Monday, 21 August 2017

Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold

After having read almost all the Miles Vorkosigan books, I finally managed to find a copy of one of the two about his parents, hidden away not under the author's section in my favourite used book store, but shelved after it, with the miscellaneous "B" SF/F authors who didn't merit their own names on the shelf. I'd never thought to look there before, foolishly assuming that all Lois McMaster Bujold's books would be under "Lois McMaster Bujold." It seemed like a logical assumption at the time.

No matter how it came to light, though, I found it, and was delighted. I have loved Cordelia in particular, as a minor character in Miles' stories, and so I was eager to sit down and read these early entries, these glimpses into how she became who she is.

I think that's why reading this was a bit disconcerting. Not bad, just slightly off-kilter. Cordelia as I've come to known her might emerge from the character I encountered here in Shards of Honor, but she's definitely not the same. It's hard to know yet, still not having read Barrayar as the last book needed to connect this bridge for me, if it's that the character evolves because of the plot to become the Cordelia I know, or if Lois McMaster Bujold gains a greater writerly sense of who she is over time.

After all these books, I know a Cordelia who is devastatingly incisive - not unkind, but so perceptive it's a little terrifying. She wields that knowledge wisely, but it's there all the time, and the light she shines on dark corners is turned on herself as well. She knows who she is and what she can do, and one of the things she can do is analyze people without illusion.

That's not Cordelia as she appears here, and I like the Cordelia I meet here, but she's not as strongly drawn as she will be, and having encountered her in reverse order, so to speak, I felt a bit at sea. Nonetheless, I enjoyed very much the first meeting of Aral and Cordelia, and the slow progression by which they became entangled.

Cordelia Naismith is part of a planetary survey when her base camp is attacked and massacred by Barrayaran soldiers. One of their own is left behind for dead, the victim of a mutiny. This, of course, is Miles' eventual father, Aral Vorkosigan. Cordelia and Aral must find a way to survive on a planet with a small visiting population, most of whom would be more than happy to kill either one of them.

We also get to see the two in space in various parts of a war between the Barrayaran Empire and Escobar, with Escobar getting Betan support. I'm not going to get into the nitty gritty. On a thematic level, this is, as the title suggests, about honour, and war, and pressing needs that may go above and beyond official loyalties, and situations that test loyalty to one thing when another unexpected factor enters the question. How do you maintain loyalties when they conflict?

My one moment of particularly weird dislocation was at the first introduction of Illyan. I've known him for so long now as the head of ImpSec that it was genuinely shocking to see him as a rookie out on a spaceship. That's another case where where he'll end up makes the earlier version strange to encounter, but I felt less incongruity with Illyan. The two versions are vastly different, but the trip from this to what he'll become feels more right than Cordelia's ever quite did.

So, now I guess I really need to find Barrayar, to see how she changes then, before Miles is born.


  1. Lois McMaster Bujold has her own entire *section* in your used bookstore??

    1. Well, there's a divider with her name on it. But no actual books next to it at present.