Book Review

Guest Review: Cordelia’s Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold

B

Title: Cordelia's Honor
Author: Lois McMaster Bujold
Publication Info: Baen 1999
ISBN: 0671578286
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy

Book Cover
A few months ago, I asked y’all what book you would recommend to introduce romance to a Sci Fi/Fantasy reader who was curious about the genre. Robert, one of the tech support gurus at our host Esosoft, was curious romance, and based on your recommendations, I sent him a copy of Lois McMaster (aka McAwesome) Bujold’s Cordelia’s Honor, a two-in-one book that features Shards of Honor and Barrayar. I asked Robert what he thought, and this is his reply, in the form of an informal quick guest review from someone who loves fiction, has no experience with romance (except what I’ve told him, which is that it is AWESOME), and was open to trying anything you folks recommended. Robert’s reply is from a few weeks ago, hence the reference to Bujold’s upcoming, and now past, appearance at Denvention.

Robert says: Finally and at long last I finished Cordelia’s Honor on Sunday! =) I imagine you’d appreciate some sort of ‘book report’ so here goes…

I enjoyed it. I can’t say I loved it, though I can’t say why I didn’t. I only know that when a book really grabs my attention, I can’t put it down. Cordelia’s tales were interesting, fun, dangerous; but never really took me by the shoulders and forced me to continue reading.

I enjoyed the fact that there was no trashy sex on every other page. I was disappointed to never have run into trashy sex. I thought trashy sex was the hallmark of any romance novel. Live and learn!

I’m (personally) rather turned off by characters whose names I cannot pronounce. And let me tell you (although I’m sure you already know), this book was a smörgåsbord of irregular triphthongs and incompatible consonants. And as with any decent Swedish buffet, everything was interesting to look at, but didn’t inspire quite enough confidence to actually put in one’s mouth.

My usual tactic of calling any character with an unpronounceable name the first letter of his/her last name did me absolutely no good on Barrayar because (again, as you know), nine out of ten characters on that planet have last names beginning with V.

I’m still not sure exactly which V character it was that attempted the coup. I’m sure I had been introduced to him earlier in the book, but by the time he was facing execution, he was just another V to me.

All in all, [Bujold]  spins a good yarn. The book didn’t force me to read. It allowed me downtime. But it certainly didn’t allow me to forget that Cordelia was waiting for me to continue with her adventures.

Wow! Lois is going to be the Guest of Honor at Denvention 3! Next time I stop at Barnes & Noble I’ll see if they have a copy of Young Miles and pick it up. It would be interesting to see what familiar characters are up to.

Again, I enjoyed the book, and I think you very much for having sent it. I’d give it a B-. I enjoyed the book. An “A” book would have forced me to read it in one sitting. A “C” book I doubt I would have finished. So Cordelia’s Honor gets a B (B Minus only because there were too many unpronounceable names – but who am I to nitpick?).
—-

Thanks Robert for the review, and glad you ultimately picked up Bujold as another author to follow. One person down, a few hundred bazillion to go in my quest to introduce the best of the best in romance and romance hybrids to everyone on the earth. Mwaaahahahahaaaaaa.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1

    I’d recommend Warprize by Elizabeth Vaughn as a good fantasy romance. I really enjoyed it.

  2. 2
    Tina C. says:

    I’m (personally) rather turned off by characters whose names I cannot pronounce.

    I have to say that I agree.  There have been a couple of Morgan Llywelyn books that I couldn’t really get into because of this and don’t even get me started on Tolkien, who introduces 14 characters with impossible names in the first 14 pages of The Hobbit.  (My beloved geeky husband is aghast that I’ve never read any of the books—especially since he gave me The Hobbit as a birthday gift when I was 15 years old and I’ve still never “gotten around” to finishing it.  I’ll be 42 in September.)

    this book was a smörgåsbord of irregular triphthongs and incompatible consonants. And as with any decent Swedish buffet, everything was interesting to look at, but didn’t inspire quite enough confidence to actually put in one’s mouth.

    Absolutely great line!

  3. 3
    Trix says:

    “Unpronounceable names”? Where? Vorrutyer? Pronounced as it’s spelled. Vorkosigan, ditto.V Vorpatril, ditto. Vorbarra, ditto. Illyan, ditto. I’m completely lost as to what names are so “unpronounceable”. Foreign, and not fantasy-cod-Saxon, yes. Ok, I give you “Droushnakovi” (but even that’s pronounced pretty much as it’s spelled).

    Ok, I’m a Lois fan, but c’mon, a romance novel requiring trashy sex on each page? I’m sure Heyer, Austen et al would be interested to hear that.

    I’m afraid I’m disappointed with this guest review – so what about the characterisation? Politcis? The “shopping” scene? Still, I’m glad he’s going to try some of the other books.

  4. 4

    The trick to the Barrayar names is to remember that “Vor” is a prefix denoting the aristocracy.  So at the military academy, Miles Vorkosigan is referred to as “Kosigan”, Vorsoisson is “Soisson”, Vorhalas is Halas and so on.  The people of Barrayar are descendants of immigrants from (primarily) France, Russia and Greece. 

    I suspect Robert will enjoy the Young Miles collection more than he liked Cordelia’s Honor.

  5. 5
    C. Diane says:

    He should enjoy Young Miles. There’s a lot more action in there for the SF reader, though it’s pretty light on the romance. The Vor Game is probably my 2nd favorite Miles story (#1 being Memory.) The unpronounceable Vor names don’t get any better, though ;) (I have to admit, I’ve never had a problem with them. Except that I pronounce Vor like ‘for,’ because I also speak German.)

  6. 6
    dangrgirl says:

    Most SciFi/Fantasy readers crave unpronounceable names. Maybe that’s a little bit of a generalization, but exotic names are often de rigueur as part of the world-building in SF/F. So, yeah, I’m a little disappointed in this review too, but kudos to Robert for being willing to try something new.

    Bujold is popping up all over the place this week. In addition to Denvention, she’s been guest blogging over at Joseph Mallozzi’s blog (he’s the producer of the SciFi Channel’s Stargate: SG1 and Atlantis). After reading Mallozzi’s review of CORDELIA’S HONOR earlier this week it dawned on me that I hadn’t yet profiled Capt. Cordelia Naismith as part of my Danger Gal series, a post that just went up this morning. Normally, Danger Gal profiles go live on Friday mornings, but I figured now would be a good time to make an exception.

  7. 7
    Rose says:

    I’d be interested to know what kind of SF/F Robert usually reads, what his normal taste is. If he doesn’t like unpronounceable names I’d think not high-fantasy; he didn’t focus on the military elements and he seems not to have read any of Miles’s stories, so maybe not military sf. . . .

    Maybe he’s a hard-core Singularity believer? Into the Mundanes? Classic Asimovian hard-sf? Dresden-esque urban fantasy? Inquiring minds want to know.

  8. 8
    jmanna says:

    The Anita Blake series by Laurell K Hamilton is my favorite type of SciFi/Fantasy smut. The story suffers for the sake of rampant smut later on in the series but the first five or so don’t suffer. Anne McCaffery also wrote some SciFi stuff like the Crystal Singers Series and the Ship Who Sang that are significantly romance-y. Unfortunately the Speculative Romance Newsletter(http://www.specromonline.com/) croaked a while back and so they’ve stopped giving out the Sapphire Award for Speculative Romance.

  9. 9
    Lisa says:

    I adore Bujold’s books, but my husband sputters about Miles’ enemies rolling over and playing dead once he’s near.  Props to the hubby, he even mentioned that to Bujold when we met her at OddCon 2005.

    Her response?  He doesn’t need external enemies.

    One of my favorite romance/sci-fi cross-overs is Restoree by Anne McCaffrey

  10. 10

    Sharon Shinn’s Archangel is the book I pimp out for SF/romance crossovers. It goes down easy because it appears to be fantasy (the spaceship doesn’t make an appearance until the sequel) and all the characters have familiar Biblical names. I once gave it to a very mixed bookstore reading group—men and women, college students to retirees—and everyone loved it.

    Now if I could get my mom to try it….

  11. 11
    dangrgirl says:

    I haven’t read ARCHANGEL, but I loved Shinn’s WRAPT IN CRYSTAL and JENNA STARBORN, both have Romance elements in them and the latter is an SF retelling of JANE EYRE.

  12. 12
    danegrrl says:

    I have to admit that I don’t read Sci-Fi, but I really enjoyed Stephenie Meyer’s first “adult” book, The Host. I thought it was the perfect blend of Sci-Fi and Romance. I’m going to try some of the ones suggested here as well.

  13. 13
    Yvette Davis says:

    I would actually steer them towards some Linnea Sinclair work. I read “Accidental Goddess” recently and it was pretty darn good. Haven’t had time to read the rest of her work, but it definitely had enough sci fi mixed in to satisfy, complete with warp coils and alien races. And her pace is very quick and snappy. Not a dull read.

  14. 14
    MC Halliday says:

    I quite enjoyed Robert’s ‘book report’, particularly as he shared his opinions, it seemed to me, rather carefully.

    His perceptions were clear.
    I thought trashy sex was the hallmark of any romance novel.

    He used humour to express opinions.
    And as with any decent Swedish buffet, everything was interesting to look at, but didn’t inspire quite enough confidence to actually put in one’s mouth.
     
    His grade scale as a male reader was appreciated.
    An “A” book would have forced me to read it in one sitting. A “C” book I doubt I would have finished.

    Romance hybrids, not just for women anymore?

  15. 15
    MC Halliday says:

    Arrh…must learn how to use the block quote at SB!

  16. 16
    SB Sarah says:

    Fixed, MC. No worries.

  17. 17
    SonomaLass says:

    If Robert likes fantasy, not just sci-fi, I would steer him towards LMB’s Chalion books, The Curse of Chalion, Paladin of Souls, and The Hallowed Hunt.  THOSE I found un-put-downable, and I would say they contain enough romance to be considered cross-over novels.

  18. 18
    Silver James says:

    MC, I’m with you. I’m always curious about how non-romance readers react to romance/romance hybrids. I appreciate both Robert’s honesty and his tact. His humor isn’t bad, either!

    I’m looking forward to the day when romance isn’t a dirty word anymore.

  19. 19
    MC Halliday says:

    Oh, thank you, Sarah! Still, I must figure it out…do I highlight and click quote?

    Silver, it seems to me that romance hybrids are the first step in the (r)evolution.

  20. 20
    Estara says:

    Two things: Maybe a male protagonist would have made the romance more interesting to Robert, so maybe once he gets to Komarr and especially A Civil Campaign, he’ll enjoy the romance aspects of LMMB more?
    Secondly, LMMB was guest of honor at Denvention 3 and has now posted her speech online, where she has some interesting thoughts about the reception of her Sharing Knife experiment of mixing SF and romance (which is much stronger there than in the rest of her books), and what she concludes from it. It’s on her myspace blog.

  21. 21
    Heather says:

    Tip of the hat to Robert for reading something outside his comfort zone.

    >I’m looking forward to the day when romance isn’t a dirty word anymore

    Me, too. I just blogged about my hope that cultural perception toward romances changes, especially if books such as CORDELIA’S HONOR as well as books mentioned by other folks here keep getting published. Word of mouth is so important in the battle to overcome people’s tendency to overgeneralize about romance novels, especially when so many books don’t reflect the negative stereotypes.

    Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons depicted a great romantic subplot in WATCHMEN, and now the graphic novel is going to be released as a major motion picture. So the argument about romance being “tawdry” or “cheesy” gets plenty tiresome in light of masterpieces such as WATCHMEN and CORDELIA’S HONOR.

  22. 22

    Komarr and A Civil Campaign were wonderful, IMHO, but I have a distinct fondness for Miles and Ekaterine lol.  Diplomatic Immunity was good in that I missed Bel and such but it didn’t have the “romance” vibe I’d been hoping for.  Winterfair Gifts is a short story you can purchase online from Baen, IIRC, that details Miles and Ekaterine’s wedding and associated intrique.

  23. 23
    MC Halliday says:

    Maybe a male protagonist would have made the romance more interesting to Robert…

    If that had been the case, I believe Robert would have indicated it. He was relatively clear on what worked for him and his expectations. The inclusion of some sexual encounters may have boosted his interest!

    I was disappointed to never have run into trashy sex.

  24. 24
    handyhunter says:

    “Unpronounceable names”? Where? Vorrutyer? Pronounced as it’s spelled. Vorkosigan, ditto.V Vorpatril, ditto. Vorbarra, ditto. Illyan, ditto. I’m completely lost as to what names are so “unpronounceable”. Foreign, and not fantasy-cod-Saxon, yes. Ok, I give you “Droushnakovi” (but even that’s pronounced pretty much as it’s spelled).

    Heh. That was my reaction too. “What unpronounceable names?” Unusual, maybe, but not unpronounceable.

    Memory and A Civil Campaign are my favourite Miles books. Also Cordelia’s Honor, but that’s for Cordelia, not Miles so much. It’s interesting to see what Miles gets from both his parents, when re-reading.

    I was disappointed to never have run into trashy sex.

    Fortunately, one is probably not going to find that in a Bujold book.

    Bujold’s Denvention speech is full of awesome. I love what she has to say about genre:

    Although I don’t dare a definition for our genres specifically, I do have a definition for genres generally.  To my mind, a genre is “any group of works in close conversation with one another”.  I like this definition for its inclusiveness—because there are genres in painting and architecture and music and a host of other human arts as well.  This is also a working definition with the emphasis on the working part, genre from the creators’ point of view.

            There is a second definition of genre, from the reader’s point of view, which may be described as a “community of taste”, closely allied to but not quite the same as the first.  Writers by nature have a foot in both camps, creator and audience—we do not go into the sometimes-maddening trade of writing because we are indifferent to books, but because we are ravished by them.

            There is yet a third definition for genre, confused, as are many terms in the English language, by being attached to the same word, which is: genre as a marketing category, signified by all those labeled sections in the bookstore.  Such labels had to be invented as soon as there became too many books for any one person to sort through in a reasonable amount of time, which turns out to be longer ago than I’d thought—certainly well back into the 19th Century, and possibly as little as 15 minutes after Mr. Gutenberg’s invention.  These categories are a welcome and necessary convenience, when they aren’t perceived as more than that.  But when genre labels in this sense start being used as counters in status games, or become walls dividing readers from books rather than doors leading to them, such labels can become toxic.

    And this:

    if romances are fantasies of love, and mysteries are fantasies of justice, I would now describe much SF as fantasies of political agency.

    And, of course:

    “But what about the new Miles book?”  Rather than telling you about the new Miles book, I’d rather show you—I will be doing a debut reading from its first few chapters tomorrow morning at 11:30.  I will say that so far, it is jam-packed with politics and world-building.  And… chickens.

    New Miles book!!

    I love The Sharing Knife series also. I like that it’s more a character study than big plotty events, though there’s enough going on to keep the story engaging and to give the characters things to do.

  25. 25
    mw says:

    MC Halladay said:

    Romance hybrids, not just for women anymore?

    Remember that Barrayar won a Hugo award back in 1991, and the Hugo voter-ship has always been male-dominated, though it’s not as bad as it used to be. All of Bujold’s books are true SF and have wide appeal among science fiction fans. That some contain wonderful romances is just the chocolate cream frosting on top.

  26. 26
    dangrgirl says:

    All of Bujold’s books are true SF and have wide appeal among science fiction fans. That some contain wonderful romances is just the chocolate cream frosting on top.

    These books were published right about when SF started to move toward more character-driven stories and away from the plot-centric harder SF novels. Those novels still exist certainly, but the emphasis changed.  Romance is a natural progression from that character-driven emphasis.

  27. 27
    MB says:

    I just discovered Lois McMaster Bujold and Sharon Shinn this summer.  They have made me a very happy & contented woman—even without a vacation!

    Yay! to intelligent sci fi worlds with even a soupcon of romance!  I’m all for the hybrids—especially when written by masters like LMB & SS!

  28. 28
    MC Halliday says:

    All of Bujold’s books are true SF…

    A number of SFF readers are of the mind Bujold’s SF elements tend to be somewhat minor aspects of her tales. Not saying her works aren’t SF, as there are varying degrees of science and world building in the genre.

  29. 29
    JaneyD says:

    I thought trashy sex was the hallmark of any romance novel.

    With some romance novels, yes, and gosh, don’t we love it.

    But Lois wrote two space opera/political thrillers that had a love story in them that helped guide the plots. I read her to learn how to write.

    Jim Baen would have never bought anything he saw as being a “romance. I liked the man, but he hated the genre. 

    Yes, he suffered misperceptions about it, same as a lot of folk. I suspect the only one he ever read was by Cassie Edwards.  Yikes.

  30. 30
    Marianne McA says:

    I like Cordelia’s Honor, but I thought that was a fair review. I’d agree that it doesn’t grab me the way the later books do – it’s a bit episodic, or something. (I even think I may have found the names confusing first time through.)
    Wouldn’t have thought of it as a romance either. I reread it occasionally, but not as often as I reread Miles proper.

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