Cordelia's Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This omnibus collects the first and seventh volumes of the Vorkosigan Saga, Shards of Honor and Barrayar. The former was Lois McMaster Bujold's first published novel, and it shows. Shards isn't a bad book, but it suffers from uneven characterization and such a breakneck pace the reader hardly gets a chance to take a deep breath. These problems are solved in Barrayar, which is a better book than its predecessor in every way. The writing is more self-assured, the characters are fully fleshed-out people, and Bujold has clearly settled into her world. There is a great depth of history and culture in Barrayar, and three of the best characters in science fiction--Aral Vorkosigan, Cordelia Naismith, and Miles Vorkosigan--are on full glorious display.
What sets Barrayar apart, though, is that Bujold absolutely nails the ending. I must quote the book's final paragraph, because if you don't get a little misty-eyed after reading the struggles of Aral, Cordelia and Miles, I don't know what to say.
Welcome to Barrayar, son. Here you go: have a world of wealth and poverty, wrenching change and rooted history. Have a birth; have two. Have a name. Miles means "soldier," but don't let the power of suggestion overwhelm you. Have a twisted form in a society that loathes and fears the mutations that have been its deepest agony. Have a title, wealth, power, and all the hatred and envy they will draw. Have your body ripped apart and re-arranged. Inherit an array of friends and enemies you never made. Have a grandfather from hell. Endure pain, find joy, and make your own meaning, because the universe certainly isn't going to supply it. Always be a moving target. Live. Live. Live.
Barrayar won both the Locus and Hugo Awards for Best Science Fiction Novel in 1992, and it's easy to see why. It's a smart space opera, but most of all it has memorable characters and it has heart.
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