by Lois McMaster Bujold
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted January 31, 2020
1. Shard's of Honor / 2. Barrayar
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Shards of Honor was Bujold's first published novel, although it wasn't the first she had completed. A later one, which I'll get to soon, was accepted by Baen, and on its strengths she was able to get a three book commitment. Shards was nominated for Locus and Compton Crook/Stephen Tall Memorial awards, in both cases for Best First Novel. The latter award is voted on by members of the annual Balticon. It introduced Cordelia Naismith from Beta Colony, the captain of a Betan Astronomical Survey ship. Her crew is exploring a newly discovered planet when their base camp is attacked by forces from Barrayar, although she later learns the attackers were a rogue force attempting a coup against their commander, Aral Vorkosigan. It's back in print on its own, but for a while it was paired with its direct sequel, Barrayar, under the title Cordelia's Honor, which you may be able to find used. A purchase through either of those links may earn us a commission. The second book won a Hugo in 1992, and I'll add comments about it soon, which is the reason I gave this page the collective title.
It is a strong debut, with intriguing characters and situations, well-paced, and quite a bit of action packed into a little more than 300 pages. But it's not without its faults. Number one in that category is how quickly Cordelia falls in love with Aral. That might not have been so worrisome if she was younger and less experienced, easily impressed with the manliness of the Barrayaran soldier. But she's not a flighty ingénue, she's in her mid-30s, with at least one major romantic relationship in her past. It does make sense she would be impressed with the honorable way he treats her, as well as how he handles the men under his command, both his supporters and those who wish him harm. Aral also admires her honorable traits, but again, his revelation of when he fell in love with her seems too premature. Both had previously had negative attitudes towards their respective planets and governmental and military institutions. She had also heard of him before, in a negative context, so it seemed odd she would so readily accept his side of the story. Both the first and second times they encounter each other she ends up his prisoner, yet they work together and develop a mutual trust, which confounds associates on both sides. A romantic relationship should have been developed over a longer period of time, at least into the second book, rather than have them married by the end of the first one.
That's my only complaint. Otherwise it's an exciting adventure of war and intrigue, of tactics and weapons, feints and subterfuge. And in the end, diplomacy and concessions, regrouping, with an alteration of perspective between the two powers. Actually at least three powers, since the short-lived war was between Barrayar and Escobar, with Beta Colony siding with Escobar, helping the cause with some remarkable new technologies. I've only read a few of the Vorkosigan books so far, and I don't know much about the background on the genesis of Bujold's universe, but just based on common names it seems Barrayar was settled by Russians and other Eastern Europeans, Escobar by Spanish and/or Latin-Americans, with Beta Colony comprised of British and North Americans. Descriptions of the societies of each seem consistant with that, and later books will feature other colony worlds. The first book she sold featured Cordelia and Aral's son Miles, so Baen might have requested this one to show the previous history, and not knowing the series would grow to the many volumes it has become, she may have felt the need to streamline their romance. Anyone partial to romance in their SF won't see any problem with this, and perhaps I shouldn't either. I do recommend it, and look forward to more adventures with the Vorkosigans.
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