* NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen – Book 16 of the Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold

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I had resigned myself to no longer looking forward to reading yet another slice of this delightful world, so was thrilled when Himself announced last year that a new book was in the offing . So was all that anticipation worth the wait?

Three years after her famous husband’s death, Cordelia Vorkosigan, widowed Vicereine of Sergyar, stands ready to turn her life in a new direction. Oliver Jole, Admiral, Sergyar Fleet, finds himself caught up in up in her plans in ways he’d never imagined, bringing him to an unexpected crossroads in his career. Miles Vorkosigan, one of Emperor Gregor’s key investigators, this time despatches himself on a mission of inquiry into a mystery he never anticipated – his own mother.

Layout 1First of all, a bit of a rant… For reasons I’m unable to fathom, no publisher this side of the Atlantic handles Bujold’s work, so Brit fans have to acquire her print books from the US. As Himself always insists on getting the hardcover copy of Bujold’s books, we naturally pre-order them – but this time, we were let down. The book didn’t arrive until nearly a week after the day of publication, by which time, he went and bought the Kindle version, no longer able to bear the thought of a Bujold book out in the universe that he was unable to read. Why someone of Bujold’s stature is not published in this country other than on ebook, I’m unsure – but it is a pain.

So was the book worth the wait – and the extra expense? Oh yes… However, for those readers who have dipped in and out of this long-running series, I would add a note of caution. The Vorkosigan series is ground-breaking on all sorts of levels – and one of them is the way it slides across a variety of sub-genres. The books charting Miles’ adventures as a youngster are mostly space opera, action-packed adventures with a dollop of social commentary thrown in amongst the shooting and mayhem. However, there are several straight whodunits, such as Cryoburn and yet several more books in the series are far more about the social and political aspects of this complex, multi-layered world, with nothing much in the way of hardcore action. This book drops squarely into the last classification.

However, that didn’t stop me reading waaay later than I should have, to discover what happens next. I have always enjoyed Cordelia’s character – she is something of a personal heroine as she has led a fraught existence, first as Aral’s wife and then mother to Miles. This is the first book since Shards of Honor where Cordelia emerges from her roles as wife and mother and rebuilds her life, again.

This is also a book where we are brought up to date on how the newly colonised planet, Sergyer, is emerging from its dark past, with all the challenges that poses. One of Bujold’s most famous gismos, the uterine replicator once more takes centre stage as one of the main characters is considering whether, after a lifetime of military service, to produce a family as a retirement project. It turns out, a steady trickle of ex-military personnel of all three genders, decide that raising a family is a suitable pastime for their retirement.

I also enjoyed the fact this book isn’t all about teenagers or young twenty-somethings, but about characters who are much older with a lifetime of adventure and life events, both good and bad, behind them. The emotional tenor of this book reflects that maturity. I appreciated characters who bring to bear a wealth of experience to the events that unfold around them, often with a certain wry detachment that runs through this book. While there isn’t the hilarious farcical humour of A Civil Campaign and Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, I found myself grinning and having a quiet laugh at this comedy of manners.

This book also gives us another view of Miles, and not necessarily a completely flattering one. But that is okay with me – Bujold has never shrunk from showing us Miles’ flaws, along with his amazing fortitude, courage and desperate desire to do the right thing, no matter what. All in all, this book, one more, reminds me of why Bujold is regarded as one of the most interesting and nuanced writers of speculative fiction alive today – and if you like your science fiction to be about more than space battles and robots, then track down this thoughtful, intelligent addition to the canon.
10/10

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