Barrayar – by Lois McMaster Bujold

Winner of four Hugo awards for best novel, Lois McMaster Bujold never disappoints. Having read Cryoburn, the most recent of her fourteen-book Vorkosigan saga, I decided to go back to the beginning. When I found the second installment, Barrayar, I read it immediately.

Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan finds herself, to borrow from Robert Heinlein, a stranger in a strange land. Having helped her husband Aral overcome murderous mutineers in the earlier novel, she has now relocated to his home planet of Barrayar. Compared to her native Beta Colony, Barrayar is a wild and untamed planet reminiscent of tsarist Russia, as Bujold’s choices of names, such as Piotr and Gregor, makes quite clear.

Following the death of his only son, Barrayar’s dying Emperor Ezar Vorbarra has appointed Aral regent to his infant grandson and heir to the throne. Cordelia finds herself fighting to protect both Aral and their unborn child from a bewildering array of usurpers and goons.

As a reader, I look for three things in a novel, complex but believable characters, conflict-driven plot, a language that paints a vivid picture without getting in the way of the story. Prolific as she is, Bujold somehow masters all three. In Barrayar, we find ourselves fighting battles with one harrowing escape after another, defended by a tall beautiful and powerful female bodyguard and two severely damaged veterans of past wars. Each of them embodies an often-comedic depth of humanity that leaves readers feeling that they’ve known these people all their lives.

If, like me, you’ve enjoyed a life-long reverence for the triumvirate of science fiction, Asimov, Heinlein, and Bradbury, you will devour every Bujold novel you can lay hands upon.