30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on March 28, 2002
Barrayar is, chronologically, the second book in the Miles Vorkosigan series, though it was written after the first few books of that series came out. It continues the story of Miles' mother, Cordelia Naismith (though now she's married, so it's really Cordelia Vorkosigan). It ends with a very young Miles, neatly tying into the beginning of Miles' story (which is what the rest of the series is about). Barrayar won a Hugo award, one of the highest awards in science fiction writing, and I will have to say that it was well-deserved. This is a fabulous book.
After leaving her home planet of Beta to marry Aral Vorkosigan on his home planet of Barrayar, Cordelia tries to settle into a Barrayaran retired nobles' life. Aral has retired from politics and wants to lead a quiet life with his new wife. Cordelia is pregnant with their son, and he just wants to live a happy life with her. Unfortunately, events transpire to make that impossible. The Emperor is dying and his grandson (the son died in Shards of Honor, the first book) is only four years old. A regent must be appointed, and Vorkosigan is the only one who would be agreeable to the majority of Counts. Thus, Cordelia and Aral's life is turned upside down when he assumes his new duties. There is plenty of political intrigue as other Counts scheme for power because Vorkosigan wants to bring Barrayar into the current century while the conservatives want things to stay as they are. These events even go so far as to really affect the unborn Miles in ways that will be familiar to long-time Vorkosigan fans, but which I won't spoil in case you've never read a Vorkosigan book.
This book is fascinating in many ways. First, as a fan of the series already (I've only got two books to go, not counting the new one that's coming out this summer), it was very interesting to see the characters I've known and loved for so long before they became the characters I've known. It is interesting to see them develop the attitudes that I'm familiar with. Simon Illyan (the head of Imperial Security in the series) starts out as captain of Aral's personal security force. Emperor Gregor, who we've only seen since he was seventeen, is now a four-year old child, aware of what's going on around him but not really understanding the political situation. A lot of the nobility would like to control him, especially through his mother.
Not only the characters, but there's also many events that have been referred to in the series that we finally get to see happen on screen. Biggest of these, of course, is what happens to Miles. We have been told many times what happened, but it's interesting to finally see it. Of course, there has also been a lot that hasn't been mentioned before, and those events are intriguing too. A lot of what we know is now coloured a different way now that we know the events that surrounded it. Some people have suggested that you should read this series chronologically, starting with Shards of Honor. I'm almost of the opinion that you should have a few Miles books under your belt before tackling these, just because it makes these books even more interesting than they already are.
The second reason the book is fascinating is because of the view of Barrayaran politics that we get. Cordelia is an outsider, and some of the practices on Barrayar are almost barbaric to her. There is very little genetic manipulation of offspring, for one. Mutants are killed as soon as they are born so they don't affect the gene pool. Some other political aspects are so different than what she's used to that she needs some coaching in how to deal with them. Thankfully, Aral's family is up to the task. It's interesting to see these from an outsider's point of view. I don't think the story would be nearly as effective if it was just a political tale told from within Barrayaran society. Some of the most priceless scenes come from this weird dichotomy.
For fans of romance, though, there is definitely some of that in here. This book continues to develop the relationship between Aral and Cordelia, showing how strong their love is as it withstands the pressures that politics places on it. Again, as with Shards of Honor, this is a mature romance, though because they are actually together now (unlike Shards), there are some playful moments as well. These are two character that the reader cares deeply about.
I couldn't put this book down. It has everything: action, romance, explosions, intrigue, great characters. This one is certainly worth a pick up. It also stands alone, as you don't need to read any of the other books to enjoy it. It helps to read the others (especially Shards of Honor), but it's not mandatory. Wonderful book.
28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on December 15, 2005
To start with, if you haven't yet read Shards of Honor, the first novel in the tales of Miles Vorkosigan (even though it doesn't actually feature Miles, it's about how his parents met), STOP, go back and read it before approaching Barrayar. You'll be glad you did. These two novels, written seven years apart, tell one complete story arc. How that came to be is an interesting story.
Shards of Honor and Barrayar form the beginning of the Miles Vorkosigan series. (Bujold's novel Falling Free takes place within the same fictional universe but, being set approximately 200 years before Miles' birth, features none of the series' familiar characters. Eventually you'll want to read Falling Free, but it doesn't matter when; you can insert it into your Bujold reading experience anytime.) Shards of Honor is Bujold's first novel (not merely the first novel she ever sold, but the first she ever wrote, thus disproving the axiom, "All first novels are unsaleable trash"). She begins writing it in December 1982. In mid-'83, having worked through the Shards material and about a third into what would eventually become Barrayar, Bujold realizes her manuscript is becoming too long to submit as one book (the "wisdom" at the time being a thin manuscript is more likely to be picked off the slush pile than a thick one). Bujold finds a logical breaking point for her tale (Cordelia's arrival on Barrayar), puts it in final draft form, and mothballs the partially finished "rest of the story."
Bujold submits Shards and begins working on another book, The Warrior's Apprentice. She's about halfway through that when Shards comes back rejected with an editorial suggestion she tighten it up. She finishes Warrior's, then cuts about 80 pages out of Shards, giving her two good unpublished novels. In 1985, around the time she finishes her third novel, Ethan of Athos, Warrior's makes it over the transom at Baen, and suddenly she goes from unpublished wannabe to successful novelist with three books (Shards, Warrior's, Ethan) SOLD. Shards is published in 1986.
Fastforward to 1989. Bujold has written four more books, Falling Free, Brothers In Arms, Borders of Infinity (a short story collection), and The Vor Game. Then the program-book editor of Philcon, a long-established SF convention in Philadelphia, asks Bujold to do a short story or outtake to donate to their program book. Remembering the unfinished novel fragment of years before, she troops up into her attic, retrieves the pages, reads them and decides to complete it as a novel. After all, it's already a third finished, right? And in 1992, Barrayar won the Hugo Award for Best SF Novel of the Year.
Shards of Honor stars Captain Cordelia Naismith, commander of a survey team for the Betan Expeditionary Force, and Captain Aral Vorkosigan, victim of a mutiny on his Barrayaran warship. Both stranded on an unexplored alien planet, officers on opposite sides of the Betan-Barrayaran War, they reach an agreement of honor: they will trust and rely on each other for survival as they travel across a planet seemingly intent on throwing all its resources into killing them before they can reach Aral's ship. And then there's the little problem of overcoming the mutineers.... In the process of their adventures, Cordelia and Aral fall in love.
Barrayar deals with her first experiences on that planet, leading up to the birth of her and Aral's son Miles (though there is an epilogue showing Miles at age five). Both Shards and Barrayar are told from Cordelia's perspective. Thereafter in this series Miles, with very few exceptions, takes center stage. Never again will Cordelia be the main character. But for these two books she emerges as one of the most well-realized, loving and vulnerable but still tough-as-nails female SF protagonists ever.
The next book in the series you'll want to read is The Warrior's Apprentice, which picks up Miles' life at age 17.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on November 14, 1999
"Barrayar," winner of the Hugo award, is itself out of print, but available in the new paperback, "Cordelia's Honor," which also has "Shards of Honor." Both together are the story of Cordelia Naismith, a survey officer from civilized, polite Beta. She was first captured by, then married, Lord Aral Vorkosigan, "The Butcher of Komarr." "Barrayer" is the story of the incredible effect Cordelia had on Vorkosigan's warrior planet Barrayar, and how she stopped the civil war that threatened to slag down the planet. The heir she bore Vorkosigan was twisted and deformed from an assassination attempt during pregnacy. This son, Miles, Lord Vorkosigan, is the hero of the following 9 books (so far) of the Vorkosigan saga. I am very fond of David Drake's and S.M. Stirling realistic SF war stories. Lois McMaster Bujold's "Barrayar" and the Vorkosigan Saga stories are Drake's and Stirling's equal. "Barrayar" is very highly recommended.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on May 6, 2012
One of the great political space adventures of all times. Written before firefly was conceived of, some of the plot points from this novel have since been "borrowed" by later authors but never used better.
Set on a fuedal planet in the midst of a time of political upheaval is Cordelia who's upbringing on a more progressive world makes her an oserverver of belief systems and customs that range from complex to repressive. Her marriage to a retired military and political leader is thrust into the center of a maelstrom when a coupe takes place and cordelias husband, self and unborn child are forced into the mix of those maneuvering and willing to kill for power. A scientist and former solder Cordelia is told that war is the bussiness of men on this world, however the men don't seem to be doing an adequate job of ending the conflict and most importantly to Cordelia, of protecting her unborn child. If you are a man you should not be detered by the female hero and the baby from reading this. There is true adventure here, and the birth of one of the great adventure heroes of science fiction. Plus a few sword fights and some gun play. If you are a women who likes speculative fiction this book embodies some of the prime movers of female motivation and courage.
Although written awhile ago this book is still completely relevant and our science has not yet caught up with some of the inventions herein although they are likely coming.
Ms. Bujold is a writer with unique vision and insight into how people and cultural systems tick. This novel contains one of her best antagonists and best heroes. I have read and reread this book with joy.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on July 21, 1997
If you haven't read any of Lois McMaster Bujold's books then you are extraordinarily lucky. You may think this statement odd, since I rated _Barrayar_ a 9. You are lucky because you get to read them for this first time. I bought _Barrayar_ on a whim, read it in one day, then went out and bought everything else Bujold had written.
This is a novel of people, not science or machines. Bujold's characters are well-drawn, thinking, feeling people who are forced to face terrible problems. Many of the characters must face the worst thing that the author could possibly throw at them during this tale, and most of them learn and grow.
Lucky, lucky you--getting to start this series.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on August 22, 1999
I read this book a few years ago and I loved it!!! It has stayed with me and is singularly responsible for my love and respect for this author. I tend to enjoy books with good characterizations and this one is chalked full of it. I loved Cordelia Naismith, Aral Vorkosigan and Bothari. This book is powerful and every bit deserving of the awards it has received. Lots of intrigue, suspense and just plain superb writing. Not typical SF fare to be sure. This novel is far more. As an SF enthusiust, I found the novel to be fullfilling. Unemcumbered by misplaced laser fights, starships and aliens, Bujold was creating a universe with compelling societies and projections as to what can happen to man as he expands his presence in the universe. What type of aborrations and mutations to our views of society and morality will ensue (as the future inevidably dictate will occur), once man extends beyond earth in the outgrowth of extraterrestrial colonies. Barrayar is just one interpretation. I think Bujold puts across these ideas and much much more. She does so brilliantly. Awesome book.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on January 3, 2001
Barrayar is one of Bujold's best. It is THE starting point into Bujold's work. WIth it, you can step back to read Shard's of Honor and see where Codelia and the Vor came from, or you can step forward into Miles' world and life (forward momentum). Either way, Barrayar contains the best of the Vorkosigan world. Action and a true feeling of romance and family abound. The greatness of great people such as Aral an Piotr and Cordelia is given full view as they live up to nearly unmatchable honors and codes. Bujold's characters are people, first and foremost, but by their actions, decisions, determination, and honor, they rise above the label of normalcy and transcend into greatness. Aral and Piotr are both grim, honorable, and dependable. Bothari is mad and crazy and loyal above all. Cordelia, above all this is determined for a normal life and will do anything, including becoming great to get this prize.
If you read any new series, if you read any new series, start with this!
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on September 23, 2006
I know this series has been out for a while but, I just had to do this one-size-fits-all review of Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan saga. First of all, if you haven't read this series, clear your calendar and just do it. Don't worry about reading it in any particular order either (by chronology or publication date). The first one of these books to find its way into your hands is the first one you should read. The only exception to this rule would be "A Civil Campaign," because of the gathering of all the old characters and extensive references to past events, you should save this one for the last. (How does she keep track of all this stuff?)
Miles Vorkosigan is the most unlikely hero you will ever meet. The deck was stacked against him before he was born. He's not big, or fast, or strong. His body is bent and his bones are weak thanks to a poison gas attack on his mother while she carried him. All he has is his brain. But what a brain! His brain is a hyperactive trouble magnet with an uncanny ability to land him directly in the center of every whirlwind of danger he comes across. Fortunately this remarkable brain is smart enough to get him out of trouble time and again as well.
Set in mankind's distant future where space fairing is routine and bio-technology has produced many wonders, Miles Vorkosigan engages valiantly in the struggle to protect his home world of Barrayar and its imperium from the plots of its neighboring planetary systems. Born into the Vor aristocracy of Barrayar, Mile is an outcast on his home world due to his deformities. Nonetheless, he manages to rise to the occasion and find a place for himself and his talents in the highest levels of the empire.
The combination of high tech space adventure and old world political intrigue makes this series stand out. The characters are at once deeply human and vividly rendered in a writing style that envelopes the reader. As I have said before, you don't read one of Lois McMaster Bujold's books; you enter her world (worlds in this case). Each and every one of the books in this series is witty, emotionally deep, sexy, and mildly disturbing. In other words, perfect. If you haven't read this series yet you are in for a big treat. It gets my highest recommendation. Go ahead ... spoil yourself.
Reviewed by Hugh Mannfield at [...]
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
A book review by C. Douglas Baker
Barrayar is an outstanding work in the universe of the now well known Miles Naismith Vorkosigan. Most of the events take place before Miles' birth centering around his mother's adjustment to becoming the wife of the new regent to the Emperor Gregory. Barrayar is a planet with a history of political violence, intrigue, assassination, and sheer chicanery that rivals any of the medieval governments of Earth. Aral Vorkosigan, Miles' father, survives a couple of assassination attempts, one an attack with poisonous gas that affects Cordelia while she is pregnant with Miles. The antidote to the poison gas severely damages the fetus but Cordelia refuses to abort the pregnancy. Cordelia recruits a research driven expert in the field of military poisons and the planet's best obstetrician to place Mile's in an "uterine replicator". The replicator is used extensively on Beta, Cordelia's homeworld, as a replacement for natural childbirth. The zygote is placed in the replicator and it acts as an artificial womb freeing women of the inconvenience and pain of natural childbirth. It also allows the application of treatments to Miles' fetus to keep it viable. Cordelia wants to save her child, despite that it will be deformed and stunted in growth. While Miles is incubating at the Imperial Military Hospital, a rebellion occurs which pits Aral Vorkosigan against an arch conservative "pretender" to the throne. The pretender, Vordarian, takes possession of the capital city and the uterine replicator. This launches Cordelia into a plot, along with her closest companions, to rescue young Miles. Cordelia's daring evasion of her own husband's military personnel (he has forbidden her to make such an attempt) and her rescue of Miles is the highlight of the novel.
Barrayar is a masterpiece in character development. The reader feels an intimate knowledge of the main characters and their relationship to each other by the end of the novel. Aral Vorkosigan is an enlightened man in a world of backward thinking politicians. In a militaristic, xenophobic world where women are second class and babies with the slightest defects are aborted or let die by exposure, Aral attempts to avoid wars and conflict, marries an off-world, strong willed woman whose advice he seeks out, and genuinely loves his unborn child despite his known defects. Cordelia is that strong willed woman who stands up not only to Piotr, Aral's conservative father who cannot bear the thought of having a deformed heir, but also launches a daring scheme to rescue her son from the clutches of Vordarian. For anyone who has never read a Miles Vorkosigan novel, the final eight pages are a must read. In just those eight pages one gets a humorously painted personality sketch of young Miles and what we can expect from him in the future. Bujold also manages to maintain the drama of Cordelia's rescue of Miles, despite our knowledge of its success given previous works of Miles' adventures as a young adult.
The only real criticism I have of Barrayar is the writing of the action scenes. Fighting or other quick paced activity tends to unfold too slowly taking the excitement out of the scene. This drawback is definitely overshadowed by the overall quality of the entire work.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on June 22, 2012
Bujorld has done it again! The second fabulous novel about Cordelia and Aral, except this time she deceives him - but it's for a good cause.
THE PLOT: Cordelia and Aral are now married and living on Barrayar. He becomes Regent for Gregor who is only a child. He will be regent for at least 16 years until Gregor comes into his majority, unless something else happens. Well, something else does happen in this novel, someone tries to take away the Regency. Unfortunately, Cordelia and Aral's fetus is trapped in the area controlled by the ursurper. Remember never get between a mother tiger and her cub. Many things happen in this book. Running and hiding, much propaganda on both sides, murder, when there seems no other option, Cordelia goes commando, helped by some household staff without Aral's knowledge or permission. After all, she was a Captain on Beta, and had her own experience in the military, so she knows what she is doing. You would never expect what happens in this book. The plot is twistier than a hedge maze. At the end, it all comes together in a coherent fashion, though quite unexpectedly. There is surprise everywhere, especially in Aral's staff.
THE CHARACTERIZATION: Again, Ms. Bujold has used her magic to make every single character seem astonishingly real. Even the secondary and tertiary characters have attributes and details that are common in the main players in other books. I do believe that she has a rule, that if she sets a character in a novel, that they have to be fully three dimensional, no matter what their parts are. This makes the novel much richer for the reader and is the hallmark of a great writer. Aral and Cordelia are both such fully fleshed out characters that they seem like they could be neighbors or relatives. Their staff's are the same - fully human in only the way Bujold can write them. Especially Bothari who's so troubled yet so loyal to Cordelia he'd so anything for her. He's almost an enigma, and yet he's so faithful and only sometimes scary, considering his past life as a torturer for the Prince who had some seriously nasty habits.
WORLDBUILDING: This time the whole book stayed on Barrayar. We got to explore more of the customs, the planet, the countryside, the people, the everyday living, the Counts and their place in the aristrocracy. It was all simply fascinating. This was the part of the detailed worldbuilding that Bujold seems to excel at. From the way the black market works to the look and layout of the palace, she puts in all sorts of details that make up one gigantic jigsaw puzzle where all the pieces fit together to form one gigantic whole. They all make sense. They all work together to form a cohesive picture of a society that's transitioning from isolation into a galatic milieu. A lot of their traditions go back hundreds of years - some make sense, some do not, and it is Arals's job to lead the planet forth into a future of prosperity, which is why he is with the progressive party. Some traditions die hard, just as people do. Bujold understands all this, and has included all the details into forming the world of Barrayar. It is a masterpiece of worldbuilding.
THE DIALOGUE: Bujold is a master of this too. The Counts are formal when they are together, or in formal situations. When at home, they are cranky and demanding. The formality is always demanded at Court and at the Council of Counts, as well as at social function such as balls and other get togethers. When they are home, unless there are visitors, the dialogue is informal, unless it is between the Counts and the staff, then we're are back to formal again. In the Vorosigan household, they tend to be a little more lax then some Counts. I think this has happened because of Cordelia's Betan attitudes. She just doesn't believe in aristocracy. It is a myth - a fiction built out of thin air. so they are less formal with their staff at home. But all the dialogue rings true in every circumstance - not a note out of place. As an example: when Gregor gets bored in the Council of Counts, he may start to fidget or yawn, wanting to be anywhere but there. He may make some comment to try to end the session, but they know what he is doing, so they placate him, and go on.
THE ENDING: The ending of the book came as quite a surprise. Remember what I said in the beginning, you never come in between a mother tiger and her cub. Just remember that when you read this book. Maternal instincts are strong. They can override any risk to yourself. In the end carnage results. Bad things happen and Bothari is along for the ride. Will Cordelia be able to get her fetus in time? Will Bothari flip out and kill everyone in sight? Will Aral find Corderlia before she can do anything and bring her back home? Will the Ursurper take her prisoner, demanding ransom for her and the fetus, making Aral's position untenable? Will Cordelia be shot in her attempt to get the fetus and die trying, killing the fetus in the process? All these questions will be answered in the book.
The upshot is, that I would recommend this book to anyone who can read English. It is a study of a planet that is in the stages of transition, between on old fashioned traditional aristocracy, to a galactic democracy. Of course, there is trouble along the way - but it makes for fascinating reading. If you like politics, military reading, thrillers, science fiction, historical fiction then this book is for you. It may take place in outer space, but change the details and it could be Earth if we had been contacted in our own history by aliens. Think about it that way. This could be Earth in the past, trying to cope with coming up to speed with the fact that there was a whole galaxy out there that had technology way beyond us. Meanwhile, we had just transitioned away from cavalry in the military and had a long way to go. There would not only be an arms race, but transportation would be a big factor on the ground and from planet to planet. There is a lot in this book to think about. I suggest you buy it and read it. This is such a treat.