Lois McMaster Bujold – Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance

Despite the great popularity of her Vorkosigan science fiction novels Lois McMaster Bujold has only written new novels when she had the right story for it. As they are standalone stories she can set stories at different places within the timeline of the series although she has to take into account that these do not disturb future events. While the first set of novels had plenty of action, intricate plots and serious themes woven into them she has occasionally also written what can best be described as comedies. These comedy novels are also quite the fan pleasers as Bujold often brings back characters from past novels and adds in romantic elements.

You might already be guessing that I am making notes on these particular novels is because Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance (2012) is also one of these comedy novels. One might guess differently from the title and for the first few chapters of the novel I had a different idea as well, but the plot took a quite different direction than I had expected.

Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance is not much of a Vorkosigan novel in the literal sense. This is the story about one of the side characters. It is not the first time that Bujold has done so. The switch provides her with a new character to explore and develop better and she can describe the world in a slightly different way. We do meet familar characters of old again but these now play a different role as their relationship toward the main protagonist is different. As usual, Bujold makes a good job of it.

I may have said that is the story of one of the side characters but this is not entirely true. Only half of the story is told from his viewpoint. The other half is told from the viewpoint of a new character. As she interact intensively with the other main character he still gets much of the center stage. The pairing brings extra focus on the two characters, their relationship and their development throughout the story.

While this is a very enjoyable book for any Vorkosigan fan I have to be honest here that the plot is rather circumstantial. Initially I expected an exciting plot that would see plenty of action. Bujold however steers the plot in a completely different way with very little action. The bit of action that we do get at the end is more of a diversion to push certain developments into a necessary closure. Either way it is fortunate for the novel that Bujold did so because for the larger middle part of the novel the story is somewhat lacklustre in which Bujold follows some predictable course.

Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance is not anywhere close to the best Vorkosigan novels. Is it the worst? Bujold does not write bad novels or poor stories. This book is much of a fan pleaser and as a fan I had no regret reading it. She is still a superb story teller. Telling the story from this particular side character is something that makes the novel very worthwhile reading although it lacks some depth and it does not raise the side character much from his side character position. In a way that is a sad thing to see.

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