When I read science fiction, I feel as though I am a step behind. Although I’ve always (or for as long as I can remember) read fantasy, I don’t have that legacy with science fiction. I don’t know when a plot twist or technology has been done to death, because I haven’t read that widely in the genre. So how do I know which books to pick up? I trust my fellow readers. Elitist Book Reviews usually steers me well, and of course there are others, including Alyce of At Home With Books and The Book Smugglers. Very recently (last week!) Anastasia at Birdbrained Book Blog pointed me in the direction of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Shards of Honor (published in 1986), the first in the Vorkosigan saga, and I downloaded it on the spot.
Commander Naismith is on a biological survey of an uninhabited planet when her expedition is attacked by the dreaded Barrayarans. This warrior empire is famous for its atrocities, and it appears that there’s little Cordelia will be able to do to help her Betan crew, or herself, when she is taken prisoner by one of Barrayar’s most lethal fighters, Lord Vorkosigan. What follows is a story of wartime adventure, heroics, honor and politics, with a thread of romance running throughout.
Cordelia is the heroine of this story, without a doubt. Her fierce determination to do her duty is the thing that propels her through the story and into the reader’s good graces. She is intelligent and clear-headed, and she’s been placed in an impossible situation where she must make something out of an array of bad choices. Instead of putting anyone else in danger, she puts herself in that position – not without flinching – with due consideration and courage. It’s this streak of honor that makes her such a good leader, and it’s also what draws Lord Vorkosigan (who is not as terrible as his reputation suggests) to her.
Of course, there is more to Lord Vorkosigan meets the eye – he’s a very complicated man, and he has a lot of enemies. After the initial ‘survival’ bit at the start of the book, Vorkosigan and Naismith spend a lot of time avoiding politics, playing with politics, and (of course) avoiding death. This is all going on while each is independently struggling with command, responsibilities, loyalties and a growing romantic relationship. It’s impressive that the plot coexists with great characterization and the trappings of sci-fi – that it works is a testament to Bujold’s skill. I’m excited to read the next in the series.
Oh, and this quote made my sappy little heart happy. I wrote it down on a scrap of paper to remember later:
“You’re asking me to judge you?”
“I’m sorry. I can love you. I can grieve for you, or with you. I can share your pain. But I cannot judge you.”
Recommended for: fans of sci-fi romance, those who enjoyed Garth Nix’s A Confusion of Princes or Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, and anyone ready for a space adventure featuring two stubborn, honorable characters caught in a no-win situation.