Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Captain Vorpatril's Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold

I had a spot of bother obtaining this book. I first went to the publisher's site, and couldn't seem to find an electronic version, nor was I able to find it at Amazon. Bending with the wind, I headed to a nearby Hastings, and hunted for it on the new releases shelf without success, so I had to ask the manager to look it up - turned out they weren't ordering any copies in. What?? Back to the Baen web site, trying a different path, and found the ebook for sale - so I downloaded it before anything else could delay my gratification. I have been eagerly awaiting this book for soooo long, and Bujold did not disappoint me.

We (sorta) get away from the Vorkosigan saga here, in that the protagonist is actually a Vorpatril, Miles' cousin, Ivan Xav. We've seen this a couple of times before from Bujold, such as when Ellie Quinn or Cordelia told their tales, which wove into the overall history. I hope she's not done with Miles, though seeing him appear in this one as a peripheral character, leaning on his cane, dandling children on his knee, makes me wonder.

Ivan is on assignment with Barrayaran military's Operations department on Komarr, blithely going about his business, when he is visited abruptly by Byerly Vorrutyer, best known as a wastrel disowned heir of a noble house, but known by Ivan and his cousin to actually be an ImpSec agent. By enlists Ivan to keep an eye on (translation - attempt to seduce) a subject of one of his investigations, the lovely shop girl (looks can be deceiving) Tej. When Ivan's pickup attempt doesn't go as smoothly as he hopes - Tej's sister stuns him and ties him to a chair in their flat - he finds himself involved in something far more dangerous than a casual fling.

It seems that Tej and Rish are from Jackson's Whole, the daughters of a Baron and Baronne who have recently been removed from power and forced to flee for their lives. Somehow, the ladies have gotten separated from the rest of the family, and are being pursued by kidnappers hoping to return them to Jacksonian space for the bounty on their heads. Ivan helps them foil the plans of one set of kidnappers, then offers them sanctuary at his own apartment (a bit more upscale than the fugitives').

When the local cops and customs officials put in an appearance later, Ivan (whether out of genius or desperation - he's more like Miles than he likes to admit) offers Tej the protection of the Barrayaran Empire through becoming his wife - temporarily, of course. Heh.

The rest of the story goes some unexpected places, as well as our old familiar haunts. Though Bujold claims she writes all the stories in the Vorkosiverse to be stand-alone, the whole middle section of this book is just one long, huge inside joke for Miles' fans. Sure, there's just enough explanation of all the dramatis personae to keep the newbie from choking, but there are far more "in" references for the illuminati.

You can imagine the scene when Ivan's mother, Lady Alys, gets to meet his new bride, and the amusing competitive intrigue that develops between his step-father, Simon Ilyan, and his new father-in-law, Baron Cordonah. We get to drop in on Miles and Ekaterin, briefly, catch a bit of family gossip about clone-brother Mark, and devour a couple of meals prepared by the marvelous Ma Kosti, including some maple ambrosia for dessert which is definitely an insider's joy.

This one is worth whatever you have to endure to grab a copy.

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