Melinda's Reviews > Shards of Honour

Shards of Honour by Lois McMaster Bujold
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This is the first book in the Vorogosian series by Lois McMaster Bujold. I have fallen is love with this series, it is the best space opera I've ever read. The entire book is from the POV of Cordelia from Beta Colony, she is a Captain in Research, exploring a planet, when her partner sees a fire coming from their campsite. They try to radio, but they get no signal, so they hurry back to find the whole place slagged, and one of their crew members dead. The next thing they know, a man in Barrayaran military fatigues is pointing a nerve distrupter at them, Cordelia's subordinate pushes her down the hill, where her head hits a rock, and she blanks out. The next things she knows, is that she has been captured by a Count Aral Vorogosigan of Barrayar. Her subordinate took a hit from his nerve disruptor and is damaged. Thus begins the romance of Cordelia and Aral. That was the first time she was his prisoner. This book is superior in writing, characterization, dialogue, worldbuilding and plotting.

SETTING: Barrayar is a warrior-like race that came out of an age of isolation into the galactic age. They have an Emperor and then a layer of Counts who make up the aristocracy of Barrayar. Each Count is responsible for a District of people, put together, these Districts comprise the entire planet. They cling to their traditions and their aristocratic rules and values.

In contrast, Beta Colony is a highly technical and evolved world, where everything is egalitarian. Sexual mores are very much looser, including the three sexes, males, female and hermaphrodite. They do a lot of medical research and breakthroughs on Beta Colony, and everything is publicized to the people, there are no homeless, just a middle class and higher, you can always get food, and you can always get therapy.

PLOT: The plot of this book is so twisted, it's curlier than the hair of a poodle. All of the books that I've read in the Vorogosigan series are that way. Not only is their plotting internally in both Barrayar but at Beta Colony too. The politics is rampant at the Imperial level, as well as through the military on Beta Colony. Both Beta Colony and Barrayar get mixed up in a war on opposite sides, which gives Cordelia her second opportunity to be a prisoner to Aral. By that time, the attraction was mutually exclusive. The time they spend together cements their bond,and they help each other to do what they need to do to get free of the situation they find themselves in. Later on, will Cordeilia make her escape to Aral, and will they have their happily ever after? Can a free Betan live on Barrayar? Will she fit in? Will she go crazy? Could Aral go to Beta after his war record?

CHARACTERIZATION: This is some of the best characterization that I've ever seen. These characters are so rich, they are like a souffle, just layers and layers of details all piled together to make a whole person. It is amazing that anyone can be this detailed with their characters and make them feel so human. Bujold is a genius in this area. Each character in the book is so unique, and so complete by themselves, even the secondary characters are complete in their own right. It's like she can't put a character on the page, unless it is a complete entity unto itself. Maybe those are just the rules she operates by. It works for me, because it makes for a rich work of fiction. She's turned Space Opera into an artform.

PACING: The pacing in these books is not quite breakneck, but it's close. You have to pay attention to details to make sure you know what's going on. Both Cordelia and Aral are brilliant strategists and tacticians so you have to keep up with their thinking. Especially when they leave out the details of what they are thinking and simply opt for action instead. They make one hell of a couple. When they are acting independently, knowing that it will help the other with their plans, kind of like a gift, it is always interesting. The action is always quick. There are no slow parts to this book. Not even the ending is slow. Just hold on for the ride and enjoy it. And believe me, you will enjoy all of the Vorogosigan books.

ENDING: The ending to this book was perfect. It wasn't too fast, or too slow. It happened just the way it should have. I can't imagine it happening any other way than the way it did. It was awesome. Some people do get what they want out of life, or at least part of what they want and this book is a perfect example of that.

DIALOGUE: You know the dialogue in the book is good when it doesn't register that you are reading all the "he said" and "she said" stuff and just roll with the conversations like you were really listening to people talking. That's what Bujold can do with her dialogue. It's so good it's amazing. Not one word is out of place in these conversations. Not one word rings untrue. Her dialogue is so natural that it could be you talking to a friend. I don't know how she does it, especially because each individual character has their own voice. Think about that! Not only natural but unique. If I had any awards I'd give her one too. This woman's a gem!

WORLDBUILDING: From the ground up she had to build Barrayar, Beta Colony, the planet being explored, and wee bit of Escobar. That's a lot of worldbuilding for a single book, but Bujold makes it look easy, creating worlds singlehandedly, with completely different flora and fauna, cultures, mores, standards, behavior, dress codes, histories, sciences, sexuality, sexes, politics, architecture, technology, thinking, informational distribution, security practices, intelligence gathering, government, societal norms, etc. This took a lot of thinking and research. My hat's off to you Ms. Bujold, you not only did your homework, you made these places feel real in a way that few people could.

All in all, Ms. Bujold has raised Space Opera from a genre to an artform. I have read half of the Vorogosigan series, and all the books are like this. Literally Amazing Stuff! If you like political thrillers, military thrillers, space operas, intelligence thrillers you are completely missing out. Just because the setting is in the future doesn't mean that the book isn't good. These are some of the most intelligently written and plotted political, military and intelligence thrillers that I've ever read, they just happen in space, that's the only difference. Don't miss out, because you think space opera is for nerds, these books aren't that way. Try Warriors Apprentice first with Miles Vorogosigan, you'll never look back. You'll be hooked. I'd give this six stars if I could. There are very few books like this. They now have e-book versions too.
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