(cover image from Amazon.com)
Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, the latest in Lois McMaster Bujold's long-running Vorkosigan series, is Ivan's book. If you're a fan of the series, you'll know what that means. If not, don't start here. You really need to read the series in order.
You can read this review, though, if you want. :)
Anyway, I've been amazed that Bujold has been able to write such a long series of books while still finding new things to tell us about her characters. Indeed, for the most part, the series just got better and better as it went along.
But everything must end, and I've been thinking that it was time to put this series to bed. Instead, Bujold switched the focus to Ivan. Wise move! It's a great book, and it lets Ivan finally show us what he's got.
Ivan has been a big part of the series from the very beginning - well, almost - but he's had strictly a supporting role, and usually a humorous one. Miles was the star. Ivan was the comic relief. (Admittedly, a lot of the humor in the series comes from both characters.)
We first saw him as a randy teenager, and his basic personality hasn't changed much (he turns 35 in this book), but he's grown. Indeed, he's always had some very good qualities. Right from the start, he was brave and loyal and honest. But he let Miles do the thinking. Well, Miles was very, very good at that.
And Ivan didn't want responsibility. He was happy taking orders. Note that he was as military-mad as everyone else on Barrayar, and he fit in very well there - better than Miles. Indeed, in an earlier book, we saw him gloat over his promotion to captain, while Miles was still just a lieutenant (although Ivan has since been avoiding further promotions, apparently).
Ivan was absolutely dependable, right from the start. But, slowly, Bujold started showing us his other qualities (other than his good looks and popularity with young women). Ivan was never dumb, and later in the series - notably in Memory and A Civil Campaign, my favorite books in the series - he started using his intelligence.
As he got to his early 30's, Ivan also started worrying about settling down. Indeed, at one point, he pretty well started panicking, as all the women he knew were getting married and the really young ones... well, those were some of the most hilarious parts of the series. Ivan has been very, very funny.
And he's funny in this book, too. There's a lot of humor here (often self-directed, with Ivan poking fun at himself). But it also shows Ivan when he's out from under his cousin's immense shadow. Ivan is a capable, responsible military officer - an admiral's aide, not a combat soldier, but very attentive to his duties and quite good at them. Ivan may be funny, but he's not a joke.
And of course Ivan encounters a beautiful young woman. Well, we've been waiting for him to find someone, and it's no surprise at all that this is his turn. It's also no surprise that he's trying to help a damsel in distress. But, given that this is Ivan, unusual and very funny events result from that.
I don't want to give any spoilers, even though it's obvious where this will end up. And in the middle of the book, there's an event I did not see coming. I really liked that, because otherwise this might have been too predictable.
So I'm not going to say much about the rest of the book. It reminded me of A Civil Campaign, with a little bit of Memory thrown in, and as those are my two favorite books in the series, I thought that this one was one of Bujold's best, too.
The first half of the book was especially good. I thought there were parts in the second half that were too implausible and/or too predictable, but I was reading it pretty quickly by then (not wanting to put the book down until I'd finished it, no matter how late it got).
Also, I'm really not sure what I thought about the ending, so I'll just have to say that this is one of Bujold's best, but not the best. Yeah, how disappointing, huh? Even Bujold's worst is better than most books. :)
Finally, note that one of my disappointments with the previous book in the series, Cryoburn, was that we didn't get to see many of the other characters we've grown to love in this series. That book was just Miles and his bodyguard, Armsman Roic, on a different planet.
Well, Captain Vorpatril's Alliance is just the reverse. Here, we get to see a lot of the minor characters in the series, and it's great. It's especially good, because we get to see them from a stranger's perspective, too. And since they're all a little older now (although this book takes place before Cryoburn), we get to see what kind of lives they've made for themselves.
Together, Cryoburn and Captain Vorpatril's Alliance would make a great end to the series. And I can't imagine what more Bujold would have to tell us (not about this generation, at least). Of course, she's surprised me before - with this book, for example. So I guess I'll just wait and see.