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Shards of Honour, Lois McMaster Bujold

January 22, 2014

ShardsofHonorShards of Honour, Lois McMaster Bujold (1986)
Review by Adam Whitehead

Cordelia Naismith, commander of a survery ship from Beta Colony, is marooned on an uncharted planet when her vessel is attacked by Barryarans. Naismith is captured by Captain Aral Vorkosigan, the infamous Butcher of Komarr, and taken on a gruelling cross-country journey to his base camp. However, Vorkosigan himself is facing a prospective mutiny led by an ambitious junior officer and both Beta and Barrayar are about to find themselves on opposing sides of a bloody war.

The Vorkosigan Saga is one of the most famous ongoing works of science fiction in the United States. Comprising (so far) fifteen novels and numerous short stories and novellas, the series has won four Hugos (including three for Best Novel), been nominated for another six and has won an additional two Locus Awards and two Nebulas. The series has sold more than two million copies for Baen Books in the States, but is almost unknown in the UK. Repeated attempts to publish the series here have failed, usually due to low sales and indifferent reviews.

Reading Shards of Honour, I have to reluctantly adopt the traditional British stance of not seeing what all the fuss is about. The book starts off well enough, with an adventure storyline featuring two people (and a severely injured third) abandoned on a planet and having to work together to survive. These sequences, though indifferently written, are interesting enough and Bujold reveals an interesting amount of character through the actions of Cordelia and Aral. Unfortunately, what she doesn’t do is provide them with any chemistry. When Cordelia realises she is attracted to Aral, and Aral reciprocates those feelings, it kind of comes out of nowhere. When (spoiler alert!) they are eventually rescued, the book descends into a montage of Cordelia being captured, released, re-captured, escaping, being almost-raped (the lazy go-to jeopardy trope for any female character in peril, naturally) and so on for a good hundred pages or so. Due to the stodgy prose, mechanical dialogue and somewhat stilted character reactions, none of this is particularly exciting.

Things perk up a little bit towards the end, with the revelations of the extent of a supporting character’s psychological trauma and a subplot about a bunch of unborn babies in exowombs (the result of war rapes) having to be forcibly supported by the fathers who conceived them both being intriguing, but these are very minor elements that arrive rather late in the day.

Shards of Honour has moments of interest, but overall is stodgily-written and unconvincingly-characterised. Still, it’s a first novel and not one of the most well-regarded in the series.

This review originally appeared on The Wertzone.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. January 22, 2014 11:42 am

    As you note in your review of Barrayar, when she comes back to the characters and story it improves. I personally think that Bujold is at her best when she comes back to an idea for the second time; Mirror Dance is much better than Brothers in Arms etc.

  2. January 22, 2014 11:45 am

    It’s worth noting that SoH is the first half of what was originally to be a much longer novel that Bujold had trouble finishing. She wrote the second half some years later; it was published separately as Barrayar and then in an omnibus edition with SoH as Cordelia’s Honor, and arguably addresses many of the faults of the first book.

  3. January 22, 2014 12:18 pm

    Obviously, it’s impossible to argue over entirely subjective opinions here–but the chemistry between Aral and Cordelia was 8000% convincing to me. And not gooily overdone, the way romances so often are (there are no poetic exchanges or fumblings around in the dark).

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