I could go on at length about the many reasons that Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance was disappointing. But the story is an old one, and if I try to do that I shall never get round to saying it at all.
So to keep matters short:
(1) It is long, yet nothing happens. The plot to page ratio is miserly. Compare to the early books and weep. At c.570 pages it is about the same length as Shards of Honor and Barrayar combined, and while neither of those would win any prizes for structure, there’s no denying that a hell of a lot happens in them. There is action, adventure, interesting characters and terrible moral dilemmas. CVA contains very little of these.
(2) CVA is extraordinarily smug.
(3) I am unable to give a damn about what happens to any of the protagonists on the grounds that it is inconceivable that anything worrying should end up happening to them. Deus Ex Gregor strikes again. (And why the hell does Gregor give the Arquas any money whatsoever?)
(4) The heroine is from Jackson’s Whole. But don’t worry! She is from a ruling family who love all their children equally, even the ones created as slaves (except our heroine, who is the dunce of the family but is sweet-natured, has large breasts, and likes sex), make their money through being noble hostage negotiators, and are On Our Side.
(5) Georgette Heyer does Georgette Heyer much better, and with greater moral hazard to her protagonists. Arabella, possibly the frothiest novel in existence*, is explicitly about a highly moral young woman of moral parents who has come to London to sell herself as well as she can.
(6) It could be interesting for Bujold to do a satirical novel about how Barrayar’s recent political stability has the downside that the socio-economic elite has lost any imperative for political/economic reform out of self-interest, so that the planet becomes sort of parallel to present-day developing (and indeed developed) nations where you have an upper, and to a lesser degree an upper-middle, class that enjoys galactic luxury standards of living while millions go without clean water or healthcare. Which makes sense of Our Heroes apparently feeling no awkwardness at all in hob-nobbing with a member of the former Occupying Forces (issues of personal culpability glossed over), because actually they have more in common with her than with their own general populace, not withstanding said war being still in living memory (Piotr, who was an adult at its end, having died less than 20 years ago, it is plausible that there are people still alive who were children then). But this is not that novel.
(7) It is now my headcanon that Beta Colony is actually responsible for The Worst of Prince Serg, in that he went to Orb as a young man, did the compulsory psychiatric test, and learnt “You like having sex with women who are pregnant as a result of rape, and YKINMKATOK!”
(8) Apparently Miles and Ekatarin have no social life whatsoever. This is the only explanation for “Hey, you’re the half-Cetagandan grand-daughter of our former occupiers; you must meet the bloke who nearly lost his social position, money, and marriage due to it becoming public knowledge that his great-grandmother was raped/a collaborator” being their best proposal for making local friends.
(9) Have arranged marriages completely died out among the Vor class in the past 35 years? If so why?
(10) I am entirely unable to believe that Simon wouldn’t have had a quiet word with General Allegre to ensure that he has surveillance on the Arquas at all times. Since when is it IC for him to put his own fun above the interests of the powers he serves/d?
(11) Come to that, why doesn’t Allegre have surveillance on the Arquas at all times already? They are deeply dodgy Enemy Aliens.
(12) Is there only one historian at all three of Vorbarr Sultana’s universities? Random Minor Character mention doesn’t add depth in these circumstances.
(13) How has the Cetagandan Empire lasted this long, if every time a haut woman is married out of her caste, she becomes bent on revenge for the insult and rejects all identification with their interests? We have a 100% record of massive destruction so far.
I see matters have got long anyway so I shall stop there. To sum up: we have had too much presentation of Barrayar and its inhabitants, even our protagonists, as (at best) a deeply morally ambivalent place and people, for it to transform convincingly into a suitable setting for a comedy of manners. Especially when it isn't very funny.
*It also contains my favourite line in all Heyer, in which the hero informs his grandmother that he has no difficulty in sitting down in his extremely tight breeches, because they are knitted. Ah! The modest nineteenth century.
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