the Little Red Reviewer

Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, by Lois McMaster Bujold

Posted on: July 24, 2013

Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, by Lois McMaster Bujold

published in 2012

where I got it: Hugo Voter’s Packet










The umpteeth entry in her famous Vorkosigan saga, Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance takes place very late in the Vorkisigan chronology, in fact, we only briefly meet the famous Miles Vorkosigan, and he’s semi-retired and chasing toddlers. Never read a Vorkosigan novel, or only read the first one? Have no fear, you really jump in (or back in) at this one.  Bujold does her world building in my favorite way – through interactions between characters.  Relatives and friends show up from time to time to let everyone know how things are going back home, which also lets the reader know about “back home”, and how it fits into the chronology. There’s no infodumping, just characters have an easy going and often inadvertenly funny conversation.

Right off the bat we meet Ivan Vorpatril, and his buddy Byerly Vorrutyer. These young men are effectively rich wastrels – extra heirs in a hierarchical militaristic society. They have wealthy parents, a title, and maybe some inheritance, but no one expects much from them because they’re so far down the line from the throne. Ivan spends his free time chasing women and promising his mother he’ll settle down one day, and Byerly uses his reputation as an idiot cad to his advantage in his career. It’s easy to think at first that these two playboys are exactly what they seem.

Ivan does a favor for Byerly, and ends up tied to a chair in a beautiful woman’s apartment, while the real kidnappers are breaking through the window.  The beautiful woman, Tej, happens to be the on-the-run daughter of a deposed Major House of Jackson’s Whole, a planet on the other side of the wormhole.

In a last ditch effort to protect her from the local authorities, Ivan offers her instant entry into High Vor society, via becoming his wife (in name only of course, with a promise of a divorce once he’s seen her safely to her destination).  A few hastily spoken sentences later, and poof: Tej is now Lady Vorpatril.  She’s only know Ivan a few hours, but he seems earnest in that he’s just interested in helping her.  And besides, if he tries anything (which he swears he won’t), Tej’s blue skinned companion will beat the shit out of him.

The next scene goes something like “we’re married. you’re safe”. followed promptly by “shit, what do we tell my family??”.   There is much fast talking on both ends.  Ivan has to explain to his parents where his beautiful blushing bride suddenly showed up from, and gets to explain the identity of the  blue skinned woman who refuses to leave Tej’s side. Ivan’s mother and stepfather are surprisingly accepting of the situation, as is his cousin, Miles Vorkosigan.  All that’s left to do is for Ivan and Tej to get an appointment with the official who will grant their divorce.  The only problem is they begin to like each other. A lot.  Also, if they got that appointment, and got their request granted, this would be a might boring book. And Lois McMaster Bujold don’t do boring.

 As always, nothing is as simple as it seems, and Ivan’s elders  aren’t the only ones who see “opportunity” written all over the sudden marriage. When a few of Tej’s family members make an appearance, the political situation becomes much more complicated. Will Ivan and Tej ever get more than a few hours together to get to know each other? They already know they’re great in bed together, but a great relationship is about more than just hot sex.

Allow me to make it perfectly clear: this is not a romance novel.  Nor is it a comedy.  But as the plot raced on, I found myself laughing out loud at Ivan’s social predicaments and a few recurring in-jokes and hoping that he and Tej might get a chance at a happy ending. For Tej and Ivan, “happy ending” means being left alone by their annoying, conniving, and opportunistic families.

There’s a lot going on here, but don’t let that make you nervous. McMaster Bujold’s writing is pure gold. Even as more characters joined the party, or when events from previous novels in the series were referenced, I never once felt lost or overwhelmed. Writing this review, I’m realizing how much action, romance, snappy and funny dialog, political machinations, negotiating, spying, and amusing social awkwardness is crammed into this novel. But reading it, everything is presented so naturally that you don’t realize how much is happening at once. Lois McMaster Bujold’s talent is simply astounding. People, I can’t express how much a joy this book was to read.  No one writes dialog like Lois McMaster Bujold, and I mean NO ONE.  There’s a reason this woman is tied with Robert Heinlein for most Hugos won.

Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance succeeded in the way we hope all books will: It transported me, it made me feel like I was there, right now, with these people. As dysfunctional as they were, I wanted them to reach their goals, I was rooting for them every step of the way. It made me want to grab another Vorkosigan  novel and return to this place as fast as I can.

I like this UK cover art much better.

I like this UK cover art much better.

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13 Responses to "Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, by Lois McMaster Bujold"

It’s a good book, but if you are following the series in manic fan order, as I did, then it is too similar to “A Civil Campaign” which cheats itself to double length by putting much of the character development in “Komarr”. I’d suggest that you put one of the other books in between. Say you’ve skipped “Falling Free” or “Ethan of Athos” on the way through, wedging it in here is a good idea.

On my work blog I suggested putting Cryoburn in the middle, but I was only partway through Cryoburn when I said that: the ending of Cryoburn is shatteringly good, though, and you might not want to read it, then rewind time a bit.


I wish I’d started this series years ago, so I could have read them somewhat in order. I’ve read Cordelia’s Honor, so I think i’m going to try to go back and read a few of the earlier novels in the series before tracking down Cyroburn.


Oh, hooray! Is this the first Vorkosigan Saga book you’ve read other than Cordelia’s Honor? I love the series so, so much, so I’m always excited when other people love it too. I’m glad that it was still enjoyable without all of the background information; I loved Miles and Ivan’s interactions in this one, but I couldn’t tell how much of that was because I’ve watched them grow up since they were 17 (which is when the first Miles book starts).

I had not seen the UK cover art, but you’re right, it’s better… and very Ivan-ish.


I read Falling Free a few years ago, and at the time I thought it was just OK. chronologically, it works as a prequel, but I don’t thing it worked so well for me as an introduction to the world.

is it terrible that one of the things that’s stopped me from reading this wonderful series is that i don’t like much of the cover art?


Yeah, Falling Free is probably the least-awesome Vorkosiverse novel. It’s got its moments but it’s not nearly as strong as the rest of the series.

And not at all terrible. This series has some pretty awful cover art that I think can be a high hurdle for convincing someone that there’s an awesome book hiding inside. The audiobook covers (which is what I have) are a little better? But still pretty bland. (Well, better except for A Civil Campaign. The audiobook cover on that one makes Miles look like a 90-year-old Quasimodo.)


Yeah! I have to admit, I was reading the whole review thinking “if they didn’t like it I shall throw the biggest nerd-tantrum…”


LOL! there will be no nerd-tantrums. . . at least today. ;)


I’m slowly working my way through the Vorkosigan Saga (so slowly that I’ve only read one book so far). Hopefully I’ll be able to get to this book my sometime next year (based off the number of books currently on my nightstand).


which one have you read? did you like it?


Really want/need to read this one. It’s the first new Vorkosigan novel since I discovered the series (circa A Civil Campaign, I think) that I haven’t bought and read immediately.


yes! read it so we can talk about it!!


I’ve got to get back to this series. I’ve only read the first, Shards of Honor, but loved it.


LOL, we can read them out of order together!


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