Lois McMaster Bujold’s newest entry in the VORKOSIGAN SAGA, Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, is a romp from start to finish. It’s not great literature, but it’s a great deal of fun, and I enjoyed every minute reading it.
Bujold appears to have exhausted the possibilities in Miles Vorkosigan’s life, now that he is as highly placed a government official as he can be, as well as happily married and the father of at least two children. So Bujold has turned to a minor character in Miles’s story, his cousin, Ivan Vorpatril.
Ivan is a captain in the Barrayar military, working in Ops as the staff officer to Admiral Desplains. He and the Admiral are presently stationed on the planet Komarr, which is pleasant enough duty. Ivan sees his job as sorting snakes that come over the Admiral’s desk, forwarding the highly poisonous and dangerous snakes on to his boss, wrestling the less dangerous but still unwieldy snakes himself, and sending the garden snakes on to those of lesser rank to deal with as appropriate. He may call them snakes, but they’re really problems, and he is what we would today call a paper-pusher. His job doesn’t involve any more danger than the displeasure of a fellow military officer, at least in this time of peace in the Imperium. Or at least that’s the case right now, when he and Miles are on different planets; Miles has caused him plenty of problems in the past.
But even if Miles isn’t around, Ivan’s disreputable friend, Byerly Vorrutyer is. Actually, By isn’t all that disreputable, though he attempts to appear so; he is really a member of Imperial Security, known as ImpSec. That is, he’s a spy. He’s got a problem he needs some help with: he wants to deputize Ivan to go pick up a girl. By thinks she’s using a false identity, and she has attracted some unhealthy attention. By would like Ivan to find out who she is and what she wants, not to mention why she’s working as a packing clerk at Swift Shipping. Ivan is less than enthusiastic, but he makes the attempt, only to find that the object of his attentions is far from helpless.
In fact, Tej and her companion, a beauty with blue and gold skin, manage to turn the tables on Ivan quite nicely. But before they can finish what they’ve started, that unhealthy attention shows up at the window; and beyond that, the police show up at the door. Ivan comes up with an interesting suggestion to solve all the problems at once, and the race is on.
It would be unfair to say anything more about the plot, as this novel is packs in one surprise after another. Don’t look here for elegant characterization (though the characters are convincing) or gorgeous language. Bujold is telling a story, one full of events and switchbacks and intrigue. It’s a ripping yarn, as they used to say, and it serves the purpose of keeping the reader soundly entertained.
It helps to know something about the history of the Imperium, but it isn’t required; Bujold fills in sufficient backstory to keep any reader up to speed. Still, despite its accessibility this would not be the best place to begin reading the VORKOSIGAN SAGA, which is still really about Miles Vorkosigan, not Ivan Vorpatril. I recommend starting with the omnibus edition Young Miles to get a flavor for the series. But once you’ve read one, you’re likely to want to read them all, and Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance is a fine addition to the series.