Book Review: Ethan of Athos by Bujold (3.5 Stars)

Ethan of Athos by Lois McMaster Bujold

3.5 out of 5 stars

Read in November 2009 as part of the Miles, Mystery & Mayhem omnibus edition.

Miles is completely absent from this Vorkosigan series installment. Elli Quinn returns, with a new face and a new mission. The story is told mostly from the point-of-view of Ethan. Again, the theme swirls around genetics and reproduction, but definitely with a twist. The flip side of the female controlled genetic finesse of Cetaganda proves to be Athos, an all male planet rapidly running out of viable ovary cultures at their Rep Centers. When the batch of new ovaries is sabotaged, Athos sends Ethos to personally select, purchase and escort the replacements.

Even though I missed Miles, Elli and Ethan managed to keep me hopping and flipping pages. Nearly all the action takes place on the Kline space station. Mystery, torture, murder, galactic genetic experiments, political intrigue bordering on genocide – just about everything you’ve come to expect from Bujold’s imagination.

A fun, fast read and a nice addition to the Vorkosigan series.

Book Review: Cetaganda by Bujold (4 Stars)

Cetaganda by Lois McMaster Bujold

3.75 out of 5 stars

Read in October 2009 as part of the omnibus edition Miles, Mystery & Mayhem

Miles and Ivan travel as diplomatic representatives of Emperor Gregor to the home world of the Cetagandan Empire for the funeral of the Empress. A ten-day trip to observe and enjoy social customs (and parties) quickly turns sour when Miles become embroiled in a mystery and suicide/murder that threatens to frame him, and by implication Barrayar, for a treasonous usurpation plot.

Miles, being Miles, convinces himself, and Ivan, that only he can save Barrayar’s honor and salvage the Cetagandan society from destruction or evolving into a more aggressive and expanding threat to Barrayar. Miles manages to unravel the tangled web of political intrigue, gender and caste mores and sidestep his own ImpSec watchdogs.

Of the five Vorkosigan Saga novels I’ve read, Cetaganda is probably my second favorite, right after Barrayar The mystery muddled me, the bioscience intrigued me and the Cetaganda society bemused me. I didn’t roll my eyes or suspend my belief at Miles antics or the situations he found himself in. I can’t say the same for Ivan, but then he’s a healthy young male besieged by breathtakingly beautiful women and succumbs to the obvious.

Cetaganda also stands alone very well. I can comfortably recommend this to anyone who loves a good mystery in a space opera setting.

Book Review: Young Miles by Bujold (4 Stars)

Young Miles (omnibus edition) by Lois McMaster Bujold

4 out of 5 stars

Read in August 2009

The Warrior’s Apprentice

3.75 stars

Read as part of the omnibus edition Young Miles

I warped through this novel in record time, finishing almost before I realized it, because it was so much fun to read. I returned to the world of Barrayar and the Vor to pickup Miles at age seventeen. And how much trouble can one 17 year old “cripple” get into in say four months time? An astonishing amount apparently.

I am grateful that I first read Cordelia’s Honor so I had the back stories and histories of some of the supporting characters and I fully understood Miles’ disabilities.

Miles makes up for his physical disabilities with intelligence, logic and grace seemingly far beyond his years. My only small quibble with the story was Miles maturity – he felt more like a 37 year old than a 17 year old.

I will refrain from a synopsis to avoid spoilers. If you love space opera, pirate-like adventure or Robin Hood-esque escapades and secret/alternate lives and identities, then you’ve come to the right novel.

The Mountains of Madness

3.75 stars

This novella was sandwiched between Warrior’s Apprentice and The Vor Game in the omnibus edition entitled Young Miles.

It occurs three years after the end of Warrior’s Apprentice. Miles has graduated from the Imperial Service Academy and is home on leave before receiving his first assignment. A back country woman from the Dendarii mountains has come down to the lowlands demanding justice, as is her right, from her Count in the murder of her “mutant” infant. Miles’ father deputizes him as his Voice to investigate and dispense justice. Miles’ disabilities make him uniquely and ironically qualified to flush out the murderer.

Not much science fiction or space opera in this story, but plenty of mystery and hillbilly conservatism and ignorance. Miles excels at the logic and deduction necessary to uncover the culprit. He also find a justice that speaks to all the generations of the Silvy Vale.

The Vor Game

3.5 stars

I read this as part of the omnibus edition Young Miles.

We return to Miles while he and Ivan are collecting their first duty assignments after graduating from the Imperial Security Academy. Miles yearns for ship duty. Ivan receives his orders stationing him in the capital at ImpSec HQ. Miles orders send him to the farthest reaches of the Barrayar arctic as the weatherman for Kyril Island. Miles questions his assignment, especially since he only took one perfunctory meteorology course his first year of academy. He learns the duty assignment is a test to see if he can work with, lead and be led by common (not Vor) soldiers. If he passes, his carrot is ship duty on the newest ship-of-the-line, the Prince Serg.

Miles’ insubordination plays a major them in this story. He stumbles into the most improbable situations and then believes only he is capable of finding a way out of it, ignoring the advice and orders of his colleagues and superiors. It doesn’t help that he actually does succeed in saving the day.

I enjoyed the action and intrigue, including more space opera elements, especially in the climactic space battles for control of various strategic wormholes. Parts of the story bogged down, though, especially after Miles removal from the arctic and subsequent detention. And I almost stopped reading when I had to suspend belief almost completely regarding the unlikely scenario of Miles finding Gregor off-planet and working as slave labor on a space station.

It was a fun read, but not as fun as Warrior’s Apprentice, yet it won the Hugo in 1991. To date, I’ve read four novels in Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga. I recommend this book as well as the series to all loves of space opera.

Book Review: Cordelia’s Honor by Bujold (4 Stars)

Cordelia’s Honor (omnibus edition)by Lois McMaster Bujold

4 out of 5 stars

Read in June 2009

Warning: Spoilers

Shards of Honor

I read this as part of the omnibus edition entitled Cordelia’s Honor.

Cordelia Naismith is the “Juliet” to Aral Vorkosigan’s “Romeo.” Star-crossed (galactically speaking) lovers separated by time, space and politics but thankfully without the suicidal tragic ending.

Cordelia spends six days as Aral’s prisoner on a planet her team was surveying for her home colony Beta. During that time, the inevitable occurs and they fall in love. Circumstances prevent consummation, so unrequited love prevails as they part the first time.

Her second encounter with Aral results in the more traditional prisoner of war scenario, although he did manage to rescue her from torture and rape by a deranged officer. She spends weeks as a prisoner, ironically back on the planet she was originally surveying, having little or no contact with Aral until the prisoner exchange negotiations complete. A second proposal of marriage, their first kiss, but the stars are just not aligned.

Cordelia returns home, more exhausted from avoiding psychotherapy from her escort, only to be further “tortured” by her own employer, the military. Since she is not a civilian, she can’t refuse treatment. Cordelia’s vision of democratic bliss crashes in on her and she escapes back to Barrayar and the political cesspool of their Empire … and Aral.

Cordelia finds Aral at the Vorkosigan estate, committing slow suicide by alcoholism. She saves his life by accepting his marriage proposal. All is bliss until the Emperor plays his final card on his deathbed, asking (actually commanding) Aral to be the Regent for his heir.

I liked the story of these two characters. The action, adventure, intrigue and romance were all well done, just not always convincing.

The science part of the science fiction was very much in the background – weapons, defense technology, pilot-navigation computer interfaces, etc. – all essentially unexplained but assumed to be plausible.

I’ll be reading the Hugo winning Barrayar, the second half of the omnibus edition Cordelia’s Honor, starting today.


I read this as part of the omnibus edition Cordelia’s Honor. Barrayar is an impressive, richly layered, multifaceted sequel well deserving of the Hugo award it received in 1992.

I warmed to Cordelia as she struggled with the culture shock of her adopted Barrayaran world. Her observations contrasting life on Beta with the sometimes barbaric and backward Barrayar society lent credibility to her actions.

Even though the first book, Shards of Honor, had more traditional science fiction elements, like space ships, wormholes, advanced technology and weaponry, Barrayar felt more convincingly like science fiction. I really connected with Cordelia, the marooned egalitarian Betan in the ocean of Barrayar Imperial political intrigue and corruption.

As the author notes in her Afterword, much of this story is devoted to different variations on motherhood. Perhaps that is what appeals to me the most. So many children at risk, even from their own male family members, and so few women to guard and protect them.

Happy Birthday Apollo

This past Thursday May 9th, Terry and I celebrated the anniversary of our adoption of Apollo seven years ago. Since we rescued him we don’t know his exact birthday. Our family vet estimated that he was a year or year and a half old when we rescued him.

So we will give Apollo the benefit of the doubt and round down to eight, which is probably over 50 in human years. Welcome to your midlife crisis Apollo. You’re over the hill now and it’s smooth sailing from now on.


This morning I took a half dozen pictures of Apollo as the lounge on the couch. I tried to take a couple more outside but there was too much difference between the shadow of the house and the bright morning sunlight on the grass behind him. I upload them to my Flickr feed but I uploaded one separately here to this blog for your enjoyment.

Happy Birthday Apollo!

Book Review: The Curse of Chalion by Bujold (4 Stars)

The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold

4 out of 5 stars

Read in February 2009

Warning: Spoilers

This was my first taste of Lois McMaster Bujold and I will definitely be back for me. While the magic was very understated and there were no fantastic creatures or races to mark this as a fantasy, nonetheless it was a fantastic tale of dynastic misfortunes, political machinations and self-sacrificial secretaries.

Cazaril was the embodiment of a humble intelligent man seeking respite from his wearing and near fatal travels. We meet him on the road, walking back to Valendra, fondly remembered from his days there as a page. His hope is to be hired on as a lowly scullery, but fate or the gods, have much grander plans for Cazaril. The Provincara remembers him and assigns him to her granddaughter’s household, Iselle.

Just as Cazaril is settling into his secretarial and stewardly dutes, the Roya Orico, rules of Chalion, bids Iselle and her brother, Teidez, his Heir, to attend him at his court in Cardegoss. They travel to the fortress Zangre, where they are wined and dined by the corrupt courtiers, especially the Chancellor dy Jiornal’s son, Dondo. Eventually, much to the shock of Iselle, Orico forces a betrothal between Dondo and Iselle with a wedding to follow in just three days. Iselle rails against it, petitions heaven, fasts and determines she would rather die than wed the odious Dondo. Cazaril spends the last day before the wedding attempting to assassinate Dondo, but fails to get close enough. He decides instead to attempt death magic, which if successful, would result in the death of Dondo, but also of himself.

Since Cazaril awakens on the morning of the wedding, he assumes that his death magic has been unsuccessful. He returns to his rooms, where he remains due to an unexplained sickness which weakens him almost to insensibility. He is rudely awakened by the Chancellor, dragging the Roya Orico in his wake, and demanding to see Cazaril, whom he is convinced murdered his son by death magic. Since Cazaril is alive, he obviously couldn’t have been the murdered. From this day forth, Cazaril can see strange auras around various people – a black clinging shadow to Orico, his wife Sara, Teidez and Iselle; a white aura around the menagerie keeper, Umgaut; a green order around a midwife of the Holy Mother’s Order; and the foggy gray remnants of forgotten ghosts in the fortress.

After seeing the white aura around Umgaut, Cazaril discusses his predicament and learns that he has become a “saint” of the gods, specifically the Daughter and the Bastard. His illness is a tumor created by the Daughter, encapsulating the soul of Dondo and the demon the Bastard sent to retrieve Dondo’s soul. It continues to grow, slowing, and every night Cazaril hears the screams of Dondo around the time when the death magic occurred, shortly before midnight.

In order to thwart the next move by the Chancellor to further squander Iselle’s marriage prospects, she orders Cazaril to journey in secret to Ibra to propose a marriage contract with the Fox’s heir, Borgan. She proposes that they be equals in each domain and that their heir shall inherit the empire of Chalion-Ibra. The journey is long and arduous, but Cazaril’s wit, cleverness and intelligence wins him through. He negotiates the treaty and returns, again as secretly as possible, with Borgan to Valendra, hoping to outfox the Chancellor’s spies and army.

Within a day’s ride of Valendra, they encounter the army of the Chancellor, but also receive word that Iselle has escaped to her uncle’s fortress nearby. Cazaril and Bergan arrive safely, and Iselle and Bergan are married a few days before Daughter’s Day. Unfortunately, the curse of Chalion not only remains after the consummation of the marriage but has spread to Bergan. Cazaril is chagrined and distraught.

There is not much time to ponder this predicament before the Chancellor invades the Daughter’s Day ceremonies with the intention of widowing Iselle. He is distracted when he sees Cazaril and proceeds to skewer him in revenge for his son. He succeeds only in piercing the tumor, releasing the demon, which takes not only Dondo’s soul, but the Chancellor’s as well. Cazaril’s soul is also caught up in the vortex.

Just as he did when performing the death magic, Cazaril submits completely to the will of the gods, in this case the Daughter, allowing her to enter the world through his death and remove the curse of Chalion. In return, the Daughter return’s Cazaril’s soul to his body, allowing him to live again, having tied twice in the service of the gods and Chalion.

I thoroughly enjoyed this tale and felt the morals of self-sacrifice, humility and submission were well thought and told. Cazaril’s very human struggle, his doubts and his ultimate release of will reminded me of the saying “Let go and Let God” which is much harder to do than it sounds.

Book Review: A Morbid Taste for Bones by Peters (4 Stars)

A Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters

4 out of 5 stars

Read in November 2008

I’m probably the rare person who has never read or watched a Brother Cadfael medieval mystery. I enjoyed this inaugural foray into the Welsh countryside and those who dwell there. The characters were well written and the plot was fast paced and intriguing. The murder mystery had me stumped until nearly the end, when within the last couple of chapters I finally saw the light, though the author was circumspect with foreshadowing to heighten the surprise.

My only twinge were the strong women characters of Sioned and Annest. Perhaps I’m overanalysing but I’m not convinced that 12th century women (Welsh or not) would be so outspoken and forthright. I always fear that 20th (and now 21st) century authors are superimposing our liberated ideas on characters living nearly a thousand years before our times.