raven: (vorkosigan - will I lose my dignity?)
[personal profile] raven
I spent my whole Bank Holiday Monday reading Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, and it was wonderful and I have no regrets.

I really, really loved this book. It's not as good as Memory, but no book Bujold ever writes will be as good as Memory. Memory is a thoughtful, psychological exploration of two people hitting rock bottom, and what brought them there and how they get each other out. And it's not as technically polished as A Civil Campaign, which is a political drama woven through a loose comedy of manners and is probably a once-in-a-writing-career book. What this book is, is a comic opera. And you know, I'm pretty much okay with that.

That said, you have to get that far - you have to say to yourself, this is a comedy, not a comedy of manners like A Civil Campaign but an all-out, farcical buildings-falling-down comedy - before you quite get behind it, because nothing bad happens at all! None of Tej's family are actually dead, Ivan, Simon and Alys are none of them exiled permanently from the Empire, and nobody dies when ImpSec HQ collapses! And even given that, I believe that this is two books stuck together, really. The first half is about Ivan and Tej - their romance, their marriage, Tej's introduction to Barrayar - and the second half is in spirit, and to some extent in fact, Simon Illyan Gets Bored And Blows Shit Up. Which I am okay with also! Very much so. But it's an odd shift from one to the other. Making that shift, I think, is the weakest part of the book and a bit difficult to recover from.

Enough of that. Here are the things I loved about this book:

-Ivan and Byerly and how great they are. Also, the thought that Dono Vorrutyer, the elder, seems to be the Vorkosigan universe equivalent of Bloody Stupid Johnson;

-Tej! She is just the right woman for Ivan in so many ways. I really liked her: her intelligence and resourcefulness, and her absolutely on-point - and so appropriate for a comic opera - family insecurities.

-Details, in general. Bujold is so good at them: Rish's obssession with terrible Komarran holovid dramas, the box of instant groats (that has such plot significance, in the end!), and oh my GOD, I am horrified at the amount of PORN IN SIMON ILLYAN'S BRAIN. The poor, poor man. Conversely, I am delighted that he was so plagued by the windowless hideousness of ImpSec HQ that he allowed his employees with SAD to requisition full-spectrum lighting.

And, there are tonnes of lovely callbacks to earlier books that I like - Duv Galeni, history professor; Miles, the sole ImpSec agent who took down House Ryoval; Ekaterin's redecoration of Vorkosigan House, reminiscent of Cordelia putting a lift in.

In fact, I would read this novel as a sequel to Barrayar. No, really. Thematically Tej takes Cordelia's place - the woman from another world, running from something, knowing nothing about the society she finds herself in, somehow under the protection of a man she loves but never willing, either then or ever after, to give up her own resources. Ekaterin offers friendship to Tej, consciously echoing what Alys did for Cordelia thirty years before.

And internally, in-universe - Lady Alys, who gave birth on the street in a war zone, and Simon, who abandoned everyone who had made him and took himself and the chip in his head to Aral Vorkosigan's side, finally, finally bow out. Alys turns over the burning of the offerings for her husband to Ivan and his new wife, and Simon Illyan has lost the chip and is content to belong to Alys, as you get the sense he might have done three decades before if it weren't for the fact he belonged to Aral first, and had to, for all those years they both ran the Imperial government. And don't even get me started on how much I love Simon and Alys. "Lady Alys and her Simon," Tej describes them - that way round. I love them, I love them, I do.

And even taken apart from Alys and Aral, I do find Simon Illyan absolutely fascinating. It's because of the gap between Barrayar and The Warrior's Apprentice - seventeen years, in which he leaps from the twenty-nine-year-old Simon Illyan who was named for Illya Kuryakin, the young, puppyish spy, who does have this chip in his head and the beginning of the frightening competence that goes with it, but is still unsure of himself (his reaction to Aral's naming him Chief of ImpSec is basically to try not to cry and bleed everywhere), to the middle-aged Simon Illyan, experienced spymaster whose total dispassion absolutely terrifies his subordinates. Archetype to archetype; from Illya Kuryakin, as Shim put it, to George Smiley. (The scene where he watches the dancers is so very Circus-and-Control, I loved it.)

And then, after Memory, he's transformed again. It's Memory, I think, that gives you the last gasp of the earlier, more brutal society of the first books - because it's the one that shows you how utterly damaged Simon is. The chip itself is a violation - it had a ninety percent chance of giving him schizophrenia, and he was so much Ezar's expendable toy that this was deemed worth the risk - but then so were the thirty years following, the total dispassion, the lack of personal connection with anyone, the lack of everything but being Aral Vorkosigan's dog. And his third incarnation as a man who now has a partner and family, and the personal life he couldn't have before - but at the cost of the disability he finds humiliating, is another total sea change. (I thought the scene where ImpSec HQ falls down and Simon tries and fails to not cackle manically is completely hilarious, as is the one where he runs the simulation of the building falling down over and over and never gets tired of it - but they're so telling, in their way.) To try and say that all these three people are the same person isn't quite possible, but only in the way that no one would be the same person at those stages of life. As you all know - you all really, really know - I have a massive kink for the relationship between SImon and Aral, the loyalty shading into all-out ownership. This book is the one where he finally, finally escapes from that old hold - this is where he makes bets, runs plots, ends up being mostly responsible for collapsing a building and basically, gets in all the gleeful trouble his subordinates did when he was half the age he is now.

It's not as good as Memory, Komarr or A Civil Campaign. It doesn't break new ground in the way they did. But it's a warm, loving book in a way some of the space operas aren't. It has a heart to it and I enjoyed it very much.
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