Thursday, 31 December 2015

Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen by Lois McMaster Bujold

Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen by Lois McMaster Bujold is the latest instalment in Bujold's extensive Vorkosigan saga. It is, to date, the most latterly set and features Cordelia Vorkosigan and Oliver Jole as the main characters. Cordelia, of course, being Miles's mother, and Jole having formerly been the late Count Aral's senior subordinate. Among other things. I read most of the Vorkosigan books shortly before starting this blog, but I did review the second most recent, Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, when it came out in late 2012.

Three years after her famous husband's death, Cordelia Vorkosigan, widowed Vicereine of Sergyar, stands ready to spin her life in a new direction. Oliver Jole, Admiral, Sergyar Fleet, finds himself caught up in her web of plans in ways he'd never imagined, bringing him to an unexpected crossroads in his life.

Meanwhile, Miles Vorkosigan, one of Emperor Gregor's key investigators, this time dispatches himself on a mission of inquiry, into a mystery he never anticipated; his own mother.

Plans, wills, and expectations collide in this sparkling science-fiction social comedy, as the impact of galactic technology on the range of the possible changes all the old rules, and Miles learns that not only is the future not what he expects, neither is the past.

The first thing I want to say is: this is a romance book. Surprisingly little happened that wasn't at least romance-adjacent, for all that there were some political and logistical things going on in the background. And unlike A Civil Campaign, it is not a comedy of errors. It has it's funny laugh-out-loud moments, but does not compare with some of Bujold's earlier books as far as humour goes. The blurb, which was at the front of my edition, encouraging me to read it when I normally wouldn't, is also quite misleading. It suggests significantly more intrigue than is actually present.

None of which is to say that I didn't enjoy Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen. I had two or three later-than-intended nights because of it. But I do kind of wish the blurb had been more up-front about the fact that this was a romance. I kept expecting Miles to show up and there to be some sort of plot somewhere, possibly involving Cetagandans. But Miles didn't appear in the first half of the book at all and when he did come along he was very much a minor character. Which worked quite well in a book about Cordelia and Jole. I think the moral of this story is to not read blurbs when you know you're going to read the book anyway.

One of the more unexpectedly interesting things in this book are the descriptions and encounters with Sergyar fauna and flora (but mostly fauna). As well as Jole himself becoming increasingly interested in the more exotic wildlife, there are several encounters with more mundane species, like the local equivalent of mosquitoes. (Not actually a type of insect and involved in the most memorable line in the book, which involved "flaming snot". There was much laughing on my part.)

This is a book for fans of the Vorkosigan universe and, particularly, fans of Cordelia. I wouldn't recommend it as a starting point for the series, mainly because it isn't all that representative of most of the other books. However, if you have read at least some of the other books (and don't mind spoilers for certain life events of Miles's and Cordelia'a), then this is an enjoyable read. I would generally recommend having read the Cordelia books (Cordelia's Honour, which contains Shards of Honour and Barrayar) and The Vor Game to get the majority of the older references and reminiscences in Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen.

4 / 5 stars

First published: February 2016, Baen
Series: Vorkosigan saga, book 16 in both publication and current chronological order
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via Edelweiss

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