Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance: A romp from start to finish

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsCaptain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold science fiction book reviewsCaptain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold

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.

~Terry Weyna

Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold science fiction book reviewsI’m in complete agreement with Terry. This story is tons of fun. Another great installment in one of my favorite science fictions series. Grover Gardner’s narration of the audiobook is outstanding.

~Kat Hooper

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TERRY WEYNA, on our staff since December 2010, would rather be reading than doing almost anything else. She longs to be a full-time reviewer, critic, scholar and writer, but nonetheless continues to practice law as a civil litigator in California. Terry lives in Northern California with her husband, professor emeritus and writer Fred White, the imperious but aging Cordelia Louise Cat Weyna-White, and a forever-growing personal library that presently exceeds 15,000 volumes.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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  1. Sounds like fun! Thanks, Terry.

  2. If you have not read a lot of Vorkosigan books already then this one rates 3.5 stars. If you have inhaled the Vorkosigan Universe then it is a 5. Ivan Vorpatril is a vastly under appreciated character and Bujold is constantly using her other characters to bad mouth him. He just is not insanely ambitious like Miles appears to be mentally lazy but not actually dumb. So for me to have Bujold do a story on Ivan stumbling into success while creating havoc all around is hilarious. Funnier than Civil Campaign. But there is a serious side. Beware of untested technology in the field. Think Thalydomide babies but this case is not tragic.


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