayar to get the basics of the situation, and this book is payoff to tensions and hard times spread throughout the series.

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  1. Posted by Michael Cule at 12:09pm on 14 May 2016

    It's a very slight work, light, domestic and short.

    It's even slighter than CAPTAIN VORPATRIL'S ALLIANCE and that's saying something.

    I don't object to her turn towards romance in recent years: I loved (as just about everybody did) A CIVIL CAMPAIGN. But I'm too much of a genre fan to be comfortable with this story where (to be honest) nothing much happens and nobody has to make any decisions that are terribly hard.

    I think that's the problem: Robin Laws is always going on about how 'drama' is about the conflict between peoples' desires and how they resolve them. Here we have the Vor and the sub-Vor being terribly grown up and civilised and the person with the most tension in their lives is the poor, put upon Cetegandan cultural attache.

    It's nice but perhaps she has finally worked out the stories of Barrayar. She may have a deeper mine to dig out in the CHALION series.

  2. Posted by Ashley R Pollard at 05:48pm on 14 May 2016

    I enjoyed it, slight it may be, but it's well written and engaging, which can't be said of other romances I've tripped over or other books that are sequels by long standing authors I like.

  3. Posted by RogerBW at 07:34pm on 14 May 2016

    Bujold is the only writer of SF/romance I've read who gets the balance right (for my taste). JD Robb does the romance but is clearly not really comfortable with SF tropes. Catherine Asaro is great on the SF but far too keen on nice people suffering; Rachel Bach similarly.

    I suspect I'd be much more dissatisfied with this series if Bujold were still writing Miles running around being reluctantly heroic. They're great books, but she did them, and now she's moved on to other people's stories. (But as she said, I think in that interview I linked or maybe another, she's thought several times "aha, that's the last Vorkosigan book" until some character has popped up and said "what about me".)

  4. Posted by Michael Cule at 11:42am on 16 May 2016

    Reluctantly?

  5. Posted by RogerBW at 11:46am on 16 May 2016

    Well, he doesn't want to go charging in waving a gun around. People get hurt that way.

  6. Posted by Michael Cule at 02:51pm on 17 May 2016

    No, but as his mother points out he thinks of himself as a knight errant. (She thinks that makes him crazy: I think that in a feudal society that just makes him an idealist.) And he revelled in being at the front so much it took a whole book for him to admit it wasn't where he could be any longer.

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