Is it my fault because it was my first foray into the Vorkosigan series? Maybe I should have read a few of the earlier novels to get a taste of McMaster Bujold’s world. I weighed that option considerably, and chose to go ahead with this book for two reasons. First, I was in a hurry. Hugo voting takes place next month, which is a deadline I set for myself to have read all the nominees for best novel. Two, I wanted to see what it was like to jump in the middle of a series. It was an experiment.
But the book wasn’t that great, and I don’t think it had anything to do with my jumping in the middle.
Ivan Vorpatril, the least bright of the Vor clan, works a safe and simple bureaucratic job on the planet of Komarr. That is, until is sketchy buddy Byerly gets him wrapped up in the affairs of two exotic, and attractive, illegal aliens. Could this be Ivan’s chance to finally live up to his family’s legacy, and possibly find love?
Things I liked:
1. The protagonists are likable enough. Unambitious heroes are kind of appealing, although they can get boring if they are not surrounded by enough struggle, which is the failure of this novel. The lead character, Ivan Vorkosigan, is the “idiot” of the Vorpatril series, and this is the first novel that centers on his life. At first, he kind of reminded me of Jez from Peep Show, which helped me to like him more. His romance with Tej is cute, but could have been more compelling if the author had taken more risks with her characters.
2. I got enough of a taste of the Vorkosigan world that I might want to try another book one day. The promising reviews of other novels in this series make me think I just ran into a dud. Some of the outlying characters in this story happen to be main characters in other stories, and their personalities promise more depth. This particular novel hints at enough of their struggles to interest me.
Things I didn’t like:
1. The novel is full of lazy writing. Bujold completely ignores that old writing adage, “Show me, don’t tell me”? Every bit of planning, deceit, and intrigue is revealed in dialogue. Long, boring dialogue. It includes lots of scenes of people sitting in living rooms, or dining rooms, or studies, and talking about things that are going on. Only Dostoevsky can get away with that. Hardly any revelations occur through action and surprise. I can’t believe this book is nominated for awards.
2. The plot is clumsy and contrived. The entire plot for Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance is contrived. Nothing about this book feels organic. It is as if the author started with the ending (which I think she probably did, because it appears she is now just inserting new books into the middle of her acclaimed series), and plotted things backwards to justify the ending.
3. The stakes are never high enough to matter. Why is the big heist such a secret if nobody cares in the end. Besides, there is an unsaid understanding that anyone who knows anything is going to tell everyone else. Any scheme bungle is greeted with a fist shaking and a “Why you… grumble, grumble, grumble,” but nothing more. There is no convincing danger for any of the characters.
Perhaps Ms. McMaster Bujold’s techniques are another way to develop the unambitious natures of her two protagonists. I can give her that, but it’s a little too meta if that’s her excuse for the forced and artificial plot that makes up Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance. I’m not done with the Vorkosigan world just yet, though. All of those 4-star reviews make me think this book is the product of a strong series, so I’ll be trying one of the earlier, Hugo-winning novels in the near future.