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Vorkosigan Saga (Publication Order) #16

Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen

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Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan returns to the planet that changed her destiny.


Three years after her famous husband's death, Cordelia Vorkosigan, widowed Vicereine of Sergyar, stands ready to spin her life in a new direction. Oliver Jole, Admiral, Sergyar Fleet, finds himself caught up in her web of plans in ways he'd never imagined, bringing him to an unexpected crossroads in his life.

Meanwhile, Miles Vorkosigan, one of Emperor Gregor's key investigators, this time dispatches himself on a mission of inquiry, into a mystery he never anticipated; his own mother.

Plans, wills, and expectations collide in this sparkling science-fiction social comedy, as the impact of galactic technology on the range of the possible changes all the old rules, and Miles learns that not only is the future not what he expects, neither is the past.

352 pages, ebook

First published February 1, 2016

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About the author

Lois McMaster Bujold

182 books37.7k followers
Lois McMaster Bujold was born in 1949, the daughter of an engineering professor at Ohio State University, from whom she picked up her early interest in science fiction. She now lives in Minneapolis, and has two grown children.

Her fantasy from HarperCollins includes the award-winning Chalion series and the Sharing Knife tetralogy; her science fiction from Baen Books features the perennially bestselling Vorkosigan Saga. Her work has been translated into over twenty languages.

A listing of her awards and nominations may be seen here:


A listing of her interviews is here:


An older fan-run site devoted to her work, The Bujold Nexus, is here:


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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,364 reviews
Profile Image for Anne.
42 reviews18 followers
October 26, 2015
I purchased the e-ARC from Baen two days ago and finished the book yesterday. Her statement on Facebook was that it was almost unmarketable, and difficult to categorize, and she thought about putting warnings out for her fans but then she thought her fans would just read it and then warn each other.

I can absolutely see where all that came from. Wow, but this is gonna be a polarizing book. I fall squarely on the side of oh my god is it astonishing and beautiful, and here's why. Spoilers avast mates, read no further if you want the moments of surprise this book will undoubtedly bring.

**spoiler alert**

So. Lois writes military science fiction. No doubts about that. And she's good at it, despite her characters never seeing an order they didn't undermine- I'm a military vet and she captures the deep desire to serve, the love, that every military person feels with absolute accuracy. This book is no exception: Oscar Jole is career military and like all career military, he reaches a crux in his life where he must make a decision between starting a civilian life and moving up in his career. That's what the book is all about.

Except it's not. Because it's also about Cordelia Vorkosigan, and Aral Vorkosigan, and the things they carried on doing with their lives while we've been off watching Miles live his life of adventure. It's about the secret life of the adults around the children, the things you protect your children from, the dangers that seemed powerful in one generation and how much less powerful they are as society changes. And... It's about old people having sex. Lots of excellent sex. This is going to polarize a lot of people, because the relationships described are, if you were paying attention to some single lines she threw into books 30 years or more ago, perfectly in character. They just weren't possible to be written about thirty years ago in our society any more than they were possible to be talked about in Barrayaran society. The parallels are astonishing and a perfect, beautiful mirror. But it's going to freak a lot of folks out and squick others, and I see that. I'm deeply amazed and impressed she wrote this book, given the pushback she can expect to receive from even loyal fans. Because the relationships, they're not there superfluously. They're integral and they are a beautiful moment in your mind when you're reading. They capture the feeling you get when you first learn that the older folks in your life have whole other lives without you, beyond you, that are really none of your business. It conveys, to the long term reader, a feeling that is a bloody work of art to perceive.

There's a scene in the book where a cetagandan sets up a sensory garden, where you are given certain stimulus tests and then presented with a work of art which the tests prepped you to see in a certain way, to understand. I feel like the entire series was a set of carefully selected stimulus tests which led to this moment, where I can look at this book and be the recipient of a sort of sleight of hand illusion she set up, like she played a glorious trick and opened my eyes for a moment in complete surprise to something beautiful. A secret about how we relate to each other as families. I feel like a participant in a long, long, shaggy dog story, where the punchline at the end isn't a joke at all but something beautiful.

But... It's not really about any of those things, because it's also about what happens, logically, when you get the intersection of reproductive technology and changing age. When people outlive their ability to have children on a regular basis you get people planning ahead, putting off having kids, freezing sperm and gametes until later. Taking their time for, as she puts it, long term projects like children, and having them as a retirement thing. And how this impacts the other people in their lives, and how it impacts society, and how it would be interesting to see the family relationships of the children of those different ages.

But. It's not about that. It's a love story. A love story of age, of how just because you grow older you don't stop loving people, don't stop having sex. A story about the way someone with a lifespan that's dozens of years different from her lover feels when that someone with a shorter lifespan dies, and how she knew this grief was coming but not so soon, and how the longer lengths of our lives will someday change how we relate to the idea of sex and generations.

In a sense, this book is easy to categorize. I mean, it has dozens of categories. Military science fiction? Yes, definitely. I can't recall the last time someone so perfectly captured the feelings you have in the military, of looking at the civilian world and trying to figure out how to get from inside to outside successfully. It's just that nobody else writing military science fiction is writing about anything but war.

Sci fi Romance? Yes, definitely. Two perfectly mature adults of opposite genders in a future world fall in love and decide to spend their lives together. It's just that nobody else is writing about all the ways in which lifespan differences and reproductive technology will play a role in those things in the future.

Sci fi coming of age? Yes, absolutely. Except the age is not moving between teen and adult, but between nebulous stages of adulthood that children don't even recognize exist.

Transgressive Sci fi? Oh yes. Because.... Yes.

Exploring new worlds Sci fi? Yes, only there's no grand lethal danger. Just a sense of wonder and how it influences people.

Ok. I don't know what else I can possibly say here. Oh yes! My complaint.

I think the title is wrong for the flavor of the book. It's a rousing title, a swashbuckling title, and this is a quiet, meditative book. There's no space battles. No grand adventure. It's a personal book, a relationship book, a slow story of making decisions and what happens next and politics and all those things. The title conveys something completely different. It conveys pirates and boxing matches, and that's not how you want to market this.

To be fair I cannot imagine the anguish she has once again caused the marketing staff. How the hell do you sell this? It bucks every bloody category marketing teams use. It drastically changes beloved and sanctified characters, it has old people having sex, it has no adventure and no fights... The fact that Baen published it makes me love them because she gave them a bloody impossible task. Someone somewhere put their head in their hands and wept when they saw what they had to try and manage with this.

I hope it gets a Hugo or something. Because it really is brilliant. If you read her stuff you know that at her worst she writes only averagely good Sci fi, and at her best... At her best she takes complex, difficult, thorny ideas and strips then down to phrases of about 10 words and hands them to you like a little poem that you grasp completely immediately and still spend 10 years coming to grips with. This book is her at her best. I kept wanting to highlight and kept not wanting to pause reading long enough to highlight.

I know it'll piss some folks off. Some folks won't understand. Some folks will feel betrayed. I can see that with absolute clarity, the same way I see folks getting angry when their parents do things with their lives that as their kids they don't agree with. But this is a book that is utterly true to the characters and the universe. This is an internally consistent book, and a really, really great work. And I'm glad I read it, because it gave me a sense of wonder and delight.

Edit: Two days later I just realized exactly how much changed with this book. Bloody heck. Ok. So: perspective on Beta and how Beta relates to the rest of the universe somewhat changed. Perspective on Cetaganda and how they relate to the rest of the universe somewhat changed. Perspective on the main characters distinctly changed. Perspective on Cordelia's little Betan talks somewhat changed. Concept that the first books are in some fashion "traditional" boy-meets-girl changed. So much for this being a quiet, meditative book where nothing happened... The fact that there was one big change sort of disguised exactly how many other things were clarified and how my perspective on the power structure of the Vor universe was also altered.

Madam Bujold: sowing literary mines for later detonation in your mind for more than 2 decades. Boom.
Profile Image for Genia Lukin.
228 reviews176 followers
December 12, 2015
I never imagined, in my life, that I would be one-starring a Vorkosigan novel.


The "worst" Vorkosigan book to date was probably Cryoburn, and that was a solid if somewhat tepid mystery adventure. So when I'd seen this latest novel - featuring Cordelia, no less - I almost fell out of my chair! (Somehow I'd managed to miss this new development completely, all the more exciting a surprise).

Alas, this is not a novel, it's a fanfic post. A Cordelia fanfic post.

I can understand that, in a way. Since Cordelia more or less completed her own ark in Barrayar she has played the role of counselor and adviser to the protagonists, even to the point of slight Deus ex Machina from time to time. When there was chaos, Cordelia would walk in and fix it. And it worked. But it only worked because Cordelia showed up once per book, tops. She was a plot device. A plot device we all loved and admired, but still. Now Cordelia the Perfect takes center stage again to rebuild her life after Aral's death and... CRASH! It just doesn't work anymore.

The most interesting thing about Bujold's books and her characters, about Miles and his assorted supporting cast, is the fact that the more character-driven and oriented plots were all about Miles growing up in some way, overcoming some facet of himself. Things failed because he was his own worst enemy; of course, they got fixed later because he - and a few more people - were also his own best friends, but the "enemy" part came first.

Cordelia doesn't have any of that. Cordelia apparently has no lessons left to learn, no personal issues to overcome. her Betan practicality and scientific-mindedness make eevery decision she makes Right... So when she devises a plan which could potentially turn completely insane and backfire in her face, it... doesn't. She hasn't overlooked anything legally, morally, ethically, emotionally. She hasn't done anything wrong. If someone voices an objection to said plan, they are clearly unreasonable, and most people essentially don't. After all, it's "none of their business".

Where is Miles's Grand Dinner Party? What happened to someone dumping Cordelia in the bathtub? Maybe she's perfect and doesn't need a serious splash, but it makes for an awfully boring story and an almost annoying protagonist. Nobody likes Mary Sues, children.

Also... I just don't buy it. Sorry, Bujold, I know you claim this whole, ahem, affair is canon but... For Aral, the honorable, repentant, man of integrity to "fall" into a secret affair without Cordelia's knowledge? That... what? What? Why! I'd have an easier time believing that Cordelia caught him looking and said "hey, wanna?" than I would believing that she had to be appraised about it by Illyan. What the heck? No, I really get the whiff of a barely-justified retcon in the air, and oh, does it bug me.

Plus, if Cordelia really acknowledged Jole as a "third spouse" )which, okay, I see she may do), she would not have kept away from her family, if only for his own sake. She may not have explicitly come out and said what they were up to ("our affair was more discreet than secret", really? Please) but she would at least have brought him in as some kind of unofficial "uncle" to Miles, surely! Whereas Miles barely even knows who this guy is.

Sorry, but the sale was not made to me. Perhaps it was not made to me because I am so hidebound by traditional notions of relationships... but I don't think so. It doesn't bother me Jole is a man (we always knew Aral was bi), it doesn't surprise me Cordelia didn't wreck Aral's brain (Betan, blah blah, they'd have earrings for that) but at the very least I'd've expected them to have a long talk about 'why do you feel the need to meander outside your marriage without my knowledge?' in prime Cordelia style.

As sad as I am to say this, I think this series has run out of steam. It happens. Problems were resolved all over the galaxy with Miles' hyperactive help, and Miles himself settled down. Perhaps it's time to end it. Farewell, Vorkosiverse. We loved you well but it's time to say goodbye, smile nostalgically, and move on.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽.
1,880 reviews22.7k followers
August 30, 2019
The conclusion of the *somewhat uneven but overall excellent* Vorkosigan Saga. Review first posted on www.FantasyLiterature.com:

**This review discusses a major revelation for readers of this series, disclosed in the first chapter of this book, as well as some spoilers for earlier books in the series.**

Three years after the sudden death of her husband Aral, Cordelia Vorkosigan is still the Vicereine (governor) of the colony planet Sergyar, and is still recovering from the grief of losing Aral. Cordelia is now seventy-six, but still young both at heart and physically, since she enjoys the much longer-than-usual lifespan of a native of Beta Colony. Barrayaran Admiral Oliver Jole, who is nearly fifty, greets Cordelia as she returns to Sergyar, and as they share a lunch and some reminiscing a few days later, it soon becomes clear that Cordelia and Oliver share a deeper history: an extramarital affair by Aral with Oliver, who was his young, stunningly handsome aide many years ago, morphed into what was essentially (though not legally) a three-way marriage, with the bisexual Aral as the center point, but all of them sexually open enough to occasionally enjoy threesomes.

Since Aral’s death, Cordelia and Oliver, though friends, had gone their separate ways, consumed by work and grief. But at their lunch Cordelia surprises Oliver with the news that she is planning to have up to six daughters, using eggs and sperm she and Aral had stored many years earlier. She further floors Oliver an unexpected offer of three of her enucleated eggs, which Oliver can use with Aral’s genetic material to have sons that share both their genes. As Cordelia and Oliver (who is, like Aral, bisexual) spend time together, discussing their plans for children and exploring the extremely odd and diverse biology of the planet Sergyar, they find their attraction to each other growing. The two have to deal not only with their still-secret developing relationship and their unconventional reproductive plans ― and the reactions their family and others are going to have to both of those things ― but also Cordelia’s push to move the capital of Sergyar to a new town, unpopular with many people, as well as various other minor personal, political and diplomatic difficulties. Things come to a head when Cordelia’s son Miles unexpectedly blows into town with his wife Ekaterin and their six rambunctious children.

Lois McMaster Bujold’s Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen is a different Vorkosigan Saga book, most of which focus on adventure, action, and military and political stratagems and mysteries. It’s more reminiscent of A Civil Campaign, primarily a social comedy in a science fiction setting, with a focus on a particular romantic relationship. I kept waiting for some compelling political conspiracy or military conflict to develop, as typically does in a Vorkosigan Saga book, but it never happened. The tone stays light and fairly placid throughout the book; all incipient crises are averted or die down before they have a chance to fully bloom. Cordelia remains firmly in charge throughout, even, somehow, when she is allowing others to make their own decisions. Her opinions on all issues are invariably right; the only question is how long it takes others to come around to her point of view, or get out of the way.

The only real surprise in the book is that bombshell that goes off in the first fifteen pages. The three-way relationship with Aral, Cordelia and Oliver is something of a mind-blower if you weren’t expecting it… and I, not having read anything more than the book blurb before I opened the book, was completely unaware of what was about to hit me. Reactions to this disclosure about Cordelia and Aral’s marriage will vary greatly among fans, depending on your own personal social views. Some Vorkosigan Saga fans will be delighted, some bemused, and some disappointed, by the revelation about Cordelia and Aral’s polyamorous marriage. For me personally, as a committed monogamist, it fell in the category of “too much information.” While I respect others’ rights to live a different lifestyle, it’s not something I generally care to read about. And while the polyamory is all in the past, Cordelia and Oliver both frequently and fondly reminisce on these bygone days, so it stays in the forefront of the overall plot, and informs their current decisions regarding going public with their relationship and their respective plans for children.

In the early days of Cordelia and Aral’s marriage, Vorrutyer, in Barrayar, tried to blindside Cordelia by casually stating about Aral: “He’s bisexual, you know.” Cordelia absently responded, “Was bisexual. Now he’s monogamous.” In retrospect, this is an odd statement for someone as sexually knowledgeable as Cordelia to make, since being monogamous and bisexual clearly aren’t mutually exclusive. Nevertheless, all these many years that statement probably left most readers, like me, with the comfortable assumption that Cordelia and Aral were faithful to each other in their marriage. It was disconcerting to find out that that assumption was incorrect.

Whether this is retconning by Bujold is debatable; Oliver Jole did make a few appearances in earlier Vorkosigan Saga books, albeit very briefly, as Aral Vorkosigan’s aide and later as a military commander in his own right. But do I think Bujold changed her mind about Aral and Cordelia's relationship and decided to add a third person fairly recently, blowing with the changing winds of social views? Yeah, totally. And that still bugs me.

There seemed to be an implication that Aral took the step of beginning an affair with someone outside their marriage while Cordelia was away from home, without, apparently, first getting her consent. Regardless of how sexually liberated she is, it does seem out of character, given the nature of their relationship, that Aral would do that without getting Cordelia’s explicit buyoff, and that Cordelia wouldn’t take him to task for that lapse. I think we are to infer that they had discussed it at least conceptually in advance, and Aral knew he had Cordelia's permission to take that step, but it would have been preferable if the text had made that clear.

Unless you are a fan of romance-driven books, the plot of Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen becomes desultory after a while, with its lack of any compelling action. But Bujold’s writing, insightful and excellent as always, with frequent doses of wry humor, kept me interested through the end. Miles Vorkosigan, as might be expected, brings a breath of fresh air with him when he bursts into the story midway. His interactions with his mother Cordelia and his clumsy efforts to pin down Oliver Jole are priceless, as are many of his comments:
"No, darling, you can’t pet the hexaped. It would bite your hand off, and then your Grandmama would execute it, which wouldn’t be fair to the poor beast, would it?” A surly hiss underscored this.
But Miles, too, is somewhat diminished from the wild intensity of his younger days: he’s now older, a father, and suffering more than ever from physical ailments. His concerns in this novel are, like Cordelia’s, primarily about personal relationships and family.
“Everyone has it wrong way round. Parents don’t make children ― children make parents. They shape our behavior from the first wail. Mold us into what they need. It can be a pretty rough process, too.”
It’s fitting to see Cordelia, in her later life, coming full circle, with her decision to settle permanently on Sergyar, where so many years ago the first Vorkosigan Saga novel, Shards of Honor, began with Cordelia as the head of a Betan Survey exploration team, and where she first met Aral. Now she and Oliver Jole explore the unique biology of Sergyar (floating vampire radials!) along with their own nontraditional relationship. In the end, that’s what Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen is ultimately concerned with: love, and family, and people and their relationships, however unorthodox.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher, Baen, in return for a review. Thank you!
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 6 books3,964 followers
February 9, 2017
Sometimes there's that one brilliant author who can break all the damn rules and get away with it.

Yeah. I'm talking about Lois Bujold.

I tried putting this novel into a mould to judge it by any other type of story and I just can't do it. Sure, I could just reduce it by saying it's a love story, but that's like saying the events of Aral and Cordelia's courtship is just an SF love story, and it's so much richer and deep and full of nostalgia than that. It's saying that Miles and Ekaterina was just some fly-by-night romance, and to say that is to talk complete shit.

No, this happens to have the trappings of all the immense story and love and history of this universe, but it is also something so much grander than just that.

It's about love. It's about finding happiness. It's about starting again.

It's also about laughing at the fact that burning marshmallows being flung at stupid men by their women is actually a valid socializing tool. Don't let anyone tell you differently.

I was deeply charmed and brought to near tears five or six times while reading this. It's probably just my vast investment in the universe, or perhaps it's the little sparks of memory and reminiscence and the signs of life from all those wonderful, wonderful, wonderful characters I've grown up with. Yeah, Miles is here, too, but he plays another supporting role again, to great and sneaky effect.

What this novel does not have is intrigue beyond a very personal (for Naismith and Jole) nature. There is no grand plot beyond what Cordelia had in mind. And yet, I was charmed more than I could believe.

Was this a feel-good book? Did it break all conventions and refuse to force any kind of strained conflict? Yes, yes it did. It was natural and featured choices ranging between good and equally good and forced us to follow along and find out what we truly wanted, too.

If you are a parent, you'll get an absolute ton of significance from this novel. If you aren't, but you've followed this series this far, then I'm sure you have enough empathy to fake it. :)

I loved this novel. I was back with my family. I was back with all my loved ones. I feel loved. :)
Profile Image for Sherwood Smith.
Author 167 books37.5k followers
February 13, 2016


About a third of the way into this book, it occurred to me that the genre I love best has in so many ways grown up.

At least, I can’t think of a major book coming out from genre publishers in the last few decades that is basically about two old people thinking about retirement, reflecting on their past lives, and finding romance as well as feeling their way toward their future lives.

I loved this book because it engages directly with the long shadow of past grief, and post-violence emotional fallout, in a believable way, and yet it is filled with hope. We have aging people interested in the world around them, still vital in spite of physical wear and tear, who are still engaging the world, wanting to make a difference, and above all still learning and still using their minds.

It is a leisurely book, as it concerns the aftermath of great events, and sometimes the cost of them as well as the triumphs. There is plenty going on in this book, but it’s all small scale. This arm of the galaxy appears to be entering a period of peace after a generation of external and internal conflict. So there is no war, as there is no violent emotional reaction.

I love the handling of Cordelia’s character. She’s always been a catalyst. From the very first book we have seen her come up against the formidable military culture of Barrayar as it endures violent reinvention while coming to terms with the rediscovery of the galaxy—to which she brings her Betan paradigm.

And though she is up against nothing profoundly distressing in this book, it’s close enough to the aftermath of Aral’s loss for us to feel her tenderness and recovery. She could so easily have been smug, but she isn’t. In Cordelia’s mind, she is an aging woman feeling her way toward her future, while dealing with both power and her reputation, both of which we have seen her earn.

While the reader discovers the surprise relationship, there are enough hearkenings to the past to remind us of Cordelia’s profound effect on Barrayar, as well as Barrayar’s effect on Cordelia. Neither has come this far without affecting the other.

I think the key to the entire series is provided in the elegiac short story (termed a postlude) at the end of Shards of Honor called “Aftermaths.”

That story has remained in my mind each time a new Vorkosiverse book has come out. That includes rereads. And so when I came to this new entry in the series, in so many ways it felt as if Bujold has gently guided her long-touring ship to final dock, along with the Prince Serg. Not full circle, or not quite. There is far too much unalterable change for that, bad and good, but that poignant story about the costs of war, and a war-like culture, is examined here with a light, tender, insightful, humorous, and yet profound touch.

There were so many wonderful small moments. The evolving biota of Sergyar threw me right back to the discoveries of this planet during Shards of Honor. Bujold carries the sfnal delight in discovery forward here, as the planet’s human population grows and settles.

I loved seeing old characters, and meeting new. And most of all, I loved seeing Miles in middle age. I’ve always thought Bujold did a terrific job with a disabled hero who never had the physical strength to be a hero, but who managed anyway on wits and nerves. And now we see the cost of that legacy in Miles. Not mentally—it was delightful to see him on the scent again, putting things together faster than his exasperated mother was prepared for—but physically.

Retconning and emotional evolution

Though I tried to stay away from spoilers until I was able to get and read the book, I saw enough hints here and there about its content, most often in commentary about retconning.

Some fans seem to feel that reconning—that is, revising an aspect of a fictional work retrospectively, typically by introducing a piece of new information that imposes a different interpretation on previously described events—is wrong.

I just don’t see that, unless I can’t believe either the event or how it rings changes through the entire series. Long writers working on a roman fleuve have to deal with what’s in print, and generally readers like deepening of the characters and complexity added to the work. Tolkien was lucky in that his work didn’t see print until he’d been able to go back and forth over it for a couple of decades. It can be a tough challenge to discover trapdoors in what a writer considered a floor, that open to an entire new level that makes absolute sense—several books after the fact.

This is not a new problem; Anthony Trollope, for example, in his autobiography gets into his regrets about early decisions in both the Palliser and the Barsetshire series, but what can one do when the books are already in print?

So, my reaction to the big discovery at the start of this book was, but of course.

I can see how Aral and Oliver would have had to keep their relationship secret from Barrayar, given the cultural climate, especially the unwritten but firmly understood taboos about senior officer and junior, but I can understand Cordelia’s Betan side being as impatient with this rule as she was with the privileges of birth rank. While making no secret of the fact that she considered the Barrayaran military culture half-mad, she did learn to understand military chain of command, and to use it when necessary.

But to her, from the very first book, everything about rank is all a fiction. Role playing. Therefore I cannot see her getting in a swivet about the difference in age and rank between Oliver and Aral, who in her Betan view are after all just two human beings.

As for her and Aral’s relationship, it was clear from the first book that she knew precisely what she was letting herself in for when she married Aral, who had been about as traumatized as could get and remained relatively sane (unlike Prince Serg, and Ges Verrutyer); when she finds Aral again at the end of Shards of Honor, he’s stinking drunk and suicidal. He has given up, and given in. It’s she who goes after him, and firmly calls the shots in cementing their relationship, and it is then that he is able to rally emotionally, physically, intellectually.

She retorts crisply to that smarmy Vor bastard in Barrayar that Aral ‘was bisexual, and now he is monogamous,’ which was true at the time, too.

The reader assumes without evidence that it stayed that way, despite all the evidence earlier that these two were capable of redefining the rules of their relationship. We don’t actually get to see the dynamics between the two of them as the relationship developed, as the main focus of the previous books has been Miles after Shards and Barrayar, but given those first two books, it wouldn’t have surprised me to see Aral’s conviction that he was staying true to his marriage vows (which by the way we never heard) by staying away from all women, which would exclude occasional interactions with guys.

Then when one of those looks like it’s becoming serious, bringing Cordelia up to speed—and because of her Betan view of recreational sex, and of the complexity of relationships, knowing that she’d back him up. I can imagine her being worried that Oliver’s pretty face hid another Ges (wasn’t he pretty, too?) but I can’t imagine her being scandalized, offended, or even betrayed at there being an Oliver. She was always too clear-eyed about Aral to even be surprised.

Further, I can imagine her being so relieved when it turns out that Oliver is basically a good man with a clean heart, because to a Betan this emotional relationship would reflect on Aral’s emotional healing process. He has not repeated the self-damaging pattern of falling for a Ges.

So though we have no hint of Aral’s relationship with Oliver during any of the other books, I can understand it having happened, and therefore the retcon works for me.

And I feel that it was a retcon; the minute I finished this book I went straight to Mirror Dance—which has to have been the most gut-wrenching of all the books for the Vorkosigans collectively—to see if there was any covert hint of Cordelia’s message to Jole after the heart attack, but if there was, I couldn’t find it, though I would have been thrilled to because I adore discovering new meanings in ambiguous passages in earlier books, and conversations that with new data take on completely new meanings.

But like I said above, if a roman fleuve is going to be an evolving story and not the same old same old endlessly repeated, then discoveries like this will happen. And need to be worked in retrospectively, if one doesn’t have the option of rewriting earlier text. I believed in the events as recollected in this book—and it was interesting to see Miles accepting them when he and Oliver had their real talk at last.

In retrospect, I think my favorite bit in the entire book was that last conversation between Oliver and Miles. In the latter’s maturity and rueful acceptance on so many levels—and at a distance, Gregor’s quiet insights—I see a healthy future for Barrayar. (Though there were some interesting minor key notes about the Cetagandans, especially the long-range plans of the haut; I wondered when I closed the book if the long-lived, and far-seeing, emperor has enough respect for Miles Vorkosigan to wait until he is long gone before pulling out the haut’s next set of plans . . .)

This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Scarlet.
269 reviews15 followers
December 28, 2015
The book itself is well-written and there's a lot to like about it.


Fundamentally I don't buy it. In its revision of relationships, retconning, heavy use of flashbacks and reminiscing, and general lack of plot, it feels like an extended piece of fanfic.

Profile Image for Emily.
603 reviews5 followers
January 23, 2016
I never imagined giving 2 stars to a Vorkosigan book; I must have read every one of them at least 3 times and some of them a dozen or more. I even bought this ebook to read it before the actual paper book is published. But this book is very different, a total change of style from all the others and it feels lazy and lackluster. Fine, if Bujold wanted to explore Cordelia a bit more now all the Miles books are out of the way, great! I'm sure she has lots more story to tell. But this wasn't it.

What I didn't like, as spoiler-free as possible, though inevitably minor ones can't be avoided:

- total retcon of events in Cordelia's marriage without the faintest hint of any of this ever in the past books (and in fact a direct quote that her expectations were totally different in Cordelia's Honor). If there had been any background evidence for the new history in any of the past books I'd have been fine with it, but there isn't. It feels completely invented out of nowhere for no apparent reason, except to possibly find Cordelia a happy ending - which she was quite capable of on her own IMO.

- lots of little leads that look like they're going to turn into an action plot Cordelia will have to heroically foil, but then come to nothing at all (disputes with the mayor, and possible Cetagandan issues for example)

- Miles shows up for a significant portion of the book and gets into absolutely no trouble at all - how completely unlikely is this??

- nothing Cordelia plans goes wrong (Bujold has stated that her writing style is to take a character and then throw them into the worst thing that could possibly happen to them - so where was this?)

- overall this felt like a piece of maudlin fanfic writing done after a series has ended and in which the fan writer is just trying to wrap up loose ends and give everyone a happy ending and sunset to ride off into, without bothering to add a plot or much justification for any of it.

Super disappointed; there's so much in this book that COULD have turned into a great story and chance for Cordelia to shine, but instead she just drifts around always doing the right thing while the world revolves around her and nothing bad ends up happening to anyone.
Profile Image for Choko.
1,198 reviews2,583 followers
June 1, 2017
*** 4.75 ***

A buddy read with Evgeny and Maria, because we need our dose of Vorkosigan!!!

Let me start by saying once again - I am to partial to this series to be able to separate my love for everything in it, thus rendering me incapable of an objective opinion. Thus I recognize that if there are weaknesses in any part of it, I am most likely going to overlook them, so be warned 🙂

This is the newest and hopefully not the last book in the Vorkosigan's Universe series and it is very different from most everything that came before it. It is not a Miles or Ivan advanture, it doesn't take place on a space ship, it is not a slap-stick Comedy, and there are no drama or angst whatsoever. It is a Romance of a sort, but not at all in the model of other romances I have read before. It is a book for adults but with nothing that would make you blush. However, it is a very cerebral romance between two people who have passed middle age, and have had a passion for the same man in their past. Now this person is gone and the two of them share in the pain of grieving for the one who was the center of both of their worlds. His persona was grand and all-consuming and with him gone, the two of them drift apart, each cocooned in their own pain, all alone... 3 years have passed since the Viceroy's aneurysm took his life force and Cordelia is ready to start living again. She and her late husband had frozen some eggs and sperm to have more kids later and she is determined to have the daughters she has always wanted no matter what. Oliver Joel, the man who had been an integral part of their lives, is about to turn 50 and thanks to the amazing genetic level and methods of procreation of the time, she offers him a chance to have posthumous children with AV. Oliver is taken aback, but the idea is planted and he starts thinking about having a family of his own... However, he grows more and more aware of wanting the chance to get Cordelia back in his life as well, this time on their own merits, letting each other shine and allow themselves a fresh start for a renewed lease on life.

Cordelia is one of the most amazing characters I have ever encountered on page and I am completely in love with her! In my eyes, none of those Barrayaran idiots deserve her, but I guess they do make them masculine and gorgeous, with just enough vulnerability to make them appealing, and as perfect as she is, she is only human... Oliver is a cool cat, as most males from his home planet, a military man who has risen to an Admiral. And Cordelia likes him, so I guess I should accept it... The only issue I had with the story, thus not the full 5 star rating, is the manner Joel and AV apperantly hooked up back in the day... It is just to out of character for the old Count to have started the afair in the manner suggested. I think, knowing both of the Vorkosigans, they would have talked about it and discussed the best way to approach Oliver in order for him to accept and not scare him away.. I think they would have acted as a team all the way, not just after... Apart from that, I loved everything else!

Miles showed up with all of his progeny and it was fascinating to observe him allowing for the fact that his mother is not only alive after becoming a widow, but is trying to reclaim her womanhood, become a mother and a lover to some other man who is not his dad, accept that she is a sexual being and learn how little he had known about his parents as anything other than his parental units. It is painful, it is a right of passage, and it is a moment of grief for not having the chance to learn more, being separated by space, time, regrets, and fear of not living up to our loved ones expectations.. Miles's questions to his mother of was he not enough, did he let her down, just demolished me!!! He is really growing up, in between his mother and his children not giving him any other choice... Miles is Miles, but slowly he is finally learning to let go and let be, a very difficult state of being for a control freak like him🙂.

"..."“When your young life offered its first disaster, naturally it loomed large. After you’d survived dozens, you basically just told the next one to take a number and get in line.”..."

As always, in the heart of the story there are the ethical dilemmas brought on not only by the advancement in genetics and methods of procreation, but also of the more common question of what makes a family? Could love persist between more than two partners? Can a person love either sex without ​prejudice and feel compleat with either? ( In my opinion the answer is yes, but I realize it depends on the person) Do our parents have a right on their own lives away from us? Can we forgive our parents for being only human??? Can we forgive ourselves for being to self-absorbed and not paying attention while we still could?... Those are only some of the questions Ms. Bujold raises and once again lets us come up with our own answers without judgement. I love you, Ms. Bujold 💗!

So, was this a perfect book - no. I would think you have to be in a quieter state of mind, stop and take deep breaths, shut out the stressors around you and enjoy this unconventional and a bit emotional tale of two deeply hurt people coming out of a period of grief and slowly reconstructing what is left of the wreckage into a future of fulfilment...

I love this author, I love this series, and I will await patiently for any glimpse in the Vorkosigan Universe I could get!!! Thank you.

"...“He blew out his breath and sat back. He’d almost wished for some clever evil plot, which they could then engage to out-clever. It could be surprisingly hard to counter Plain Stupid. Even by heroic measures.”..."

Now I wish you all Happy Reading and may you always find what you need in the pages of a good book!!!
Profile Image for Jacob Proffitt.
2,937 reviews1,548 followers
October 3, 2018
Bujold is one of my few "read anything" authors, so it was a no brainer I'd pick up this one. And I don't regret doing so as the story was good and I love these characters. I have some problems with the story that I'll get to, but first I want to say how nice it was to be back with Cordelia—with the bonus of seeing Miles from her perspective. That was awesome. And revealing in every dimension.

I also enjoyed the plot, though I'm glad I read enough reviews to know that the story was laid back and expectations of bombs and assassins would go unfulfilled. There are a couple threads that in a Miles novel would have lead to at least a shootout, possibly with a coup attempt chaser. Knowing this was a slower paced story helped set my expectations and allowed me to enjoy the slow development and the inner lives of Cordelia and Jole. Outstanding.

It helps, of course, that I fell for Jole almost immediately. This story absolutely depended on depicting Jole well enough that you could buy him being a companion to some very strong personalities without being swallowed up by them. He came across as both competent and steady and I could see how he'd fit in with the major personalities around him and still be his own person. Getting to know him was a treat though I was also glad that Bujold chose to follow the romance convention of giving PoV from both romantic leads. Being in Jole's head at least part of the time helped greatly in illustrating the high points of relationships both past and present and enhanced my perception of him in all the right ways.

Okay, now for the harder part of this review. First off, I'm going to give spoilers here and I'm not going to bother marking them as such as pretty much the rest of this review is spoiler-city. Some of this gets revealed early on, but I need to talk examples throughout so be forewarned and stop here if you care about being spoiled. Also, I'm going to get personal and it's going to edge on overshare territory. You have been warned.

I had two problems with the book. One moral and one relational, and neither are what you might assume.

The Moral Problem
Single parenting isn't wrong per se, but it's something that should be avoided wherever possible. Children benefit greatly from the added dimensions of seeing parents working together as a team and seeing a working model of conflict resolution that is healthy and respectful. This is what makes spouse abuse so very hard on the entire family, but also makes single parenthood problematic. Even with extended family available, a single parent is the sole and solo authority for a child and that mono-messaging has some serious drawbacks. Yes, I'm saying that children benefit from being able to play one parent off on another. Seeing both Cordelia (who really should know better given the socio-psychological mania on Beta colony) and Jole (who should know better given the socio-cultural preferences on Barrayar) so selfishly plan single parenthood without even bothering to address the problematic drawbacks was disturbing. Worse, it played against everything we know about Cordelia as a caring person with a clear vision of not only the well-being of those around her but of the importance of their psycho-social development. She should have known enough to at least address this aspect of her choice to have children and no, saying she'd hire people to help is not even remotely the same thing.

Now I get that single parenthood happens. Everybody gets that. And supporting those in the situation when it occurs is important on every level because children matter and should be given the best possible chance to overcome whatever limitations placed on them by the choices of the adults around them. But that doesn't mean we can't acknowledge (and privilege) the better model for children of an intact family with the love and support of parents who love them. I'm not saying that Cordelia should have been prevented legally from planning to have those children on her own or anything. I'm saying that the fact she didn't even hesitate or plan around the drawbacks of single parenthood on the children felt off-puttingly out of character to me and broke some of my connection to the overarching story as a whole.

The Relationship Problem
This isn't going to be about the evils of polyamory (which is wrong! wrong I tell you! You can't mix Greek and Latin roots! It should be polyphilia or multiamory, by gum!). Being both Mormon and bisexual means I don't have any of that cultural dissonance or revulsion that you might assume would be behind my problems with Cordelia and Jole and Aral. Being Mormon (and reasonably introspective) means I've had to examine the realities of non-binary marriages and consider the potential benefits and drawbacks involved. Being bisexual means I lack the heterosexual visceral reaction when considering two men loving each other in physical or intimate ways.

My problem is more subtle than that and took some thought to track down. The thing is, I just wasn't buying the relationship as described. I get Cordelia's galactic perspective and openness to non-standard sexual configurations. I get her love for Aral being strong enough to include others that Aral loves in their relationship. But it still felt off. I eventually tracked that feeling down to the emotional distance maintained between Cordelia and Jole. What I can't see with Cordelia is her letting someone so close to Aral stay so distant from herself. And to be clear, I don't mean physically. I mean they may or may not have "clicked" on a physical level for whatever reason, but she didn't seem to have made any effort to develop the emotional intimacy necessary for such an arrangement to overcome the jealousy and insecurity such a setup would naturally engender (in both of them, really). Yes, we get an event or two about her reaching out to him to make sure he knows she's okay and considers him one of the family, so to speak. But that's no more than she'd extend to, say, Mark, or any other of the people Cordelia would adopt into her inner circle.

The thing is, the very basis of their relationship in this story depended on them starting out from a position of not having that emotional intimacy to start. And that just feels so wrong to me. I honestly cannot imagine Aral or Cordelia not making a push to establish the core emotional intimacy that would have made that relationship as healthy as it was described as being.

So while I enjoyed watching them fall in love, or acknowledge the love they had and harbor it's growth, this disconnect in their past was never far away and played havoc with my connection to the story.

Which would be bad enough if it was only the past involved. After all, my view of a functioning polygamous marriage may be wrong or they could have worked things out off-screen in ways that couldn't be communicated as backstory. But Bujold perpetrates that emotional disconnect into the future as well. Which is the thread I finally pulled to figure out my until-then inarticulate disquiet. In the epilogue, when they are planning their homestead together, it becomes clear that they plan on maintaining separate households even in retirement with Jole building his house "across the bay". Which makes no kind of sense whatsoever. Not only is this inefficient from a lovers perspective, it's even worse from a parenting one. How could they not combine resources in the way that centuries of cultural, social, and psychological adaptation have made "natural". There's a reason lovers feel pressure to cohabit and it's not just social construct or dogmatic indoctrination. It's not even about children, really, though the pressure to combine households at that point is beyond immense. Splitting your time between "here" and "there" is a barrier to intimacy that takes its toll on a relationship over time. In a relationship that seemed unnaturally distant to start, that kind of broke my head.

Wrap Up
So yeah, I had a couple problems that plagued me while reading. I still enjoyed the story. But there was enough disconnect to keep me from fully engaging.
3 reviews1 follower
January 3, 2016

I've been trying to verbalize this for a while, and keep a division between fact from the text and opinion. So, I won't be discussing age differences in relationships, Cordelia's parenting, Straw Vulcan Betans, and the Career vs. Family aspects. I'm going to focus on what's on the page.

I knew going in it was going to be a character piece, so I wasn't bugged by the perceived lack of plot. But I have other points that bothered me about this book that resulted in my rating (that, and you can't put negative stars on Goodreads)

So, let's begin.

1) The Retcon. That's what it is: a previous un-revealed development that changed what was previously seen/said. Admiral Jole is mentioned in the series before this book, but it is only a handful of times and there were no previous indications of any deeper connection to the Vorkosigan family, especially Aral and Cordelia. It comes out of nowhere, and does a lot more damage that way.

Because, by the text and this retcon, Aral Vorkosigan, a person who has as one of his defining characteristics his honor and oaths, cheated on his wife and seduced one of his direct subordinates in his chain of command. Cordelia gives her retroactive approval (apparently, no one on Beta cares if their spouse cheats on them?), but this doesn't change the fact that Aral dishonored his marriage oath (remember Aral's first wife?), and abused his position of power (even if Jole was attracted to him).

It's a retcon, and a serious character assassination for Aral, even more so since we don't hear his thoughts on the matter; we only are told this from others after Aral's death in Cryoburn.

Which brings me to the next point.

2) Show, Don't Tell. This is a cardinal rule for writers, and it's completely ignored here. Everything about Aral and Oliver's relationship is only revealed to the reader (and Miles, eventually) second or third-hand. Since Aral is already dead by this point, that's all the readers are going to get. We are told Jole is this other great love in Aral's life, but we never see it.

Jole was never included in the Vorkosigan family (because it's a retcon; also, another reviewer brought up why Cordelia kept it all a secret with all her "Betan Sensibilities" and made it feel like something Aral was ashamed of), so we the readers are not shown what Aral and Jole see in each other for such a passionate relationship to have occurred out of everyone's (readers included) sight. We get no sense of what their chemistry and relationship dynamics were like, except what the readers are told, again second/third-hand. We get no flashbacks showing any of this, or any reason why it all leads up to the main romance in the book.

Which now brings me to the most d***ing issue I had with this book.

3) In a lot of literature and media, there's often the storyline of "Oh, she's a lesbian/bisexual; all she needs is a good man to have her settle down. But she can still look because that's, like, so hot."

The genders are reversed, but the Same Exact Thing Happens Here.

We have Jole, who in the first chapter basically says he is homosexual. "I'd dated women...But things never quite clicked. After Aral, I thought I knew why.”

So we have a setup for a lot of interesting things; homosexuality in Barrayaran society, and the military in particular, same-sex dating on the part of older people, homosexuals and possible single parenthood. Homosexual representation in the series in general outside of Ethan of Athos, possibly among the series' primary cast.

We get none of this. Because Jole suddenly finds out, in true fanfic-y fashion, he also likes woman, and Cordelia to boot. A scene where it looks like we're about to see Jole's memories of his and Aral's relationship (see point #2) suddenly becomes a fantasy about sexing it up with Cordelia. The rest of it becomes about Jole and Cordelia developing a relationship (including, of course, a sex scene; things we didn't see with Aral).

And as a final slap in the face, in the last chapter, Jole even says "Hey, I can look" in reference to another male character. See the first sentence of this point. That's the most involving same-sex attraction and relationships we see in the entire book.

It comes across that the revelation happens now because Aral's already dead so it's 'safe' to write about in passing and second-hand 'show, don't tell,' so nothing has to be put 'on screen' as it were.

It's queerbaiting at best, and outright homophobic at worst. Either way, it's really offensive to LGBTQ readers.

That was all I had for it, and why I have this book such a low rating.

This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Althea Ann.
2,232 reviews1,016 followers
March 20, 2016
I really enjoy Bujold's writing style, and I love the whole Vorkosigan saga. Seriously, Bujold could probably write about her characters simply cooking dinner or going shopping and I'd happily read it. However, in most of her books, she excels at juggling the mundane details of daily life and relationships with planet-spanning high drama and life-or-death intrigue. In 'Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen' she dispenses with the action and writes a simpler, quieter story. It's still good, but I missed the 'action' half.

Without giving away too many spoilers, the story here is about the personal drama involved when two older people fall in love, consider starting a 'new' family, and have to break that news to both their professional and family circles. All of it rings very true - the complexities of real human relationships, the considerations concerning balancing personal and professional obligations, the lifestyle changes that come with deciding to have children later in life, the possible hurt feelings of those who may fear that former loves are being supplanted. Of course, these concerns aren't necessarily what all readers are looking for in a 'space opera.'

Bujold has stated that she feels that this book can be read as a stand-alone. I would have to respectfully disagree. I feel that having read the earlier 'Cordelia' books (Shards of Honor and Barrayar) is essential, and one is more likely to enjoy the book if you've read a great deal more of the saga than just those.
Profile Image for Alex Moore.
52 reviews16 followers
February 1, 2016
I can't believe I'm rating a Vorkisagan book this lowly. But quite frankly, this was a chore to finish.
First an admission, the romance in this book was not my cup of tea. It felt way too much like reading about my mom's-weird sex life, and like Ivan and Lady Alys the less I know the better. Which is a shame because I thoroughly enjoyed the romance in Shards of Honor, Civil Campaign and Captain Vorpatril's Alliance. The difference in those books, however, was that there was a lot more going on.

The book centers around Admiral Jole's decision to disclose his relationship with Aral to Miles. Along the way he has to decide whether to start a family or continue his career. And neither of those points are resolved in a manner that is surprising or of any consequence. And unlike the introspection in Memory, the ruminating is boring because we don't have the history with this character that was built up with Miles. I just didn't simply didn't care. If something else interesting happened along the way it could have been salvaged but the side plots are so trivial they aren't worth recounting.

That brings me to Cordelia. I like Cordelia, I really do, but she's a Mary Sue. Nothing she every thinks or does is wrong and it became grating in this book. In Shards of Honor and Barrayar it was fine because interesting things happened to her. She got relegated to a side character in later books and that's where she should of stayed. Because you can't have a flawless protagonist and have nothing interesting happen to her.

Bottom line was I was bored because there was no dramatic tension. I kept reading out of loyalty to the series but unfortunately, this one was a dud.
Profile Image for Raquel Estebaran.
293 reviews172 followers
August 10, 2022
Último libro de la serie, protagonizado por Cordelia Naismith, que inició la saga de la familia Vorkosigan con 'Fragmentos de honor' y ahora cierra el círculo con esta novela en una suerte de elegía.

Una novela centrada en las relaciones sociales y amorosas y donde aparece un nuevo personaje que además de hacer revisar la historia conocida me parece forzado, con personajes maduros que revisan sus motivaciones y legados pero donde los conflictos militares y las estratagemas políticas forman parte de tramas secundarias nada relevantes.

Bien escrito, narrado de manera ágil y con diálogos ingeniosos, pero no es lo que me esperaba. Falta chicha.
Profile Image for Monica.
592 reviews621 followers
August 16, 2018
Well that was disappointing…  No not the book, my reaction to the book.  I fell for it hook line and sinker.   This was in effect a science fiction romantic look at middle age.  My goodness, on its face, I should loathe this book.  The very notion of a book like this is anathema to my literary tastes.  In less skilled hands, this plot is a self-published muddle of "not for me".  But alas, this is Bujold!!  Never fear, this woman capable of great, compelling wonderful story telling. No one is more surprised than I am that I adored this novel.

I am guilty. I grew up on Vorkosigan books even though I started reading them in my 20s. I honed my scifi tastes on them. Bujold has always been about characterizations rather than space battles and laser fights or alien incursions. Her aliens are humans from other worlds. Indeed Bujold is about social politics and most dramatically about genetics and the rights of human life. I envision her as being pro-life as in promoting the creation of life. She tinkers mightily with genetics though admittedly doesn't take scifi like leaps in science. In her books the very advanced human civilizations still require gestation to be some 9 months long. They have developed uterine replicators so that women no longer have to bear children (unless they chose to), they can genetically manipulate height and hair color and strength, intelligence, etc but they haven't managed to shorten the development time for a fetus. Anyhoo, such things notwithstanding, there is a positive and uplifting quality to Bujold's writing. She tackles heady themes without violent overtones (at least in this one). Complex interpersonal relationships navigated by generally kind, interesting people. If the whole Vokosigan series were written like this, it would be relegated to the dustbin, but for one book its fine.

The book focuses on Cordelia Naismith . The book is about ironing out these complex issues. The characters are all very adult so issues are dealt with intelligence and dignity and maturity. Late in life people with careers and family are given an opportunity for more; but with opportunity comes a price and some sacrifice. Some doors open, others close. All in all I found it really enjoyable. I think this is a wonderful series. We'll see what the future holds…

4.6 Stars because this charmed my middle-aged heart

Listened to the audiobook narrated by Grover Gardener. He was excellent for this book.
Profile Image for Michael.
1,094 reviews1,507 followers
March 30, 2016
This is a love story between people late in life in high-profile positions in Barrayar’s interstellar empire. At this twenty-year old colony on planet Sergyar, Cordelia, now in her 70s, is the “Vicereine” responsible for state department issues, and Oliver Jole, in his 50’s, is a fleet admiral in charge of military security of the sector, including key wormhole gates. She is in the process of maneuvering against much resistance a relocation of the planet’s capital to another continent, while his burdens include safeguarding the region from terrorist activities from rebels or enemies of the empire. They are both recovering from the death of Cordelia’s husband Aral three years before, an aristocrat and heroic military leader whom they both loved for many years in a secret menage a trois.

The romantic affair that develops between Cordelia and Oliver is heart-warmingly corny and comic in the way it has to be carried on secret at first in their busy schedules. As it becomes serious, they slowly work on “outing” the relationship to their families, the military and government establishment, and the public (“one wormhole jump at a time”). The details of their separate plans for children and Aral’s and Oliver’s bisexuality are more challenging secrets to hold onto. Miles Vorkosigan, Cordelia’s son and hero of a long series of tales from Bujold’s pen, makes a cameo appearance from Barrayar with his wife and six kids, to check out Cordelia, possibly upon request of his boss the emperor. With all the kids on the scene, a lot of colorful minor characters, and a handful of subplots, we soon get a three-ring circus.

You can treat this as a free-standing read. The scattered references to events in Cordelia’s and Miles' past should be satisfying to those who read from the series, but they could serve as an introduction and impetus to go back and read about Cordelia’s story in “Barryar” and “Shards of Honor”. I always appreciated the culture clash between her origin on the modern, scientific Beta Colony and Aral’s derivation from brutal kings and counts on a planet that went fairly medieval during several centuries of isolation from the rest of humanity. I missed Cordelia as a major presence in the series that featured Miles’ space opera adventures. This one was a great homecoming to get into her warm and capable mind. The emphasis on romantic comedy is close the high pleasures of “The Civil Campaign.” That the planet is such a new colony, full of strange new geologies and ecologies, makes it natural for this second chance at love to go hand in hand with new life opportunities for discovery and adventure.

On space traveling with infants:
Having an infant aboard is no holiday, but any man who can field-strip a weapon can learn to change a damned nappie. Just handle the kid firmly, like an unexploded bomb.

Nautical metaphors in love-making:
"And why… did we evolve all this bizarre behavior just to swap DNA? Or did the DNA evolve us? Sly molecule. But we hijack the program. Biological pirates.” His mouth found a lower harbor; she … made a rather undignified noise, she was afraid. Dignity need not apply, no, no position open for you here, move along. “Ah! Ship ahoy, Admiral …”
Profile Image for LenaLena.
365 reviews152 followers
January 25, 2016
I don't think I expected Cordelia to tromp all over creation on a space ship (or maybe I did), but I sure didn't expect this little action. Maybe it's meant to be a more introspective book and all, but even as such it didn't work for me. Maybe if I were contemplating retirement or contemplating having more babies (really, I need more babies like I need a hole in my head) it would have worked? But I doubt it, with so little plot and so flimsy a construction .

The blurb is misleading too. It sounds like Miles is going to enter the story and actually, you know, do his auditor thing or something. But none of that. Miles comes on a family visit with his wife and six children and family trip stuff is all that happens. This book reads like a nice epilogue. No plot, lots of reminiscing about the old days, a few awkward conversations and everyone has children. One big, giant epilogue that could have been told in another 5 drabbles like the ones at the end of Cryoburn.

Now, I am aware that Bujold has a thing about children, and normally that doesn't bother me much, but it really gets pushed into 'every egg-cell is sacred' territory here. Who, besides the deeply religious, wants six children? And who in their right mind wants six children once they retire? That's crazy talk, people. Do these people actually plan on spending any time with their children as individuals and not with a mob of siblings around ?
Profile Image for Algernon (Darth Anyan).
1,493 reviews960 followers
April 6, 2016

Before the whirlwind personality of Miles Vorkosigan came to dominate the series, readers were treated to a couple of novels of adventure and romance between his parents, Aral and Cordelia, who met on a wild planet called Sergyar while fighting for opposite forces in a small scale galactic war. In this year's installment we return to the planet Sergyar almost five decades later to find out how the colonizing efforts of the Barrayaran Empire fare under the tutelage of the now Vicereine Cordelia Naismith, three years after her beloved husband Aral died of a massive stroke.

The Sergyaran ecosystem. Not for sissies.

With semi-active volcanoes, predatory local critters, rudimentary facilities and dangerous neighbors like the Cetagandan Empire, life on Sergyar offers a lot of opportunities for adventure but, in keeping with the overall tone of the later episodes in the series, romance and family issues take precedence over the more martial pursuits of the younger Miles. Being a hardcore fan of the series I have no issue with the focus on love troubles instead of galactic conflicts, and I still appreciate the way Bujold manages to include scientific discoveries as key elements of her plots. The issue of the present episode is genetic manipulation, with particular focus on aging parents and unconventional lifestyle choices. Being a Betan liberated woman, we could expect Cordelia to take a revolutionary stance on the subject and a good part of the novel is the pitch she makes to her old time friend and former lover of her husband, Admiral Oliver Jole, that he could be a single parent at fifty:

I would donate you some of those enucleated eggs, and genetic material from Aral, and you could ... you and Aral could have a son or sons of your own. I mention sons for legal, not biological reasons. With an X chromosome from Aral and a Y chromosome from yourself, the offspring would be unassailably legally yours.

The way the author presents the idea of same sex parents and artificial gametes, she seems more concerned with the ethical and personal implications raised by the new technology than with the actual nuts and bolts of overhauling the laws of nature. Admiral Jole is a good choice for Cordelia's experiment, being halfway Vor traditionalist, halfway emancipated (if still in the closet) man about town. What seems less convincing is his own sexual identity

As with the other later books in the Vorkosigan Saga, a good part of the excitement is not the actual plot, predictable in its romantic progression, but the fun and games of being reunited with old friends. Miles with his wife Ekaterin and their unruly six children make an appearance and get in all sorts of domestic accidents. Jole and Cordelia have their own share of mishaps and explainig to do about the perils of dating for the advanced in age, although by the Galactic standards of he Vorkosigan universe, they are still green:

I am fifty.
How strange. I used to think fifty was old.

Even me, also in my early fifties, find it hard to accept that I am getting old, and I still search for romantic thrills in the sort of story P G Wodehouse would have written if his characters had access to a wormhole and to a FTL spaceship. Here's a couple of examples of Mrs. Bujold's wicked sense of humor on the subject of parenting:

Having an infant aboard is no holiday, but any man who can field-strip a weapon can learn to change a damn nappie. Just handle the kid gently but firmly, like an unexploded bomb.

Horrible age, fifteen. Part of the time she's still my little princess, Da's Cadette, and then, with no warning - it's like some hostile alien lifeform takes over her brain. One minute it's all puppies and ribbons, the next - the female werewolf!

The latest episode is not exactly my favorite in the long series, but it was still good to meet with old friends and to spent some quality time in their company. I am glad in particular to come across a science-fiction story featuring two protagonists past middle-age instead of spunky teenagers, and I hope Lois McMaster Bujold can find inspiration to write a few more of the same, with or without Miles, in her Vorkosigan Universe. If she's keen to continue to explore romance instead of war, well! there's nothing wrong with that. As Cordelia confesses, and Bujold has done repeatedly in the past:

What is love but delight in another human being? He delights me daily.
Profile Image for Vesna.
416 reviews78 followers
December 28, 2018
So, even this day has come. I'm one-starring a Vorkosigan Saga book. I didn't believe this was a world in which such a thing was even possible. But here it is, called Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen. I would consider forgiving Bujold if this was just a random, badly written book in the, otherwise, perfect series. But Vorkosigan books gradually lost their charm some time ago (for me, A Civil Campaign was the last of the great ones which was actually ok by me. Everything important had been said and well rounded up. New books were slightly worse but always a welcome bonus.)
And than came this disaster, which I can't forgive or unfortunately forget. Because it's just a huge pile of BS!! I have read and reread Shards of Honor and Barrayar so many times I know most of the lines by heart (the same goes for most of the books). I understand Aral and Cordelia. I respect them, or to say I respected them. Because this sequel has changed everything. And the consequences are irreversible. Aral Vorkosigan was a character as complex as they come. He had his flaws and strengths, his ghosts from the past, he had charisma, he had his love for Cordelia but above all that was his honor. It was unquestionable. He explained the meaning of honor so clearly to Gregor, to Miles and to me that to this day I sometimes catch myself using his words in everyday situations.
And now, all of a sudden none of this applies anymore. and the rest of the story is unimportant, uneventful and completely unnecessary.
Profile Image for Jason.
3 reviews
January 25, 2016
So damned disappointing. I hope this isn't how she leaves the Vorkosigan saga.

It's not even good romance. It's finishing an excellent 10-course meal with a plastic foil packet of Jello.

Whoever encouraged her to publish this did her a disservice.
Profile Image for Maria Dimitrova.
744 reviews139 followers
May 31, 2017
Buddy read with Choko and Evgeny.

I know a lot of people struggle with this book, including my fellow buddy reader Evgeny. For one, it's a very different book from the rest of the series. One of the complaints I've seen is that it introduces a major character out of nowhere and that it's essentially a retcon. One of the things Ms. Bujold has said repeatedly over the years is that she writes her books in such ways that she can go back in time and insert a new nover into the existing timeline without damaging the continuity. This is one such case but the difference is that it's not set in the past, it just deals with it. I bet that a lot of the people that have problem with Jole and Aral's relationship wouldn't mind if it was set during the Prime Minister time as a sort of a look at what's happening back home while Miles is off being Admiral Neismith. Admiral Jole was mentioned before in passing and his relationship with the Vorkosigans was never revealed for two obvious in-universe explanations: 1) Miles is a force of nature and blindly stumbles through some of his social interactions, not to mention that the few times he's been home during that time he was on medical leave. It's totally understandable that he didn't notice a thing while drugged up to the gills and in pain. 2) They (Cordelia, Aral and Oliver) were being discreet because on conservative Barrayar their arrangement would be a political suicide and as everyone well knows the media has a way to ferret out such things so they had to be extremely careful. If the media didn't notice then how could we, the readers, notice through the prizma of Miles' POV?

I know I won't change the way anyone feels about this book but I hope I've made people more understanding because this is an incredible book dealing with social, family and political problems that are very relevant today. And while the social and political ones could become obsolete (hopefully) the family ones are something that each generation goes through once the children become adults and realize that their parents are just as human and fallible as they are. Some of the dilemmas the characters face are something we as human beings will keep on facing until the end of time and seeing someone else (fictional as that someone might be) deal with it and make his/her choice is a valuable experience.

Original review:
Every new installment of the Vorkosigan Saga feels like coming home. I love these people uhhhh characters - the line between the RW and the fictional one gets blurry after so many years. I've been following this series for more than a decade so forgive my slip. As always it was a pleasure to immerse myself in the complex universe created by Ms. Bujold.

GJatRQ is a bit different than the previous installments in the sense that it can't be classified even remotely as military sci-fi. There were no grand plots, no threats against the Imperious, no battles and almost no politics. It was a simple story about what follows after you've lost the person who has been the Centre of your world for years, how to move on, reach out to those who have been affected by that death as well, finding the path to them and building a new life. Oh and dealing with the rather unpleasant realization that your parents are not and have never been sexless entities and that they've had a sex life aside from your conception. That realization added to the unceremonious way Cordelia (the MC of this story and mother to the principal protagonist of the series - Miles) announced to her son that she's dating the Gentleman Jole:
"Err... what exactly do you mean by dating? In this context."
"Screwing, dear,"

What can I tell you, it was an endless source of entertainment, though I did feel sorry for Miles for about a tenth of a second there.

Because of the change in MC,this time we got a story more oriented towards social problems such as family, what constitutes a family, the generational gap, sexuality and acceptance. Cordelia Vorkosigan has been a role model of mine for many years. She's everything I want to be - smart, independent, loving and just. You can always count on her to help you face your inner demons in that blunt manner of hers. And while the emotional dissection might hurt in the end it does help. She will not hide from her problems and doesn't let those around her do it either. Something I hadn't realized in previous books (probably cause I became aware of the problems in resent years) is that she's also one of the staunchest proponents of human and LGBTQ+ rights in modern literature. Another admirable trait of this beloved character. It's so subtle, so ingrained that you might miss it, being swept away in all the action in the previous books but here it's front and center. For Cordelia it's not acceptance, it's the unshakable conviction that there's nothing wrong with being different, that it's simply part of being human. I can only wish that one day our society will become like the one she grew up in. The way she deals with the traditional Barrayaran culture (that strongly resembles our own) is a great example to follow when faced with prejudice and sexism of any kind.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Nicole.
222 reviews10 followers
February 15, 2016
Most disappointing book of the year. Plotless wander with a minor character. Doesn't even rise to the standard of a harlequin romance. You not only knew the answer but there were no barriers in the way, no chemistry and no tension. It has all of the awkwardness and ick factor of discussing dating with your mother. It even has an outdated vocabulary my mother would use. Does anyone under the age of 70 say screw when talking about sex? There are some other weird asides like saying "Cordelia got up to pee" and "She let him use the lav first". I have never had any interest in the toilet habits of fictional characters. The book wasn't funny or entertaining the way other books in the series have been. The characters were flat. There was no plot to speak of. Just disappointing.
Profile Image for Kalin.
Author 71 books264 followers
April 11, 2019
A sweet smilefest for all wannabe parents and people who have recently lost a partner. Since I fit into both categories, I smiled A LOT.

Some of the more memorable moments:

~ Oh my ... a favorite series boldly goes where no man-and-woman have gone before. This will be exciting. (And, knowing the Barrayar mores, I hope hilarious too.)

~ Yes. Hilarious.

Admiral Jole goes to extract his genetic material the old-fashioned way:

I’ve been doing this since I was thirteen. It shouldn’t be hard. Which, in fact, it wasn’t—he’d never been more limp in his life.

~ Cinderella, too, gets a revamping:

In his days as Aral’s handsome aide, the receptacles of his uniform had been a source of several interesting surprises after similar events, even when he’d sworn that no one had come close enough to touch him.
“It was only mystery lingerie the once,” he protested in amused indignation. But added after a moment’s reflection, “All right, twice, but it was in a bar on Tau Ceti and we were all drunk. Both a permanent puzzle—you’d think they’d at least have thought to write their comcode on the crotch or something. Did they expect me to search for them like Cinderella?” He mimed holding up a pair of slender undies, with a look of canine hope.

~ The joys of parenthood:

“(...) Babies are just a challenge. Teenagers are a nightmare. Look ahead, Oliver.”
“I…think I might do better taking it one step at a time.”
“Mm, that’s the way you do have to take it. Maybe fortunately.” Haines added after a moment, “I don’t deny I have mixed feelings about those replicator centers, but I have to admit, I’d prefer it for my daughter. Just think. She’d never have to date a boy at all.” He paused in apparent contemplation of this attractive state of theoretical affairs, or non-affairs.
“I’d think you were in an excellent position to intimidate suitors.”
“But everyone knows I’m not allowed to use the plasma cannons for personal purposes.”
Jole choked a laugh around his last mouthful of sandwich. “Besides, she’s only, what—fifteen?”
“A fact I have let be known, but I’m not sure it helps.” Haines sighed. “Horrible age, fifteen. Part of the time she’s still my little princess, Da’s Cadette, and then, with no warning—it’s like some hostile alien life-form takes over her brain. One minute it’s all puppies and ribbons, the next—the female werewolf!”

I'm bracing myself. ;)

~ They all ring so true:

(...) it was quite late by the time six overexcited and overtired children had at last been tied to their beds, or at least kissed goodnight and threatened with dire retribution if they popped up one more time. It took teamwork by four adults—Cordelia, Miles, Ekaterin, and the armsman’s daughter they’d brought along to help wrangle the kids in exchange for a generous stipend and the chance for an exciting trip offworld.
“We could have stunned them,” Cordelia wheezed, as the last door closed. “We have stunners…”
Their fond Da, who had actually been less use in the calming-down part than Cordelia had hoped, said, “Tempting, but Ekaterin would object.”
“No, I wouldn’t,” said Ekaterin faintly.
Profile Image for Paraphrodite.
2,440 reviews51 followers
February 10, 2016
I am so P*-OFF and ANGRY about this book. I spent the last few weeks on a friend's recommendation, reading this series from Shards of Honor and Barrayar and to me, the marriage between Aral and Cordelia formed the lynchpin foundations for this series as we watch Miles grow up and his various adventures.

I know that it is the author's prerogative to do whatever they want with their own characters, but given Aral's actions to his first wife's infidelity, CHEATING on Cordelia would have been against his code of honor & integrity. I understand that he was always bisexual but there's looking and there's actually doing and this is just WRONG based on the way his character was portrayed in all the previous books, regardless of how BETAN Cordelia is. Also, the double whammy of having a long-term affair with his own personal aide??? It just doesn't compute.

I think a lot of times authors like to put in a bombshell to shake up their readers, but what they sometimes forget is the reason why the readers have been following their series in the first place. For me, this series worked because of the solid connection between Aral and Cordelia and their unfailing support of each other and their super-intelligent and frail child Miles. To have the rug pulled under me in such a matter and to turn such an integral character into an amoral sleazy old man just makes me so ANGRY. Aral's death was bombshell enough, in my opinion, without all this retconning.

There were so many ways to introduce Oliver and Cordelia as a couple, post-Aral. Oliver Jole was introduced as Aral's aide after Koudelka. Cordelia said to Kou that Aral considered him to be a son when he tried to kill himself so why can't Oliver have been left as another protege/son of Aral's instead of this dirty little secret on the side? I would buy that Oliver has always admired Cordelia and hero-worshipped Aral rather than what was told in this book. There was no need to besmirch Aral's reputation and do such a character-assassination after his death!!

As for the plot - there wasn't one at all. That's the other reason that made this series so interesting was the adventures and mysteries that the characters get into. This book just seems to spend all its time describing the environs of Sergyar as if the author wants to convince us of the rightness of Cordelia's decision to retire there. BORING.

Cordelia's decision to have more children post-Aral also doesn't make sense. Again, the reason Miles was an only child had always been one of the reason why he tried so hard. And because of his health issues, why Aral and Cordelia were said never wanted to have another child so that he doesn't feel inadequate. Now that Aral is dead, she decides unilaterally to have more girl-childs? To me, it's just another inconsistency.

I had given 4 - 5 stars for the previous books in this series. It really pains me that I can only give a 1 star for this book and am recommending others to stop reading before this installment and NOT to read this book.

This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Nente.
437 reviews59 followers
May 12, 2016
Dull: even everyone's favourite spoiler made only for a "So what?" reaction. No story, no conflict, no anything.
Badly written: not that Bujold's style was exactly streamlined before, but at least in previous books she'd stopped short of overloading the text with obviousness.
Wish I hadn't read this.
Author 18 books47 followers
October 27, 2015
I just finished the Baen ARC of Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen by Lois McMaster Bujold. This is the 16th book in the Vorkosigan series, and is a very different sort of book than the rest.

It's a quiet book, an emotionally mature and socially complex love story between two people who have already lived through so much. It's a book about characters moving past grief, and what others expected of them, and finding themselves again in the new definition of who they are now.

I wasn't quite sure what to think of it for most of the book - having read all of the others, I was fully expecting some sort of emotional plot to be wrapped around or inside of an action plot. Both of the other Cordelia books were like that, and all of the Miles books - even Memory, which turned into a life-epiphany-detective-story. But this one was much more subtle. It read almost as an extended epilogue to the series, or at least a closing of one point, and possible opening to another - also much the same way that Memory did. But it was a very satisfying epilogue, and left me feeling warm and happy, and more deeply in tune with my humanity.

I'm not sure I'd call it the best in the series, but it's so different from the others that it's hard to even compare. It's a good book. If you haven't read the series, it won't stand alone - it revolves almost entirely on what's come before. If you have read the series, this should set to rest a lot of the stress from the end of Cryoburn.

And I think I'm still processing it. LMB is one of those writers whose themes and central ideas grow and mature presumably as she does - and the very quiet, subtle, and beautiful things here are an excellent example of that.

I'd also quietly and beautifully recommend it.
Profile Image for Lindsay.
1,260 reviews222 followers
February 28, 2016
Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan is at a turning point in her life. It's been three years since the death of her husband and she's ready to make some changes. One of those changes may well be with her relationship with the Admiral of the Sergyar Fleet, Oliver Jole and centering around a strange offer she makes him.

This is A Civil Campaign without the comedy and most of romantic fumbling. This is a tale of older, more sensible people with a shared grief and potential for the future. We often get the perspective in SF of someone either just starting out, or quietly confident in their established abilities. It's not often we see someone retiring to take up another occupation, or following someone pondering the latter stages of their career. It works really well, particularly as an umpteenth volume in a long series.

It's still chock full of lovable and relatable characters, as we've come to expect from Bujold as well as her characteristic humor. She's always had a lot of fun playing the sexually-liberated Betan Cordelia against the traditional feudal conservative Barrayaran culture and there's plenty of that here. There's a particularly good quote that I put in my updates on the book regarding explaining the meaning of dating to her son Miles.

If this is the last time we see the Vorkosigans, I think it ends on a solid note, nostalgic in places but looking towards the future.
111 reviews
May 30, 2016
If you like iddy wish fulfillment about post-menopausal women having lots and lots of babies with a hot younger guy, here is your book. Sadly, it's not actually my kink and there is no real plot to engage me with anything else, so I really couldn't care less for this book.

I'm just a little sad. Bujold's always been such an amazing author, enough that I think she could have sold me on Jole's history with Aral if she'd actually tried. I went in wanting to be sold on it, at least, because seriously that is so relevant to my interests. But she decided to indulge herself rather than seriously explore the premise, and so we get a book that is to the Vorkosigan series what Narcissus in Chains was to the Anita Blake series. Sure, there's going to be people who find this is totally their thing and that's fine, but that doesn't make it any more consistent with the rest of the series. And Jesus, if there's two authors I never thought I'd be comparing...
1 review
January 11, 2017
This book should have never been written because with it Bujold totally destroyed the very foundation of this series. The only thing for me to do now is to try and forget that this crap-load of bull*t was ever written. One good thing is that from previous books I KNOW that Aral from the saga I new and loved before this would never behaved this way because he actually did have honor, so maybe in time I will be able to reread the series. But I will never forgive Bujold for writing this book.
Profile Image for Coyora Dokusho.
1,432 reviews142 followers
October 26, 2015
I am so happy!!!

I started reading the E-ARC last night (sample chapters on the Baen website) and then couldn't help plopping down the 15 bucks on it. We finally get another Cordelia book!!!

It was a gentle book, but entirely satisfying. There were LOADS of funny bits! Really it was wonderful. There was lots of wisdom tucked away in the pages, and it actually quite helped me with putting my relatively new relationship with my bioDad into context - which is great because I've been agonizing over it quite a bit. The book inspired me as well (I've also been struggling with education and career decisions), so anything assisting me in my travails towards clarity is fantastic. Very grateful to have read the book and very much worth stretching my budget to purchase it.

oops, edited to add: Very much looking forward to reading the whole series again, especially! in light of new information. Really, not surprised, because Miles' view is Miles-centric after all... XD
Profile Image for Debbie is on Storygraph.
1,701 reviews120 followers
November 30, 2015
OH MY GOD. I just finished the eARC of this and it is now 4 AM and how the hell am I going to go to sleep after THAT?!?

Loved it. Adored it. Wanted it to never end. More coherent thoughts after some sleep and reflection.


A few days and a re-read later, my reactions are still overwhelmingly positive, though more nuanced and thought-out than my initial screams of joy. This book feels like coming home again, like meeting old friends and the pleasure in catching up and learning new things about them.

This book is also deeply subversive, and not just in the obvious ways. It's different than almost anything else on the market and if she hadn't already had a large and dedicated fanbase, I doubt that any publisher would have touched this with a ten-foot pole. Because this is a story about living, not about action or great things. Rather, it's a celebration of life and love, and that life emphatically does not stop after the end of youth or death.

Now on to the spoilers:

I really want to do another series re-read now, particularly of Shards of Honor and The Vor Game. I want to revisit Sergyar before it was Sergyar, and remind myself about the Hegan Hub War, which was such a large part of the backstory of this book.
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