Book Review

Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold: A Guest Review by CarrieS

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Title: Captain Vorpatril's Alliance
Author: Lois McMaster Bujold
Publication Info: Baen Books 2012
ISBN: 978-1-4516-3845-5
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy

Captain Vorpatril's Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold Lois McMaster Bujold is one of my favorite authors, so I'm grateful to commenters who told me that a new book in the Vorkosigan Saga is out as of today (it's been available as an eARC for a while).

While Captain Vorpatril's Alliance lacks the emotional punch of some of Bujold's other works, it is a lovely science fiction romance featuring none other than Miles' cousin Ivan.  If you've read anything else by Bujold, you'll recall the gorgeous and clueless Ivan, and if you've yet to read Bujold, you'll get the picture soon enough.  I never thought Ivan would get his own book and I swear, every time I saw his name on a page, I did a little happy dance.

Captain is a romance (and a heist novel, and a novel of political intrigue, and something of a farce about families – this qualifies as a crossover book) about two people who are viewed by their families as chronic underachievers.  Actually, it's worse than that.  Their families think they are achieving at their highest possible level, with the acknowledgment, frequently spoken out loud, that this level is much, much lower than everyone else's. 

Ivan works for the secret service of Barrayar.  Tej and her relative, Rish, are on the run for complicated and deadly reasons.  Ivan is sent to covertly investigate them.  Ivan doesn't stay covert for long, but he and Tej end up forging a delicate partnership based on three things – they each admire the other's intelligence and competence, they are attracted to each other, and they make each other laugh.  They view each other, and value each other, without preconceptions, and they share similar ambitions (or lack of ambitions – they both want to be left out of their families' incessant political maneuverings). 

One thing I like about this book is that, even though it includes space travel and a sidekick who is entirely blue and other science fiction elements, it feels real.  Tej and Ivan are attracted to each other right away, but they aren't stricken with instant mad lust (instant mad lust is my biggest pet peeve, other than rapey heroes, in the romance world).   For instance, Tej doesn't look at Ivan and get all swoony and suddenly know she must be with this man and none other.  It's more like, “Wow, he is so cute, and he smells nice, too.”  The biggest challenge they have a couple is balancing their obligations to friends, family, and country, and spending time together.  Honestly, they could be any young couple with demanding extended families and jobs – theirs just happen to include interplanetary political intrigue and theft.

The weakness of the novel is that I never got terribly invested in Ivan and Tej's romance.  Of course I wanted those two crazy kids to stay together, but I had trouble seeing how they went from attraction to this deep, life long love affair, even though I totally got the ingredients. They are so comfortable with each other in a way that they aren't with any one else.  A lot of the book dealt with the intrigue and not the romance and that's ok for the book overall – it's a crossover, not a straight up romance – but it did weaken the romantic element.

I think this novel would work as a stand alone, although obviously the more of the other books you've read the richer this one will be.  Certainly the end was satisfyingly conclusive.  I have read several, but not all, of the prior books in the Saga and even though I had missed some books it wasn't difficult to follow the events of Captain.  However, I found it impossible not to compare Captain to other Saga books when assigning a grade.  It's a tricky book to grade and I danced around with the idea of giving it a B+ because of it's weaknesses in the romance department, and because it lacks the depth and the emotional punch of some of Bujold's other books.  But since it put a big goofy smile on my face, I'm going with an A-.

A note regarding reading order:  I am a rabid fan of A Civil Campaign ( A | BN | K | iB).  If you want light romance, I'd suggest you start with that one and then read Captain.  If you like those books at all, and I dare you not to, then try Shards of Honor ( A | BN | K | iB) and Barrayar ( A | BN | K | iB), which deal with the romance of Miles' parents and are deeply romantic but darker in tone (or boldly dive in by reading Shards and Barrayar before Captain since they are referenced a lot in Captain). (Note: Shards of Honor and Barrayar are available as an omnibus titled Cordelia's Honor.) By now you should have developed a deep adoration of Bujold and you'll want to read the entire series in chronological order.  The books were not all published in chronological order but the chronological order is listed on Wikipedia as well as several other sites.  Enjoy!


This book is available from Goodreads | Amazon | BN | Sony | Kobo | iBooks | Baen.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Cerulean says:

    Yay! I’m so glad to hear a positive review of this book. I heard such mixed things about the last Miles book that I still haven’t read it, which is a crime.

  2. 2
    Kylie says:

    I really enjoyed this book, although my husband, who is also a big Bujold fan, and I got in a bit of an argument about it.  I liked finally getting Ivan’s story, which I had never expected to see as Bujold has previously expressed a very low interest in writing it, and I like the fact that it is a bit of a change of pace.
    Miles is very driven, and for most of the series Ivan acts as a comic foil, and an example of what not to do/be.  It was refreshing to get a different perspective on the world. 
    One of the things I really enjoy about Bujold’s writing is that different events are remembered/recounted differently by different characters at different times.  Miles’ understanding of his parents lives as an example.  This book in many ways is an entire book of that- Ivan has always been seen though Miles’ eyes, so he is feckless and lacking ambition.  What doesn’t get seen previously is that it is a deliberate lack, a choice that this book demonstrates.

  3. 3
    Becca says:

    Ivan acts the fool, but arguably he saves the day a lot (or at least he did in Cetaganda). He doesn’t have Miles’ slashing brilliance, but he is quietly competent and self-effacing for good political reasons (he doesn’t want to be a plot magnet).

    I agree that the jump from “gee, she/he’s cute” to deep abiding love was a bit sharp and could have used more detail, but it was a marriage of convenience book, too.

    CVA isn’t Memory or even Cordelia’s Honor, but is a fun read in itself, and totally worthy of Ivan.

  4. 4
    Becca says:

    Ivan acts the fool, but arguably he saves the day a lot (or at least he did in Cetaganda). He doesn’t have Miles’ slashing brilliance, but he is quietly competent and self-effacing for good political reasons (he doesn’t want to be a plot magnet).

    I agree that the jump from “gee, she/he’s cute” to deep abiding love was a bit sharp and could have used more detail, but it was a marriage of convenience book, too.

    CVA isn’t Memory or even Cordelia’s Honor, but is a fun read in itself, and totally worthy of Ivan.

  5. 5
    Todd says:

    I think Ivan’s intelligence and competence have been hinted at in earlier books. I believe there was at least one instance in which someone caught on that he was deliberately downplaying his abilities. Glad to hear the book’s out!

  6. 6
    ULTRAGOTHA says:

    Cerulean – I’ve discovered that Cryoburn, like a lot of Bujold’s work, grows on one in re-reads. I was left rather flat the first time I read it, too. It’s much better now.  (Her other books are usually great first reads and then grow more as you re-read them. Especially Memory and Paladin of Souls.)

    Since Cryoburn takes place chronologically after Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, you might be better to wait anyway.

    I really liked the understated romance in CVA.  So many romances are, as the reviewer notes, Undying Love At First Sight that it’s rather nice to read one where the protagonists discover their love over time. (Without denying it strenuously first and fighting like spoiled two year olds. Another trope I dislike.)

    If you’ve never read any Vorkosigan books before reading this one, Ms. Bujold would be grateful for your impressions of how easy or hard it was to understand everything.  Or so she has said on the mailing list.

  7. 7
    Ellielu says:

    Lois McMaster Bujold. Oh, squee! I love it when an author is a great writer and a great storyteller all at the same time!

  8. 8
    Bhj says:

    One little nitpick: Ivan doesn’t work for the secret service of Barrayar, he is assistant to an Admiral on the Barrayaran general staff.

     

  9. 9
    Joykenn says:

    I can’t wait to read Bujold’s latest.  One thing not mentioned by the reviewer or posters is that Miles in his earliest books both loves Ivan but is envious of his Barrayaran physical perfection.  Miles is aware that he is lots smarter and more politically savvy than Ivan but suffers from his society’s abhorrance of “mutants”.  It is in Miles’ accomplishments that he shows his Vorkisigan inheritance and his mother’s toughness and survival skills.  Ivan, meanwhile, seems to skate along the surface of things.  It’s nice to see him more appreciated in this part of the saga.  I can’t wait and will go buy immediately.  (PS, Baen is a smaller publisher who produces their ereader versions DRM free.  I urge you to support their efforts by buying from them.)

  10. 10
    Mochabean1 says:

    I am taking this opportunity to thank SBTB for introducing me to LMBujold. Thank you, thank you, thank you!  After reading the Chalion series (and let me share the “Paladin of Souls” love—that is one HELL of a great book), and then the Sharing Knife series, I have finally started started working through the Vorkosigan series (currently in the first third of Komarr.) At the risk of adding to everyone’s TBR piles, I would really encourage folks to start with Shards of Honor and work their way through the internal chronology—I think your appreciation of Ivan in particular will grow if you read the prior books—especially Mirror Dance and Memory—and Barrayar is just such an amazing novel that I’d hate for anyone to miss it.  Okay, I’ll stop fan-girling all over the thread now—really looking forward to reading CVA, which I should be getting to some time late next week!

  11. 11
    DLSliter says:

    I’m going to second Mochabean1 and say thank you for the Bujold recommendation.  I’m currently finishing the Miles saga and I look forward to getting into Ivan’s story when I’m done.

    One thing about your recommendation for A Civil Campaign though. I really don’t feel this can be read and fully enjoyed without reading Komarr first..  The two stories are so intrinsically tied together, I don’t think someone coming into the series fresh could appreciate Miles and Ekaterin’s story as much as if they’d read about how they met.

    That’s just my personal opinion.

  12. 12
    Amy Raby (Alpha Lyra) says:

    This book is on its way to my house right now. Can’t wait! So many long-running series deteriorate in quality over time. This one is an exception—it’s consistently good. Bujold never phones in a novel, and I love that about her.

  13. 13
    Maridonne says:

    Todd, I believe Cordelia (who else?) once mentioned this, and Aral pooh-poohed it, saying something like, “He’d have had to have been an unbelievably devious eight-year-old.” In the new book, Ivan has a line that starts, “I knew since I was eight years old…” Which goes to show that Cordelia really is always right.

  14. 14
    Niki says:

    Squee!  I love this series with the power of a thousand fiery suns.  I think it is my favorite of all time.  I will admit that the last few books have felt less *deeply* satisfying than the earlier ones, but LBJ is an amazing author and I love this world and the characters she has created.

    I have just spent the morning skulking about the internet, trying to find something to start reading, preferably from my handful of go-to authors (Courtney Milan, I am on tenterhooks awaiting your new series; I hope you finish that Duchess War book really, really soon), and had pretty much thrown in the towel.  Now the dishes, towel, and laundry will have to wait while I devour Ivan’s story.

    @Tod, I am certain that later books have given us a few scenes where Miles begins to realize that Ivan is actually pretty canny and good at what he does (where “what he does” = making sure nobody in power realizes he’s actually pretty smart and good with people).

    @Maridonne, that’s pretty funny.  Cordelia is pretty darn perceptive about people, so I think I’d take her observation as canon….

  15. 15
    Niki says:

    Aaaa!  LMB, not LBJ. I’ve been immersed in too many politico blogs!  *facepalm*

  16. 16
    Natalie L. says:

    I find myself bothered by the implied assumption that Bujold is a romance writer first and a SF writer second. That is…really interesting and I can’t say that I agree with it at all. Just because a book has romance in it doesn’t make it a romance novel and trying to shoehorn it into that category really does it a disservice (this is coming from someone who loves both SF/F and romance with a near-equal passion)

  17. 17
    Joykenn says:

    Natalie—I disagree that folks are implying that Bujold is a romance writer first.  She is a STRONG SF writer with a big following who don’t read romances at all.  BUT she happens to include a large amount of romantic elements in her fiction.  Her books are usually classified in libraries as SF so many romance readers aren’t aware of her.  Since this is a romance blog it is nice that those of us who appreciate both genrues can share a love of her works with folks who haven’t encountered her as yet.  Hey, La Nora’s Dallas and Roarke books are classified as mysteries but I drool a lot over Roarke’s hotness.  Let’s hear it for genrue bending fiction!

  18. 18

    The only thing I’d add to you review is how funny the book is.

  19. 19
    sweetfa says:

    Absolutely- there was one chapter that made me laugh until I cried (I suspect those who’ve read this series will find it funnier than those who haven’t). My brother loves this series, too. LMB deserves a much wider audience- it’s a shame that so many people are prejudiced against sci-fi.

  20. 20
    Unimaginative says:

    This is going to be my reward for finishing nano—cannot wait!  And must, or I won’t finish nano.

  21. 21
    Bungluna says:

    All I can say is that LMB should be required reading for anybody who loves to read, all her books are great, and to not read the Vorkosigan series in order would cheat one of a great experience. Plus, she’s very funny too.  Especially in this novel.  I loved Ivan; Miles can be a bit exhausting.

  22. 22
    M. Rosa says:

    Holy LMB! Oh my word—- I stumbled upon a new Vorkosigan book…at SBTB—I almost fell out of my chair. No way was I going to read this review or the comments and spoil an iota of a new LMB book, but I did…the only first 2 paragraphs, so at least now I know the book was released this week. Whew. What a relief that I’m not as out of touch as I thought. (Just for the record, in the last book, I just pretended that the last two pages in the book didn’t happen. And the Aftermaths. I read it all the while saying “la la la la la la” in my head, so nothing would stick.)

  23. 23
    Kinsey Holley says:

    This is my favorite SF series of all time. I think Miles is one of the most 3 dimensional characters of genre literature ever.

    I think Ivan’s intelligence and competence have been hinted at in earlier books. I believe there was at least one instance in which someone caught on that he was deliberately downplaying his abilities.

    Yep, several times. I remember a conversation between Aral and Cordelia about this – can’t remember the exact book but think it was after Mark showed up.

  24. 24
    Kinsey Holley says:

    This is my favorite SF series of all time. I think Miles is one of the most 3 dimensional characters of genre literature ever.

    I think Ivan’s intelligence and competence have been hinted at in earlier books. I believe there was at least one instance in which someone caught on that he was deliberately downplaying his abilities.

    Yep, several times. I remember a conversation between Aral and Cordelia about exactly this – Cordelia suggesting that Ivan deliberately hides his light under a bushel, Aral doubting that Ivan is that subtle. Can’t remember the exact book but think it was after Mark showed up.

  25. 25
    hapax says:

    I deliberately didn’t read this review until I finished the book.  I don’t normally mind spoilers, but LMB (along with Megan Whalen Turner) is one of those authors I prefer to go into “blind.”

    While Bujold is primarily an SF writer, I did think this was a book that showed her skill at romance tropes more than most of the others in the series.  A CIVIL CAMPAIGN was quite explicitly a homage to Georgette Heyer (and Dorothy Sayers, and Emily Bronte), but all the time I was reading CAPTAIN VORPATRIL’S ALLIANCE I kept thinking “Jenny Crusie .. In SPA-A-A-CE!!!”

    And yes, that’s a Good Thing.

  26. 26
    Barb Caffrey says:

    I agree; CVA is a good book, no question about it.  The romance is solid; Ivan’s view of himself is interesting; Tej is an extremely competent woman who’s been led all her life to believe she’s less than she is . . . the characterization is great, the world building is excellent, it fits well within the whole Vorkosigan mythos, and I especially loved the parts of the book that dealt with Ivan’s mother, Lady Alys, and his “stepfather,” Simon Illyan.  Definitely a must-read, must-buy author, LMB.

  27. 27
    Mochabean1 says:

    Well I finally got to the end of the Vorkosigan Saga with CVA, which I thoroughly enjoyed. (warning—sort of spoilers ahead) Loved the new twist on two classic romance tropes, not only the “quick marriage of convenience trope” for Tej and Ivan, but the bonus “reformed (sort of) rake is really a secret agent” trope for By.  I could have read a whole book about By and Rish, to be honest with you.  Some great lines in this too, and some promising set up for future books, I am hoping.  I mean, we have to have the big show-down with the Cetagandans at some point, right?  Also loved Tej’s references to The Coz and The Gregor, reflecting their larger-than-life presence.  Of course, now I am settling in for some serious Vorkosigan withdrawal…although I still have Fallling Free to read…

  28. 28
    Ivanfan5 says:

    Please.  If you’re going to do the romance arc for the Vorkosigan series, must must must start with Komarr, then ACC, then CVA.  In some ways, Komarr is the most romantic of the bunch.  The discussion at the end where Miles discloses his romantic history with the elderly Professora listening in with a straight face is, arguably, the funniest bit in the entire Vorkosigan series. 

  29. 29
    Steve Bridge says:

    Since most of the comments here are by women, I will just add that, as a man, I have loved all of Bujold’s books, including the romantic ones.  She handles the romance in her various books in realistic and humorous ways and the characters all seem like real people.  Bujold is especially good at making sure that even secondary characters have enough personality and apparent background that you can tell they each have stories that could be told.

  30. 30
    Micki says:

    SLIGHT SPOILERS ******* One thing about Ivan’s romance—he is not a man who looks too closely or thinks too hard about things—but his subconscious is working overtime. I don’t think Ivan even would have married Tej if some part of him wasn’t screaming, “She’s THE ONE!” Lots of Bujold heroes do this . . . Miles toodled along for a couple of days before he realized he was madly in love with Ekaterin. Aral and Cordelia’s romance was pretty understated on the Hot Passion Bunny scale, too, but you knew that once they were together, they were in it for good.

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