I’ve just finished re-reading this, the first in Bujold’s series about Miles Vorkosigan (although this book is actually about his parents, with Miles himself only being born at the very end).
Before reading any of Bujold’s books, I had been vaguely aware of seeing her name crop up now and then in the Galaxy bookshop newsletter, but didn’t really know anything about her. Then one day I came across a website that mentioned that her then most recent book (A Civil Campaign) was dedicated to “Jane, Charlotte, Georgette, and Dorothy” – by which, the site explained, she meant Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Georgette Heyer and Dorothy L. Sayers. Wow, I thought, this is one author I have to read.
Confronted with a range of titles at Galaxy, I wasn’t sure where to start. I had gathered that A Civil Campaign was about Miles Vorkosigan, so I thought it would be better to start at the beginning of the series than with the most recent book. A helpful assistant told me that Cordelia’s Honor was the first book (by internal chronology): he warned that it starts out a bit like “Mills and Boon in space” (and this is a problem? I thought), but to stick with it, as it gets much better. Well, it does, and it did. Bujold has since become one of my favourite SF/fantasy writers.
Cordelia’s Honor is actually two separate books – Shards of Honor and Barrayar. Shards of Honor is essentially a romance, although I think to call it “just” M&B in space is doing Bujold a gross disservice, as it deals with a number of thought-provoking issues. Of course, the M&B aspects (though I think they are more like Georgette Heyer) are good as well! It was the first book Bujold wrote, and I find it interesting that in her Afterword she says that she “already knew, at this early date, that Aral and Cordelia would have a physically handicapped son in Barrayar’s intensely militaristic culture”. I wonder if she realised that this physically handicapped son would be her major ongoing character?
Barrayar is both more eventful and richer in detail than Shards, dealing with politics and civil war, as well as with Aral and Cordelia’s relationship, and Cordelia’s connection with her unborn child. The first time I read them, I enjoyed Shards, but was absolutely gripped by Barrayar. On subsequent re-reads, Shards has risen in my estimation, but I still think Barrayar is more consistent. You can tell that Cordelia’s Honor was written by a woman (and a mother), as the whole concept of motherhood is central to both halves of the story. And yet, it’s also an action packed and exciting story, set in an interesting world.
Due to difficulties in getting hold of the books, I unfortunately read most of the rest of the Vorkosigan series out of order. However, I’m glad I started with Cordelia’s Honor. As well as providing a context for Miles (which original readers wouldn’t have had, as Barrayar wasn’t published until after the first couple of Miles books), I find it a thoroughly enjoyable book in and of itself. In fact, it’s probably one of my favourites in the series – behind Memory, Mirror Dance and A Civil Campaign, but definitely ahead of all the early Miles books up to (and maybe even including) Brothers in Arms.