Ok, so I was planning to post a piece today on game-system flavors, but then I just kept writing and writing. It turns out that that piece is going to be a bit longer than I’d anticipated. Instead, I’ll give you an easy one: Cordelia’s Honor, by Lois McMaster Bujold. Ostensibly the first set of stories in the long Vorkosigan series, I came to this book only after I’d already read a number of the other stories. I feel that I benefited from the prior experience, and would recommend that you start elsewhere as well. Not because the stories in Cordelia’s Honor are in any way bad, but because some parts of them are harder to engage with when you don’t already know and like some of the characters. I feel like I had a deeper understanding and appreciation for the characters that I met because it wasn’t the first time that I’d met them, even though the events that I read about were obviously happening long before anything else that I already knew about.
My quick opinion before I get deeper into talking about the book? Read it. In fact, read all the Vorkosigan books. They are very hard to put down once you start, but at least they come in manageable, more or less bite-sized chunks.
The first thing that you should know about Cordelia’s Honor is that it is a compilation of two shorter books, “Shards of Honor” and “Barrayar.” Of the two stories I liked the second one better, though they were both quite good. Bujold’s characterization was delightful, as I had expected it to be, and I took great pleasure in seeing the clear parallels between Miles’ parents and Miles himself. Cordelia, for example, clearly passed on to her son a great deal of her competence and capability under fire, not to mention her tendency to find refuge in audacity. Mild spoilers: Cordelia does crazily dangerous things, like a good adventurer should.
I imagine that some people like Cordelia’s Honor specifically because it offers a little more background to Miles Vorkosigan’s later adventures. Personally, I like it because it makes me wonder just what sorts of craziness Cordelia Naismith and Aral Vorkosigan get up to while we’re busy reading about Miles’ shenanigans. With the sort of experiences that they’ve had and their positions in Barrayaran life, it would certainly be easy for them to be drawn into all sorts of other adventures while their son roams about the galaxy. It’s quite possible that I’m revealing my own lack of knowledge about the series, since I’ve only read up to Brothers In Arms, but please don’t spoil anything for me in the comments.
If I had any complaints to make, I’d just say that I don’t think Shards of Honor (the first book in the compendium) stands up to the excitement of Barrayar. That’s not to say that it’s a bad story, or that it doesn’t make sense to include it. I actually rather liked it. But it felt more like a brief introduction to our main characters rather than a fully fledged story about them, and I’d opened up the book expecting something a little longer. I suppose I was deceived by the thickness of the paperback I had, expecting one continuous story even though I knew that there were two inside. Barrayar, by contrast, delivers all kinds of fun very very quickly. It’s also quite possible that I’ve gotten the two completely mixed up and have forgotten where one ended and the next started, because either the end of Shards of Honor was very exciting or it was very lackluster.
Wait, no, I was just wrong on the internet. Shards of Honor is totally awesome right at the very end, and I have a much deeper appreciation for it now that I don’t think that all of that was part of Barrayar. What a mess. In conclusion, it’s an excellent book and you should read it. You’ll probably also enjoy the other Miles Vorkosigan books, and should read those as well. Audacious space shenanigans were never so much fun.
P.S. Let’s hear it for badass heroines, shall we? Cordelia Naismith is a BAMF. Aral Vorkosigan is pretty cool too, I guess.