I love reading and listening to books, especially fantasy, science fiction, children's, historical, and classics.
As Lois McMaster Bujold's Shards of Honor (1986) gets going, leader Commander Cordelia Naismith of Beta Colony is hiking with her survey team botanist Ensign Dubauer on a supposedly uninhabited new planet when their camp is attacked and destroyed. Luckily, most of the other members of her team escape on their spaceship, but the stranded Cordelia and Dubauer are attacked by Barrayaran soldiers, leaving Cordelia concussed and Dubauer nerve damaged, and both of them prisoners of none other than Captain Aral Vorkosigan, the Butcher of Komarr, the Barrayaran boogey man. It soon develops that Aral's reputation as a sadistic war criminal is inaccurate, that he hasn't been trying to kill Betan scientists, and that one of his bitter political and personal enemies has led a group of mutineers from his ship to attack him and leave him for dead to blame his death on Cordelia's survey team.
After Cordelia gives Aral her parole (one of the many examples of honor in the novel) that she won't try to escape in return for his agreeing to help her bring along the barely functioning Dubauer, they set off on a grueling 200-km trek through forests teaming with dangerous wildlife, their destination being Aral's supply cache, where, he believes, he can get in touch with his spaceship. There follows a riveting and funny cross-cultural odd-couple castaway-survival story sequence as Cordelia and Aral power their dangerous forced march with scavenged powdered blue cheese salad dressing and oatmeal and are forced by proximity and begin sharing each other's cultures (Betan Colony being more gender equal, pacifist, liberal, and democratic, Barrayara being more patriarchal, warlike, traditional, and imperial) and backgrounds (both have suffered from a disastrous romantic relationship). The novel is told completely from Cordelia's third person point of view, as, despite seeing Barrayarans as "barbarians, scoundrels, and assassins," the 33-year old woman starts to feel bothered by the eyes, smile, and kindness of her stocky, powerful, and charismatic 40-something captor and to realize that she's less afraid of him than for him.
Bujold fudges a bit of the inter-cultural interaction by having the people from different cultures and different worlds and different alphabets speak the same language without apparent accent or linguistic problems, though she does some neat things with their "English" like naming the Betan survey ship the Rene Magritte and the Barrayaran Imperial war cruiser the General Vorkraft.
While spending an intense time together Cordelia and Aral duly start falling in love, which gives rise to some of Bujold's trademark witty dialogue and lines, like "Cordelia decided that if Vorkosigan, full of military curtness, was formidable, Vorkosigan trying to make himself pleasant was truly terrifying," and to some potent romantic lines, like "His skin was warm and dry, and it scorched her," or "You're water in the desert."
Standing in the way of their international romance is the small problem of the Barrayaran tradition of expansionist aggression and Machiavellian intrigue, leading Cordelia to say, "Barrayar eats its children." So that when Aral compliments Cordelia by saying she has "the confidence of a mother of warriors," she says she wouldn't want her sons going off to war due to the failure of politics (which Aral himself calls "sewage running downhill").
But Bujold complicates her story by depicting Betan Colony as no rosy civilized utopia relative to a "barbaric" Barrayaran dystopia. Although instead of an emperor Betan Colony has an elected president, for example, at different points several Betans say, "I didn't vote for him!" and at one point Cordelia is in at least as much psychological danger from her own psych doctors wanting to "de-program" her than she was from the sadistic Admiral Vorrutyer trying to have her raped. And Barrayar has begun to change.
Vorrutyer is another example of Bujold's ability to do more than by the numbers genre work, for the potentially one-dimensional Barrayaran villain, who happens to be fan of the Marquis de Sade, gets a back story that explains his hatred of Vorkosigan, as well as a bit of a context by which the worst evil is exercised behind the scenes by men of power who come up with schemes by which thousands of young men are sent to their deaths.
Bujold also elevates her novel from usual space opera in the epilogue called "Aftermaths," in which two Escobarans, a squeamish rookie man and a calm veteran woman, clean up after an arguably unnecessary space battle, which involves finding frozen corpses, and then identifying, cleaning, thawing, and arranging them in more dignified poses. When they tend to the bodies of a Barrayaran officer and of an Escobaran woman, Bujold gives a poignant mirror image of the intercultural romance between Cordelia and Aral. . . and shows us what usual space opera doesn't: caring for the post-war dead, sympathizing with both sides, bringing home the folly and loss of war.
All the Vorkosigan books can be read in any order, but reading Shards of Honor after the later books is fun because many familiar old characters (e.g., bodyguard Bothari, his daughter Elena, Simon Ilion, Commander Koudelka) appear here in their younger days just as they are starting their careers or roles in the series. Even veteran Vorkosigan readers who know what will happen between Aral and Cordelia will feel plenty of suspense here, because Bujold is so good at writing appealing characters, making them exceptionally brave and humanly vulnerable, and putting them into stressful situations.
Grover Gardner gives his usual professional reading of a Vorkosigan book, though I was surprised when Cordelia says "Naismith here" in the same voice that Gardner has Miles say it with the Dendarii mercenaries.
In conclusion, this novel is a great read (even though Miles doesn't appear).
Fan of the Amazon
I have not read the books, but Grover Gardners voice immediately takes me into Bujold's universe. Especially as the series goes on, I found he has the perfect voice for the Barrayaran society and especially later, Miles. Slightly aristocratic, with sarcastic undertones. If I should read the book some day, I'm sure I'll hear Grover's voice in my head.
Aral's humor and almost arrogant confidence would make him my favorite in this book.
Yes. This has been a bit of a theme. I keep trying to steal another 20 minutes here or there just to listen to another chapter.
This to me has everything a good space saga needs: A believable universe, great characters, humor, suspense, romance and action. Incredibly well rounded series! This first book is just an introduction, and the story evolves quite a bit over time.
As a Science Fiction reader, there are few classics, celebrated authors, important series that I have not taken a dip into at some point or another. However, I’ve always kind of avoided the Vorkosigan Saga. When looking for the next thing to read, it always gets touted as “the best” or “in the top SF series ever written.” I don’t know if it’s the sheer number of volumes, the reviews it gets as space opera, or – just being honest – that it has a female author that has kept me so reticent all these years. Probably it’s because I’ve never had a friend of mine – and this is amazing due to its popularity – never tell me I should read them. Well I finally broke down and started the series, and guess what? It’s good.
One of the difficult things about the Vorkosigan Saga is where to start. I would avoid trying to decipher the reading order initially from all the fan sites and reviewers. The books are now being put into chronological order instead of publication date. While this is fine and dandy, I don’t know if it does the series any favors. Shards of Honor was the first novel in the series published (even though now it gets called Book 2), and I think it’s a great place to start to get the tenor of Bujold’s writing. It’s pre-Miles, the hero that drives most of the following books, but it situates the universe well. And, it provides the historical backdrop for most of the following stories.
Cordelia Naismith is a captain in a planetary survey for Beta Colony. Her goal is to scientifically chart new worlds and their natural characteristics. Unknowingly she stumbles into intrigue that involves Barrayar – a military based society that is trying to flex its muscles. She finds herself united with Aral Vorkosigan, a Barrayaran commander, that is fighting his own internal political battle with members of his planet’s ruling elite. Together they walk a knife’s edge of loyalty, subterfuge, and honor while the fate of planets hangs in the balance.
There is a lot going for this book. Great action sequences, large scale interplanetary strategy, traitors, and spies, but at the heart what wins the day is the relationship between Naismith and Vorkosigan. Bujold expertly writes the “human” factor. While the heavens may be in chaos, she makes sure to keep the story honed in on the thoughts and feelings of her main characters. This is why the series is so well liked. You relate to the characters. You become enmeshed with their lives and hope for their good. Sure there are many well crafted meta-storylines creating the high drama, but it’s the drama of the heart that makes this book a winner.
Shards of Honor is not the best book in the series, but it’s a great introduction. Fast paced, witty, and grand in scope, I bet you, like me, will have to read more.
Audible listeners: Grover Gardner is an excellent reader. He brings out the best in this book.
6.5 stars out of 10
Love this author! Her stories are riveting, and she makes you fall in love with her characters. The narrator is excellent, very soothing voice, wonderful articulation, and gives the stories a Heinlein-esque vibe somehow. My husband and I usually will wait for each other when listening to audiobooks, and only listen to them together, but I must admit that I jumped ahead of him on this one! 🙊🙈
I don't think the audio edition is better than the print version but it's close.
When Aral asks Cordelia to marry him when they've never even kissed.
Wonderful, even the women's voices were great.
I reacted mostly to the romantic sections of the book which made me go, "Awww."
I'm doing a re-read by audiobook.
Love this series. I am crazy about how these two disparate people find enough in common to fall in love. My favorite book of the series. Grover Gardner does a fantastic job with the narration.
Narrator brought the well written characters to life.
The plot is very unexpected and constantly moving. I was impressed.
The main character is a woman but the majority of characters in the story are men from Barrayar. Not only does he suit perfectly for that strong warrior class of Barrayar men, but he can switch to the female voice in a way which magically works. You don't notice the switch like other narrators I've heard.
Very well written and intelligent.