CAPTAIN VORPATRIL'S ALLIANCE
Lois McMaster Bujold
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Miles Vorkosigan's cousin, Ivan Vorpatril, was first mentioned by Lois McMaster Bujold in the first chapter of The Warrior's Apprentice, Miles' debut, in 1986. Over the course of the past quarter century, Ivan has appeared as a supporting character in many of Bujold's books, always deftly described with his key attributes being a lady's man and a fool. In Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, Ivan is given the opportunity to ascend to center stage as one of Bujold's viewpoint characters.
The action begins with Ivan on assignment as aide-de-camp to Admiral Desplains on Komarr. An encounter with Byerly Vorrutyer leads Ivan to try to lrearn about a mysterious local woman named Nanja Brindis. After agreeing to Vorrutyer's request, Ivan quickly finds himself attacked, kidnapped, on the run from local authorities, and enmeshed in the aftermath of a hostile takeover of House Cordonah of Jackson's Whole. Not incidentally, he also finds himself married to Tej Arqua of House Cordonah, an action taken on the spur of the moment which leads to the complications resolved throughout the remainder of the novel.
Ivan and Tej's marriage could provide fodder for a comedy of manners or a screwball comedy. Instead, Bujold allows the characters to get to know each other, with Vorrutyer and Rish, Tej's companion, providing a commentary on their relationship, a role which is later expanded to include many of the characters who have made their appearances in Barrayaran society throughout the course of Bujold's novels. In fact, the only real moment of comedy occurs when Ivan and Tej face Count Falco Vorpatril, the nobleman who presides over the divorce proceedings between the two main characters.
Bujold switches between Ivan and Tej with some frequency, and not always smoothly, In each case, the character sees their spouse in ways which are more indicative of their own personalities, experiences, and needs than the attributes the characters are actually exhibiting. Unfortunately it also becomes clear that Ivan Vorpatril makes a better support character than a primary character. His womanizing and flashiness aren't as much on display and he drifts through most of the novel reacting to others, whether Vorrutyer's initial request, Rich and Tej's dilemma, or the eventual appearance of the people looking for his bride. He does show initiative, but always in response to other's actions. Tej also appears mostly responsive to others rather than initiating action on her own. It is possible that the two characters seem less than dynamic merely in comparison to Bujold's more typical protagonists, Cordelia and Miles Vorkosigan, but neither really can sustain a novel.
Set before Cryoburn, Captain Vorpatril's Alliance has the feel of an interim novel. What happens of importance feels like it is merely setting Ivan and Tej up for future scenarios. His marraige, sham or otherwise, his assignments from Gregor, his resolution to the problems facing House Cordonah, all feel as if Bujold is preparing the characters up for something bigger and more important. Captain Vorpatril's Alliance has the window dressing of a Barrayaran novel, but without the derring-do which normally punctuates Bujold's novels.
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