Marjorie Friday Baldwin's Reviews > Captain Vorpatril's Alliance

Captain Vorpatril's Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold
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's review
Apr 22, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: milsf
Recommended to Marjorie by: Ed Stalker (a friend and fan of the books)
Recommended for: stalwart fans of the Vorkosigan Saga

I've given this 4 stars but wish I had half-stars because this is a smidge more than a 3 but not as much as a 4. Since I cannot rate it 3.25 and don't want to go DOWN to a 3, I've knocked it up just for the sake of it being a Bujold. Her writing is just that good, always, but this story (unusually) left me wanting. Story gets a 3, writing quality a 4. Suprising since usually I rate her work a 5 without any reservations at all.

So how did this end up leaving me so unplussed? It started out implying it would be some sort of romance novel wrapped around a mystery plot--classic Bujold Vorkosigan Saga style of story. Lois has done these before, more than once, and at a 5-star level without question. This, however, was not a Miles Vorkosigan Adventure at all. This was an Ivan Vorpatril Adventure and for all his alleged prowess with picking up women and "having them all," I'm sorry to say, I found Ivan particularly lacking in the Romantic Hero department. I was definitely surprised he never quite delivered; I would've expected him to be more engaging as a Dashing Hero or even just as a sexually-alluring womanizer but instead, he was fairly flat, almost 2-dimensional, for most of the book. It really surprised me. Then I realized that Lois probably is just sick and tired of writing these books. It showed. Unfortunately.

Lois McMaster Bujold is, however, a consummate expert at crafting stories and the plot of the story, all romance subplots and threads aside, was a nice little mystery. It got a little complicated as though it was wending its way to find itself at times, but I think that was because she kept trying to find her way back to the romance subplot and Ivan was just not willing to be a Romantic Hero. It was odd to actually "see the author" behind the words in a Bujold. In over a dozen and a half stories of hers, this is the first time ever I have seen Lois behind the story. That killed a lot of the enjoyment for me, too.

Next came the setting in the string of disappointments. I usually love how completely solid Lois's worlds/settings are; in fact, the "Bujold setting" in most of her books (not just the Vorkosiverse) is nearly a character unto itself. I was soooo looking forward to seeing what new spin Lois might've put on things but that was not to be the case here. This was especially odd, given the book was mostly set on two planets about which she'd already written -- at length! It starts out on Komarr and then moves to Barrayar but I got basically nothing of either planet from her descriptions. I had my preconceived ideas (from having read the entire series, repeatedly), so I filled in the blanks, as it were but a reader should not have had to fill in the blanks. At all. For anyone--especially not for Bujold. She is so expert at doing settings, I was frankly, shocked.

Then I figured out what was going on--or so I think I have. I actually got more out of the new planet "Ylla" at the end than I did out of Komarr or Barrayar throughout the book. I conclude this was a result of Lois just being sick and tired of these books. She has a right to be "done" with them. Well over a dozen stories is more than any author should be "expected" to write in a series. Most only write 3 or 4 so we've gotten our "fill" thrice over. Thank you, Lois, for delivering yet one more even though it was clear you didn't really want to do this one so much as "a new one." That's fair but it left me disappointed in this book and this is the one I was reading, not the rest of the series.

Which leads me to the last comment, coming full-circle again. Tej and Ivan. I found the Tej POV sections a little jarring because Lois renamed all the characters from Tej's point of view and nicknames like "The Gregor" did not mesh well with the sense I had of the series before this book. Tej's POV narrative voice, however, was fun and engaging. If I were a new-to-the-series reader and came upon this book first, I would probably enjoy it (possibly 4-stars worth without the reservations my "history" with the series brings). Lois's writing quality is still heads and shoulders above the rest of the genre writers today. The problem would arise when said theoretical new reader decided to go back to the beginning of the series and read the whole thing through to get to know all these people who were mentioned and referenced briefly in Ivan's book (or Ivan, His Booke). If I read Ivan, His Booke first and then went immediately into either Cordelia's Honor or The Warrior's Apprentice, I'd be sorely disappointed...with something. I'd feel like it was a totally different author or as though something had happened.

Of course, something did happen. Twenty plus years of Lois's life happened. No writer is the same, without change for more than a quarter of a century. Or I should certainly hope not! This is the same problem I had when I read Falling Free I felt it was like a totally different author wrote it!. I never read Falling Free until just after I'd read Diplomatic Immunity and I'd been so excited to read Falling Free because I understood it would be the "story behind the referenced story" (the one in the ballet danced in Diplomatic Immunity so I figured I'd get to see "where it all began." Unfortunately, I got to see where Lois began to get her feet under her (no pun intended) but that was about it. I didn't even make the connection between the stories in Falling Free and Diplomatic Immunity.

Likewise, I don't see how Captain Vorpatril's Alliance fits in between Diplomatic Immunity and CryoBurn (which other readers have assured me is the "correct" chronological order of the books even though they were written in another order). I don't see the possibility of a new reader coming upon Captain Vorpatril's Alliance and then enjoying reading about the Vordarian Pretendership in Cordelia's Honor -- it'll feel like a castoff reference in this book, as though it were baited in there deliberately to artificially tie the books together. The Vordarian Pretendership activities in Cordelia's Honor were so relevant throughout the series--and in this one, relevant in terms of Ivan's birth occurring at the height of the conflict and because of the mention of the Vorpatril family tribute Lady Alys does each year ...yet in this book, that was like a standalone event.

Even with the description (second-hand explanation to Tej) I just felt distanced from it. In Cordelia's Honor I felt in the middle of it as it happened. In The Warrior's Apprentice I felt Miles's and Ivan's teenaged minds trying to make sense of their own existence given the events that occurred in their parents' lives during the Vordarian Pretendership of the earlier book. The connections were there throughout the series, even in the lighthearted RomCom A Civil Campaign. The connections were "narrated by Lois" in this book. I wasn't connected to the events as a reader. I was lectured a recital of the events by the author. THAT, for me, was very "non-Bujold-y" of her. Again, I definitely feel it was her just being sick and tired of the whole series. I appreciated the gift of this book but I think it was a gift we (her fans) shouldn't have asked for and it tore too much out of her, more than was there.

Months ago, I pre-ordered a harcover copy of this book from Amazon. I'm not disappointed enough to cancel my order, having read the eARC and having been disappointed in the story. I'm hoping a second read at a different time--and while touching paper, which always holds a special and magical experience for me that eBooks cannot deliver--will deliver a different reader experience. Lois always talks about the Reader as Collaborator and I've seen this "effect" in action dozens of times myself (with some of my own stories, definitely!!) I hope the reader who comes upon this book in the winter when the hardcover ships gets a much-deserved Winterfair gift. If not, well, I suppose this will be the CLOSE to the Vorkosigan Saga. How fitting that Ivan should close the door after Miles. Ivan was always looking after Miles :)
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Reading Progress

April 22, 2012 – Shelved
April 22, 2012 – Shelved as: milsf
June 30, 2012 – Started Reading
June 30, 2012 –
page 20
July 1, 2012 –
page 52
"I haven't figured out yet how old Ivan is in this book...(a) interesting that Tej thinks he looks too old for a "boyish smile" and (b) how cute that she called him "you idiot!" It's a real struggle to limit my reading of this book to a few minutes at bedtime!"
July 1, 2012 –
page 142
"This doesn't quite feel like a Vor adventure without Miles. I keep expecting him to pop out from behind some ImpSec shadow. So far, no sightings. Byerly + Rish make an interesting couple...if they're going to MAKE a couple. Ivan and Tej are developing nicely. The plot's mystery has already unfolded itself which is unusual for a Bujold but I'm still really enjoying this, hopefully get more time to read tomorrow."
July 1, 2012 –
page 224
July 2, 2012 –
page 272
July 4, 2012 –
page 400
"So I've skipped a couple of statuses here. The book is not as gripping or as quick to read as I might've expected, though it's definitely enjoyable--and I'll re-read it when my HC arrives this winter. I'm just missing a certain Bujold-y je nais c'est quois I guess. I do like Barrayar thru the Vorpatril family as much as thru the Vorkosigans. It's something else that's missing."
July 7, 2012 –
page 440
"Forgot to update this the other night when I read a bit more. It's starting to drag--if that's even POSSIBLE in a Bujold! I'm a little suprised but still looking forward to finishing this book--it'll be my "reward" for when I finish my current writing project :)"
July 8, 2012 –
page 464
July 9, 2012 –
page 487
"Okay, now it's getting good again. Byerly and Ivan are off to investigate the mysterious goings-on (and Ivan has resolved to court his wife, which is going about as well as Miles's non-courtship of Ekaterin managed to remain secret). I'm glad the book's tone and pace both picked up again. I needed a pickmeup tonight and Lois never fails to deliver! :)"
July 9, 2012 –
page 487
"Okay, now it's getting good again. Byerly and Ivan are off to investigate the mysterious goings-on (and Ivan has resolved to court his wife, which is going about as well as Miles's non-courtship of Ekaterin managed to remain secret). I'm glad the book's tone and pace both picked up again. I needed a pickmeup tonight and Lois never fails to deliver! :)"
July 13, 2012 –
page 500
"Well, I'll say this, I was getting worried that the whole Byerly/Rish subplot would go nowhere - worried because I REALLY liked the chemistry between them early in the book. I like that By has finally fallen for someone and it's a "mutant." Wondering how this'll play out.\n \n The Ivan/Tej storyline is kind of dragging, like Lois set it aside to write plot instead. :-( Not usual Bujoldness."
July 16, 2012 –
page 526
"It's a little unromantic to see Ivan's "courtship" amount to having disappointed sex with his wife, but I'm hoping the romance will begin at some point. The story plot, of course, is FINALLY starting to get interesting. I like Tej's POV about the intestinal tunnel the mycoborer is making for them. Good visuals there."
July 17, 2012 –
page 546
"I'm finally getting a little bit of the sense this is a Vor -adventure. It seems too far in for this to JUST be starting now but I'm glad it started at all!"
July 19, 2012 –
page 599
"Well, I guess it took calamity for the romance to finally find life. It's developing nicely -- now that we're in the last 50 pages of the book! I have to say this is very much NOT like Lois in terms of pacing. I've enjoyed this story all along but the romance stalling early and then suddenly resuming seems a little non-Bujold to me. Looking fwd to how it all turns out in The End though :)"
July 19, 2012 –
page 574
July 21, 2012 –
page 636
"In Gregor's "Star Chamber" ... interesting scene. I'm not seeing Gregor as I'm used to seeing him, I suppose because no one (like Miles or Ivan or Alys) is interacting with him directly--he is PRESIDING over the court and playing his 3 selves (Count Vorbarra, Municipal head of Vorbarra Sultana and of course, Emperor). I'm sad because Gregor's one of my favorite chars + he's not "himself" here :-("
July 24, 2012 – Finished Reading
July 25, 2012 –
page 636
"Well, I saved the last 10 pgs of Epilogue to savor and honestly, they were better than some parts of the book :-( This was a good read but only that, good. It wasn't up to the same standards I've come to expect from LMB. The Romance definitely left me feeling unloved and the action came to an almost anti-climax at its peak. Too much happened behind the scenes -- that is, INSIDE LOIS'S HEAD -- for me to enjoy it fully"
July 25, 2012 –
page 646
"Review shall be forthcoming! I wish I had half stars because I'd give this a 3.5 but chances are I'll give it a 4 simply because it's a Bujold."

Comments (showing 1-11 of 11) (11 new)

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message 1: by Marjorie (last edited Jul 02, 2012 02:40AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Marjorie Friday Baldwin Got the eARC and OMG the friend who facilitated my getting the eARC was right: once you start, you Can. Not. Stop! (He read it in 2 sittings over 14 hrs with very little sleep in between.)

In Ch 1 (I promise not a spoiler for this book as much as a harkening back to humor from when Ivan's former lover, older woman Donna Vorrutyer, underwent a Betan sex change and became Count Dono:

Ivan Vorpatril: "So where am I to find this so-called girl?"

Byerly Vorrutyer:"I'm fairly certain she's a real girl, Ivan."

Ivan: "You think? With you, one never knows."

LOL! If this whole book is truly like this (as I've been hearing it is) then OMG put down the drinks while reading!! Okay, I have 3 days of work to do. I cannot read this yet. I cannot read this yet. I could read just a little, maybe? :)

Get your copy of the eARC from Baen eBooks here:

It's not proofread yet but still well-worth the $15 USD price tag!! Lois's books always are :)

message 2: by Al (new) - added it

Al Wait? It is out? YAY!

message 3: by Al (new) - added it

Al oh! eARC... lol. I suppose I could do it that way :)

Marjorie Friday Baldwin Al wrote: "oh! eARC... lol. I suppose I could do it that way :)"

Oh no, you don't Mister Multitasker :) You're supposedly reading Conditioned Response (Phoenician, #2) by Marjorie F. Baldwin

Marjorie Friday Baldwin Don't forget to read
When Minds Collide (A Phoenician Series Short Story) by Marjorie F. Baldwin first, Al! :) It's so short, it'll take a 1/2 hr or less!

Andrea I enjoyed reading your thoughtful review. For the most part (unfortunately) I have to agree with you. I truly missed Miles's Frenetic Genius POV, however, and like you, I felt the setting was familiar, but not fully realized. Still, middling Bujold is far better than a lot of authors' best efforts out there. Not my favorite book, but I'd still recommend it.

Marjorie Friday Baldwin Andrea, that's exactly how I felt, on all counts! And I'm re-reading the entire series from Cordelia's Honor forward specifically so I can re-read this in the Hardcover version I got in November. I was up to Komarr but sadly, I work a day job in retail and haven't had time to read 2 words since early November so looks like I won't get to finish the series (again, pass #7 through the whole thing for me) until February probably....I'm sure I"ll still feel the same way about Ivan, His Booke though. It was good just not a Miles adventure and I am still loving Miles--even post-Memory Miles :)

Janet You summed up my response as well, Marjorie. Thank you for an excellent review.

Marjorie Friday Baldwin Thank you for the compliment on my review, Janet. I see you rated Ivan, His Booke only 3 stars and I felt about like that when it came to Cryoburn. Did you like Cryoburn? I felt Ivan's book was a little better ...though I don't suppose "better than 3 stars" is really saying much :(

I miss the old LMB voice. I'm so glad I can read this series again and again and never get sick of least the early books when her voice was still fresh and excited to be emarking on the journey into this new universe she was creating.

message 10: by Janet (last edited Dec 31, 2012 09:55AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Janet Hi Marjorie - I thought 'Cryoburn' was about on par with 'Alliance,' but I liked 'Alliance' a bit better. I guess I expected less from Ivan. 'Cryoburn' was the first time I found Miles *boring* -- and Tej's family were more interesting than Miles' supporting characters. The exception to this is the 'drabbles' of "Cryoburn's" epilogue, which I thought were exquisite, especially the one from Gregor's perspective.

If LMB is going to keep writing in this universe, I think she needs to shake things up. Let's have a good old-fashioned war again, or some kind of uprising on Barrayar. Bring back the Dendarii, throw Miles back into his "forward momentum" seat-of-the-pants improvisation -- and for the sake of all the gods, bring back Cordelia in a major role! Or go back and give us an adventure for Aral and Cordelia on Sergyar. They are my favorite characters and always have been.

Marjorie Friday Baldwin haha, I'm still waiting for te Sector IV kidnapping that came after Dagoola IV (Borders of Infinity, one of my favorites whenever I reread it and always forgotten when it's not in front of me)

I'd love to see more of the Vorkosigans raising Gregor stories about which we hear 20+ yrs later but don't get to read. I definitely have always wanted more of Gregor. It seems he only got to shine when he ran away from home in The Vor Game.

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