whiskyrob's review against another edition
If it wasn't for Grover Gardner's excellent as usual narration, I would have stopped listening after the first hour.
SpoilerI'm sorry, but there's no way that this complete twist on Aral Vorkosigan's personality, and Aral and Cordelia's marriage, could possibly have been kept secret, as public figures as they were. Simon Illyan wouldn't have permitted it for security reasons - do you not think that at the time he would have had the slightest hesitation in having someone remove a young officer who was creating a serious security/scandal risk? There was just nothing in the pages and pages of explanations of how they kept it all secret that made me believe it could have been done. Nor do I think that it was necessary to twist it that way to have most of the plot make sense. I can easily think of half a dozen more believable reasons for the reproductive choices to be offered, and for that plot line to proceed apace.
That said, the subplots were great - the bored teenagers subplot; the twenty-something aides and the Cetagandan subplot... those I enjoyed a lot.
This is a very quiet book. Some people will be bored. I see a lot of people comparing it to fanfiction, and that's an understandable comparison. (Many of these people seem to see this as a damning accusation indeed, which is an opinion that I wholeheartedly disagree with, but let's side-step that issue.) There is plot, but it is far dominated by the emotional concerns of the characters. This is a story about what people do when the harrowing adventures are done, and they're just living their lives. It's about recovering from loss. It's about moving on. It's about new horizons.
The book leads with its biggest revelations, and almost everything following is just the characters responding, processing, and making decisions. A lot of people have expressed their displeasure with those revelations, but I can honestly say that I was nothing but pleasantly surprised. It's been a while since I've read the earlier books in the series, but I believe that there is certainly space for these revelations. I would also mention that many of the earlier books are from Miles' point of view, which gives a very different take on Aral than what we see from Cordelia's point of view. In fact, my memories of Aral-as-Miles-sees-him were almost completely different from Aral-as-Cordelia-sees-him, which I found a very interesting indeed.
Some of the most satisfying moments of this book, for me, were conversations. That final conversation between Jole and Miles, in particular, was very much appreciated. I love to read about character interactions, and many of the conversations in this book are thoughtful goldmines.
This entire book left me feeling both introspective and hopeful. It may not have rocked me with action, but I think that instead, it did something much more difficult. It set me thinking about my own life, about my choices, and about my future, and it did so in a way that makes me feel hopeful and excited for whatever is to come. That is a truly welcome gift in the mire of uncertainty that life can sometimes be.
I didn't think Bujold had it in her to write a boring character, but the Admiral Jole of the title is critically bland. It is highly possible that I will have a different angle on this book in thirty years, at a different stage of my life.
I wasn't quite sure what to expect going in, because I'd heard so many conflicting reviews of it. But it made me smile so much, and made me go "awww" so much, and made me so fiercely proud of Cordelia, and so fond of Oliver Jole (an accomplishment, since we only really meet him in this book), and made me actually care about Sergyar. It was gentle, it was sweet, it was funny. I really, really liked it.
My two-word summary of GJRQ:
Of Barrayar, for the most part. As she says at one point, she's given forty-three years of her life to the Barryaran Imperium--which eats its children and stifles its women and emotionally stunts its men--and she damn well deserves another forty-three years on her own terms. Thankfully, she's Betan, which means that at 76 she's really only in early middle age. This book is the story of the beginning of the second half of her life. And I am so glad.
SpoilerI also loved loved loved that Aral gets to be actively queer here. Of course, he would always have been bisexual whether or not he ever slept with a man again. And I've heard people dislike that he and Cordelia were in a poly marriage with Jole, on the grounds that bisexuality =/= polyamory. And, sure, not everyone bi is poly. But some of us are. And for myself, I am more annoyed these days with the trope that bisexuality = having a disastrous same-gender fling in your youth and then settling down with an opposite-sex partner, never to seriously consider m/m or f/f again. And given that Aral's disastrous youthful fling was with Ges Bloody Vorrutyer? Hell yes, I loved that he got to have a happy, healthy, loving, long-term marriage (de facto if not de jure) with a man. For me, Bujold finally came through on the promise of Aral's bisexuality that she'd given us way back in Shards of Honor and Barrayar. Hell, Aral was never my favourite, but getting to see his soft squishy insides...I kind of begin to see what Cordelia loved about him.
Oh, and the two surviving members of a poly triad trying to learn to love again after the death of the third...I might just have a bittersweet narrative button already primed for that, ready to be hit by the right story. <3 Or to put it in other words...I've written that fic.
I've also heard people (based, I think, on an excerpt from a book reading well before the novel was released) decide that this book relegates Cordelia to the role of the slashfic yenta, set aside so the boys can get together. Not at all what I got out of this book. For one thing, Aral and Cordelia have a rock-solid marriage that goes down deep to the bones of the earth; they were also married for twenty years on their own before Oliver showed up. That Aral is bi, and Cordelia is Betan (read: not shocked by polyamory or queerness or kink), and melodrama was never an option...does not mean that Cordelia has in any way been set aside. (They also, you know, talked about it before Aral up and kissed a boy. It's not a thing he did will-she or nil-she.) Being poly, or in Cordelia's case, poly-compatible monogam-ish, does not mean that the first couple that comes together isn't real and true, any more than it means that any other part of a poly family is a secondary add-on. And if anybody thinks Aral Vorkosigan could toss Cordelia aside, or indeed that Cordelia would ever allow herself to be sidelined like that...they haven't been reading the same series as I have, that's all I can say. And I say this as someone who doesn't OTP them as hard as many people. The strength of their relationship is just so clearly underlined throughout the series that it's impossible to miss.
This book is about grief and about choosing what to do with the second half of your life, after you've lost someone who was the world to you. It's about "grownup things", not because of the babies, but because of that.
(As for the babies: I am not, personally, all that invested in having children (okay, I don't actually want any of my own at all), but Cordelia absolutely always did want kids. And, y'know, I'm always going to be more interested in fictional babymaking when it's done with tech rather than pregnancy. Miles and Cordelia may be slightly mad for having/wanting six kids, but you know what, so did my mother. Without a uterine replicator. It's not necessarily a sign of thinking children are interchangeable widgets, thank you very much.)
The romance itself is very sweet. Oliver Jole was basically a non-entity to me at the start of the book, but by a few chapters in I liked him a lot and was cheering for him and Cordelia. The fact that half the book is written from her perspective and half from his meant that I got to both watch the inside of Cordelia's head and watch someone else admire her, which was pretty great. (Have I mentioned that Cordelia is my fave?)
And Sergyar! I had no real feelings about Sergyar before this. I pretty much figured giving Aral and Cordelia the job of administering it was Bujold's way of getting them out of the way so Miles could have plot. (Which it probably was.) But with this book she's sold me on the sheer weirdness of it on a xenobiology level. And you know, I always hated that Cordelia had to give up her career in scientific exploration, along with her Betan culture, to settle on Barrayar and marry Aral. So the fact that she can have SCIENCE! in her life again? Is pretty amazing. :D
Freddie Haines: fantastic teenager. :D I loved the line about the quandary involved in praising a kid for having done something well in the course of doing something they shouldn't have done at all. Kaya Vorinnis, also cool. Miles...well, he seems to be settling in to fatherhood and counthood all right, though I was far more invested in him when he was a Dendarii Mercenary. (My prejudices in this canon may make more sense if you realize that I never cared that much for Barrayar per se. Who needs yet another patriarchal empire?) Also loved the Cetas in this one, and am curious about how that's all going to go: Sergyar is a planet with a Barrayaran majority, sure, but also Betans, Komarrans, and a few Escobarans and Cetagandans as well. It's not going to be Barrayar in miniature...and not just because of the Vicereine.
So, yes: that soft spot I have for canon poly with queer elements and middle-aged folks, in a space-opera setting? A+ work, Bujold. A+. To quote Gandalf, I have no longer any fear at all for any of them.