Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance


(This is expanded from a review posted on Goodreads.)

Captain VorpatrilI’m going to start this review by admitting this is the first Vorkosigan Saga book I’ve read. Normally I wouldn’t go diving into the deep end of a series like this, but my desire to read this year’s Hugo nominees ran headlong into my inexperience with this series, and I had to make a choice. Therefore, I can only review this book as a newcomer to the series. Thus, I’m approaching it with a very specific question in mind: does this book work on its own?

The answer is yes.

Mostly.

First for the plotline. For the most part, I liked the integrated elements of espionage, space opera, and (dare I say it) romantic comedy. Though the romantic comedy elements were about as predictable as most romcoms put out by Hollywood, they weren’t the central focus of the story, so I could forgive the broad clich├ęs for the sake of enjoying their inclusion at all. However, as all the different themes came together, I wasn’t sure which was the driving notion of the book, and which were just along for the ride.

Now, to my main point. Does it stand alone? The story is clearly very well contained, which is aided by (as I understand it) a new protagonist stepping forward as the star of the book. There wasn’t any pickup from a previous book’s cliffhanger. There wasn’t anything left unresolved. It felt like watching a monster-of-the-week episode of the X-Files or Buffy or Angel without being aware of the broader mythology of the series. There were bits that I’m sure went over my head, but if they did they flew so high I didn’t even see the contrails.

However. And this is a big however. At times I was left feeling that I’d stepped into the middle of a conversation between several old friends. They were trying to keep me up to date, explaining their inside jokes, telling me how they met, letting me know where they were coming from. But from the point of view of a reader, I didn’t know which bits of back story were references to older books in the series, and which were new bits of back story being introduced for the first time. Which was…oddly uncomfortable. It was hard not to feel like an interloper.

I do plan on hitting this series up from the beginning, part of my larger quest to read all the past Hugo winners, and the world and writing style leave me looking forward. But as for stepping straight into this book? It’s possible, but I’m not sure I’d recommend it. Perhaps I’ll revisit this review when I wrap around to this book again in the series, when I understand things better. But for now, three stars is the best I can do.

In terms of looking at this compared to the other Hugo nominees I’ve currently read, I’d have to list this third. With any ongoing series, there’s a question of whether to judge a book on its own or as a member of its broader series. I have no choice but to do the former. It’s not a book I disliked by any stretch, it’s just not a book I enjoyed as well as either Redshirts or Crescent Moon.

Still two more nominees to go, 2312 and Blackout. Which, from the reputation of the former and the prequels to the latter, I expect might end up my top two picks.

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