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Old School Wednesdays Readalong: Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold

Old School Wednesdays is a weekly Book Smuggler feature. We came up with the idea towards the end of 2012, when both Ana and Thea were feeling exhausted from the never-ending inundation of New and Shiny (and often over-hyped) books. What better way to snap out of a reading fugue than to take a mini-vacation into the past?

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In March 2013, we asked YOU for your favorite old school suggestions – and the response was so overwhelmingly awesome, we decided to compile a goodreads shelf, an ongoing database, AND a monthly readalong/book club.

This month’s OSW Readalong pick is Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold.

We’re treating this review as a straight-up, simple review with Ana’s and Thea’s takes. We’ll give our opinions regarding the book, then we’ll ask YOU to join in.

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Title: Shards of Honor

Author: Lois McMaster Bujold

Genre: Science Fiction

Publisher: Baen
Publication date: First published 1986
Paperback: 331 pages

Shards of Honor 2 Shards of Honor

When Cordelia Naismith and her survey crew are attacked by a renegade group from Barrayar, she is taken prisoner by Aral Vorkosigan, commander of the Barrayan ship that has been taken over by an ambitious and ruthless crew member. Aral and Cordelia survive countless mishaps while their mutual admiration and even stronger feelings emerge. A science fiction romance by a Hugo and Nebula Award winning master. Bujold’s SHARDS OF HONOR is the first book in her SF universe to feature the Vorkosigan clan, followed by the Hugo award-winning BARRAYAR. The Nebula award-winning FALLING FREE precedes it by internal chronology in the same future history.

Stand alone or series: Vorkosigan Saga, #1

How did we get this book: Bought

Format (e- or p-): Ebook

Review:

TRIGGER WARNING: Sexual Assault

Ana’s Take:

So, this is my first ever encounter with the works of Lois McMaster Bujold and I fear it was probably the wrong place to start. Shards of Honor is, as far as I understand, the author’s first book, the one that starts the Vorkosigan Saga even though it takes place before the main character of the series, Miles, is even born ( Shards is the story of how his parents met).

First of all: It is of utmost important to note that, unlike many readers, I have come to read this novel without the strong influence or expectations of having read any of the other (purportedly much better) novels in the series.

Please bear with me as I try to organise my jumbled thoughts on this book.
As for the good: I like this brand of Romantic Military Science Fiction; I was interested in the mix of plotlines that are divided between the conflict and differences of Barrayar and the Beta Colony such as they are and the romance between Barrayar’s Aral Vorkosigan and Beta’s Cordelia Naismith. I like the two characters’ and their slow burning (well, more or less) romance. Above all, I loved the sturdy, practical character of Cordelia who is both the main character and sole viewpoint narrator. It is Cordelia’s narrative that kept me going – I liked her voice (even though it made me laugh that she, as well as many characters in the novel, saw her as a more “mature”, old character when she is only 34) and her non-frills attitude and enjoyed very much to see her save the day multiple times.

With that said, I was wholly…unmoved by the novel. In a really strange way, it felt longer than it actually was and parts of it were extremely boring even though the high stakes nature of the plot – in fact the transition between the time Cordelia and Aral meet and their next encounter was awkward to the extreme.

I thought at least one plot development to be disturbing and off-putting in its execution: the super prolonged torture, sexual assault that Cordelia suffers in the middle of the novel which serves nothing at all apart from being a lazy way of showing how Horribly Villainous, the villain is. It was a harrowing scene for the main character but which felt weirdly hollow in the development of said character; all the more disturbing was how the aftermath of that attack was explored at length but only when it came to one of her abusers. He himself was also a victim but the fact that he managed to break free of his conditioning ONLY to save the heroine of this novel made me very uneasy. This appeared to me as not only a throwback to Old Skool Bodice-Ripper Romance but also to Old School Science Fiction in which the female characters Suffer Sexual Perils For Being Female.

Finally, we have Aral:

honor

And that is the extent of his character development.

Which brings me to my last point. The romantic relationship and its sudden development required a lot of suspension of disbelief. The plausibility (or lack of) of it plays a huge part because you have to believe that a character like Aral – supposedly this SUPER honoured man with a top level position – would start SHARING SECRETS within a couple of days of meeting an enemy. OK, so we are talking about survival as he and Cordelia are Trekking For Their Lives but still. He asks her to marry him after knowing her for five days and in spite of the fact such a sudden, spur-of-the-moment relationship is against the beliefs of his culture and its social mores. I am all for Love Conquers All but….five days?

Is this the product of its own time? Do the stories in the series get better? Will I read the Miles books? I think so, or else Thea will never forgive me.

And just because I am having fun with gifs today:

dishonor

Thea’s Take:

You know, rereading books is a funny thing.

I am a huge fan of Miles Vorkosigan. I love his voice, his clever thinking, his father’s honor and his mother’s wry humor, and his blending of Betan and Barrayan morals. Miles is and I think will always be one of my favorite characters in the canon of science fiction (or even fiction, overall) and I firmly stand by that statement.

That said, when it comes to Shards of Honor… Ana’s not wrong. Upon rereading this particular Cordelia adventure – I adore Cordelia, by the way – it doesn’t really stand up to the test of time. And a lot of that is because of the shitty sexual assault (which DOES 100% seem like a reflection of this particular era of old school sci fi), and because when i try to approach this book without the inevitability of Miles in my mind, Aral and the romance do fall somewhat… flat.

So let’s tackle the latter issue: inevitability. It’s hard for me to divorce myself from expectation (of Miles) and focus only on this solo story as it stands on its own. I suspect people who know Miles, who have an understanding of Barrayans and Betans and the nuances of these different societies will be more interested in Shards of Honor than someone coming in fresh. (For background, I started with the Young Miles anthology and worked my way forward through The Mountains of Mourning before going back to read Shards of Honor and Barrayar.) But divorce myself from expectation I must, and through the lens of encountering this world for the first time… yeah, I see where Ana is coming from. Aral is overly preoccupied with HONOR! The romance that unfolds is fast – because the audience already knows it will happen – although I would argue that the building attraction and relationship between Cordelia and Aral is a nice slow burn. I do very much like that both Cordelia and Aral are older protagonists with their own past histories and baggage (er, well, Aral mostly) – and I love that they go across their own cultural and societal norms to be together. Even if it is a little unbelievable.

Mostly, I love Shards of Honor because of Cordelia. She’s funny and smart, as well as both empathetic and pragmatic (she has no hesitation or problem firing when she knows she has to fire, for example). There’s a particular scene where she and Aral are talking about the nature of command and management and she glibly says that she’s able to deal with annoyance better than most, which undoubtedly has helped her own standing as an officer – and that is one of the reasons why she’s so damn awesome. I love that Cordelia is the hero of these stories, that her voice is the defining narrative viewpoint for the pre-Miles books, and I know I said I wouldn’t do it but you can really see that Miles gets his gumption and cleverness from his awesome mother.

These praises said… there are negatives, too. The sexual assault scene is particularly awful and absolutely reads as old school ‘torture the woman in the way evil male villains torture women.’ Beyond that, the plot is also weirdly protracted and unfocused – granted, the focus here is on the relationship between the two protagonists, but given how so many of the other stories in Miles’ universe have a true central conflict and sense of pacing, I’m surprised at how loose and lacking urgency Shards of Honor is upon rereading.

Ultimately, I’m torn. I always recommend that people start with The Warrior’s Apprentice (in Young Miles) or Cordelia’s Honor (Shards of Honor and Barrayar) if they prefer a female protagonist but… now I’m rethinking that recommendation. Maybe I need to reread Barrayar to make the final decision.

(P.S. Ana, there WILL be blood if you do not give Miles a try before giving up.)

Rating:

Ana: 5 – Meh

Thea: 6 – Good, but does not hold up on rereading

Old School Wednesdays will take a break in December for Smugglivus! We will be back in January!

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19 Comments

  • Paul (@princejvstin)
    November 26, 2014 at 2:00 pm

    I think you’re both right. Its a useful book to learn more about Aral and Cordelia…but starting off with Miles might be the best way to go,and return to this afterwards.

    I do agree with you–Shards shows that Miles is his mother’s son as much as his father’s. Maybe even more so.

  • mary anne
    November 26, 2014 at 2:32 pm

    The first the I read the two books contained in “Cordelia’s Honor” (omnibus version) I liked Shards of Honor better, but now every time I reread them I prefer Barrayar – it has a lot more meat to it. What I always remember about Shards of Honor is the epilogue. It sends such a poignant message about war, and about mothers and their children, and what a total waste war is through a mother’s eyes.

    I don’t know if I would have liked Shards so much the first time if I had not known I was reading about Miles’ parents…had not considered that. One of the aspects of Bujold I appreciate so much is considering characters and events in one book in the light of who they are and the role they play in other books. I had read “The Warrior’s Apprentice” right before I read “Cordelia’s Honor”, and Sgt Bothari plays a pivotal role in both. It’s fascinating to just “watch” him, so to speak and consider the seeds of who he will become, and the roots of who he has been.

  • Meg
    November 26, 2014 at 5:42 pm

    One other thing to consider about starting people with The Warrior’s Apprentice rather than Shards, is something that happened when I did that with a very good friend. This friend tends to latch onto the hero’s sidekick rather than the hero, and what happened when Bothari met Elena Sr. again caused her to put the book down and not read another one in the series, because she didn’t have Bothari’s background story. To her, he was just killed gratuitously and she couldn’t forgive the author for doing that to him. So do be warned. I still regret not starting her with Shards, because I think she’d have enjoyed the rest of the series, but that’s the end of that so far as she’s concerned.

  • Loup
    November 26, 2014 at 8:16 pm

    I tend to be unable to separate Cordelia’s assault from Aral’s history and I think it’s a facet of the genre that his traumatic past is elided while hers is highlighter. It does make a difference, to the romance and to the assault scenes, to have that in mind.

    Then again, my favourite Vorkosigan is Mark, so I seem to have a like for Bujold’s messed up anti-heroes.

  • Beatrice_Otter
    November 26, 2014 at 9:23 pm

    The thing is, I love Cordelia’s Honor and re-read it regularly. But I always do it with Barrayar, the book which comes next, so it’s hard for me to separate out my feelings for the two of them.

    I do think you’re underselling Aral’s arc, which is being trapped in a series of circumstances for which there isn’t really a way out and moral dilemmas for which there is no right answer. It’s actually a very “feminine” character arc, whereas Cordelia’s is more masculine (except for the attempted sexual assault). Aral is the one trapped by his culture and society, Cordelia’s the one with the more action-oriented plotlines.

    The other thing is that I don’t read Bujold books for the plotlines. I read her books because I love the characters, and because her writing (particularly the dialogue) often gives me chills. Aral’s talk about green silk rooms, Cordelia’s ideas about tests–these are two that always stand out to me, and that I re-read over and over again.

  • Cynthia Porter
    November 27, 2014 at 1:14 am

    The book that made me fall in love with Bujold’s worlds was Barrayar. When I later went back and read Shards of Honor for the first time, I was very disappointed. The writing isn’t as strong as the rest of the series and for me, it would have put me off reading any of the others. I classify it as “necessary to read if you are doing the whole series, but don’t start here.”

  • Frida
    November 27, 2014 at 1:54 am

    Love the gifs!

    I had some plausibility issues too but not with the romance (proposal and true love after five days – sure!) but more with how the events in the book changed both Aral and Cordelia so much. Like, the war stuff and horrible crimes and ambiguity and morals and (of course!) honor and Oh Wow My Beliefs Are All Altered. Because, after all, they are both “mature” (heh!) and experienced and have no doubt encountered similar problematic things earlier in their careers. So, why now? I have this problem with a lot of books and I guess that’s one of the biggest challenges an author faces – to convince the reader that These Events really have this impact on the characters. And I wasn’t completely convinced.

    I agree with Beatrice_Otter about the characters and the dialogue. It’s really what kept me reading. So thoughtful and surprising.

    I want to read Barrayar but I’m afraid the anti-abortion vibes I got from this book will continue there? And that could become annoying for me.

  • Loup
    November 27, 2014 at 4:55 am

    I wouldn’t call it anti-abortion, since it is mentioned quite clearly as an option but the moral quandaries presented by uterine replicators get more airtime. So characters have the opportunity to abort, to carry to term (bodily and with a replicator) and also not-abort AND not carry the pregnancy to term, which has a huge number of societal ramifications.

  • Frida
    November 27, 2014 at 10:47 am

    Oh I see. Thanks for the clarification! I did find the replicators fascinating so I won’t mind learning more about them. I guess what bothered me was that it seemed like Cordelia was saying “all fetuses should be saved”.

  • Beatrice_Otter
    November 27, 2014 at 11:29 am

    I’m going to talk about abortion, birth, and pregnancy issues in the series in case there’s anybody like Frida who might be squicked by them and wants to know whether the other books would be okay to read. There will be spoilers, but not many, so if you have read the books or want to know if reading them is worth your time, I hope you find this useful.
    .
    .
    spoiler space
    .
    .
    Abortion issues in the book Barrayar are different than they are in Shards. For one thing, it’s personal; Cordelia is pregnant herself and is urged to get an abortion because ::spoiler::. Never is abortion described as inherently wrong/bad; it’s just not something Cordelia wants for herself.

    Please remember that both Barrayar and Beta Colony have *very* different reactions to and thoughts about children, pregnancy, and abortion than modern America does, and both Cordelia and Aral reflect that. And that these two books were written before the abortion issue got hot in America. And that one of the through-lines through the series is all the sf-nal things one can do with a uterine replicator.

    As for Beta, your gonads get locked up at puberty, and you only get them unlocked when you want a child, and you’re limited on the number of children you can have. Mistakes and unwanted pregnancies are pretty much impossible. And they have gene-cleaning technology and medicine to make sure that the kind of birth and congenital defects that often prompt abortions now just don’t happen and/or are fixed before they become a problem. So the issue with Cordelia is that she can’t really comprehend a world in which each pregnancy isn’t deeply wanted. She comes from a world where *every* pregnancy is wanted and most of the possible medical issues that might prompt an abortion never come up because of genetic engineering beforehand. (And this is true whether you’re talking about body-births or replicators.) If Beta Colony has any abortions at all, there can’t be many of them because they aren’t *needed*. The whole concept is just not on Cordelia’s radar.

    Barrayar, on the other hand, is very different, because of both their primitive medical system and their deep fear of mutants (legacy of radiation poisoning from the event that stranded them without contact with the galaxy). At this point in the timeline, if a woman gives birth to a baby who is visibly not perfect–anything from a cleft palate or harelip to too many fingers or toes to any other problem at all–the mother is expected to slit its throat right then and there. That’s her *duty* as a good Barrayaran mother. So abortion–for those who can afford the medical care to tell if it’s a mutant or not–is definitely the more humane choice. But part of the issue here is that the mothers have so much pressure that it’s not a fair or honest choice. On Barrayar, abortion isn’t the choice of the women who want to control their own bodies, it’s the choice of the men who want to control women’s bodies. Cordelia is definitely anti-infanticide, and she’s very much against getting an abortion herself, but again, it’s not that she thinks abortion is wrong as an absolute, it’s that she thinks abortion is wrong for her and that Barrayar’s whole system of controlling women, and their whole attitude towards reproduction, is pretty screwed up. (Which it is.)

    For both planets, their attitudes and beliefs about pregnancy and abortion don’t really map well onto American ones. There is a scene later in the series, where a doctor at a replicator-clinic on a different planet sees that one of the fetuses in his care isn’t developing, and at that point it’s treated like a miscarriage.

    I hope this helps.

  • hapax
    November 27, 2014 at 12:22 pm

    Yeah, I still find SHARDS a comfort re-read, but it’s because I love who all the characters *become*, not so much who they are. But even though it’s not Bujold’s best book, the dialogue still sparkles.

    This, though:

    He asks her to marry him after knowing her for five days and in spite of the fact such a sudden, spur-of-the-moment relationship is against the beliefs of his culture and its social mores.

    doesn’t bother me because of what we eventually learn about Aral. It is *because* of “the beliefs of his culture and its social mores” that he falls so hard, so fast, for Cordelia. She is so much the (possibly unique) solution to the difficulties posed by Aral’s emotional / sexual needs within his upbringing that she might as well be his fated mate.

    It’s worth noting that while Cordelia’s respect, liking, and attraction to Aral grows much more slowly and naturally, and she struggles well past the end of this book — indeed, throughout the entire series — with what it means to be in a permanent relationship with him.

  • J Johnson
    November 27, 2014 at 12:31 pm

    Shards was my first Bujold book way back when it was released and it remains a favourite. I certainly prefer Cordelia and Aral as characters to young Miles: for me, its Miles early adventures that strain credulity.

    That said, most of my favorite bits come near the beginning (blue cheese and oatmeal) and the end (Cordelia trying to evade the well-meaning Betan psychotherapist). I don’t find the (near) rape scenes moustache twirling at all – they established Ges and Serg as the loathsome creatures they needed to be to justify the elaborate scheme to dispose of them. I find Bothari a much more problematic character but that’s a whole other story.

  • Frida
    November 27, 2014 at 3:18 pm

    Yes Beatrice_Otter – that’s very helpful, thank you! That explains Cordelia’s reaction. The replicators were introduced with only a short explanation and I didn’t have the background information on Betan technology and how those things work there. Cordelia’s reaction wasn’t explored much so it was hard to tell what she actually meant, and since I have a vague idea of what’s going to happen in the next book, it was more a feeling of oh no I hope this is not going to go there… So I’m relieved to know it won’t. And I can read Barrayar now!

  • Loup
    November 27, 2014 at 6:43 pm

    I think it’s worth mentioning that for me, Elena Senior’s experienced is the more horrifying. Partly because Cordelia isn’t raped (tortured, threatened, but not raped) and because I found her narration of the scene very effective. The fact it is so situated in her head and her emotions (rather than in the bodies or an omniscient narrator) makes it different to the way rape was used in contemporaneous SFF.

    Her comments, later, about Elena Senior were chilling though, and an excellent puncturing of Miles’ worship of Bothari.

    I think it is impossible to really interpret the relationship between Bothari and Cordelia without that very mindful spirituality that she actively works on.

  • Laure Reminick
    December 1, 2014 at 4:30 pm

    First, I must disclose that I worship Lois McMaster Bujold. Okay, maybe an overly strong word, but I do REally REally like her writing, a LOT. I study her writing. And will most likely fall short of it even in my next lifetime.

    I also happened to have begun the Vorkosigan series with this very book. Then the follow up, Shards of Honor. And since then, I’ve yearned for more stories of Cordelia. I like Miles, and enjoy his exploits. But I want to BE like Cordelia.

    Regarding the sexual violence scene: I agree with Loup. All that drama created so many outcomes later. Violence is bad in life. Bad. And I personally find it challenging to write. But Bujold has shown a great ability to go down that tough road, and then get off–and thus allow the reader to do so, as well.

    I’m so pleased to find folks who enjoy “speaking” about an area so near and dear to my heart!

  • Erik
    December 2, 2014 at 8:33 am

    I started reading the books in order, so with Shards of Honor and then Barrayar, before getting to Miles. I agree with both readers that SoH is a bit simplistic compared to the later novels, but it is nice to see a strong heroine for a change. Imho, both Aral and Cordelia were to an extent oddities in their own world, but both very principled and with high integrity. This is what drew them together I believe, ‘doing the right thing’ no matter which side they are on and which culture they were from.

    The rape scene doesn’t bother me so much (I have read worse, e.g. Donaldson’s Gap series, book I). It illustrates perfectly the perverse and sadistic nature of Serg, taking on the weak. And since this is common practice in war, even today, why not mention it in a book? War is ugly and no amount of laser fire and space battle should glorify it. Something Miles also realizes over time.

    For me, attacking Escobar as a means to get rid of the crown prince seems a bit risky and way over the top for a subtle emperor like Ezar.

    In the end though, it is the human struggles, personal miseries and the dialogue which kept me reading on. Aral is not perfect, Bothari is psychologically mutilated and Koudelka is physically destroyed in a society focused on perfection. Interesting! Aral surrounds himself with these kind of people, with potential and twisted pasts.

    Finally, SoH (+Barrayar) provides the backdrop for all future conversations between Miles and his parents and other meetings, and even though this past is never spoken aloud, it resonates between the lines. E.g. the couch scene with Kou and Dru in A Civil Campaign, and of course Ilyan’s eidetic chip and all it contains. The references to captain Negri and the clouds over Gregor’s sanity. The Vorkosiverse is certainly not complete without these two books!

  • Kim Aippersbach
    December 2, 2014 at 7:13 pm

    I began the series with Cordelia’s Honor, so never experienced Shards as an entity unto itself. I fell in love with Cordelia and with Bujold’s writing and with the psychological complexity of every single character. I love the way she entwines politics and culture and psychology, the way they are in real life. Love the way she creates the different histories and cultures of Barrayar and Beta (and later the other planets/empires) as ways to explore contemporary issues like gender and reproduction and government (and, yes, honor, which is maybe a contemporary issue more in its lack than anything).

    Having gushed a bit, and reading everyone’s reviews and comments, I realize that it’s true when I go back to reread favourite scenes, it’s mostly Barrayar I’m turning to. Shards has a slow start and a hiccuppy pace. The romance is a non-event for me, so much so that when I recommended the book to my father and he later commented as his reason for not finishing it that “you never told me it was a romance!” I was taken aback that that was the main thing he got out of it. I guess I was convinced of Aral’s love because I was already in love with Cordelia! And Cordelia going to Barrayar made sense because of the convincing horror of those kind Betan psychologists—that’s a great sequence!

    The assault/almost rape scene struck me most for Cordelia’s courage, and for her astonishing compassion for Bothari. It’s the beginning of their fascinating relationship. Also that it managed to be quite horrifying without being particularly graphic; I appreciated that (the lack of graphicness. I couldn’t read the scene in Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). (If you were bothered by this scene, you’d better not read Brothers in Arms. What Mark goes through is considerably worse.)

    Cordelia remains possibly my favourite all-time character, and I love that she continues to have a prominent role in all the Miles books. Shards has flaws but succeeds in establishing a universe and a set of characters that I would use up three wishes to go visit.

  • Elizabeth
    November 27, 2015 at 6:24 pm

    I’ll start with: I love Bujold’s science fiction. I never got as deeply into her fantasy, but what won me to her series was not Miles (although I adore the pushy little bastard) but Cordelia. I found a snippet from Barrayar in a magazine years ago, before she got very popular, and hunted until I found everything and pieced it together.

    I don’t remember if I read Barrayar or Shards first TBH, and the short cut I read from Barrayar was fairly early on in the book, before one of the scenes that made me adore and revere Cordelia FOREVER (I still remember I read that at an airport and I LITERALLY yelled ‘Yes!’ when one event happened — Barrayar readers can probably guess what that was, LOL.)

    Honestly, I think there are a lot of reviewers who are failing to comprehend WHY that not-quite-sex/rape scene was there — including, no offense, Ana — because they’re failing to see what it shows. It is NOT gratuitous, nor is it fortuitous that Bothari breaks conditioning at that moment. There’s a reason and a point, which SHOULD have been obvious as you read the rest of the story — if you didn’t just say ‘ugh, okay, this is gross’ and actually look at what Bujold was doing with it. There’s a REASON it’s not PC. Because the villain ISN’T.

    It’s one thing to TELL a reader that someone’s a torturer. It’s another to SHOW what a character is. There is no way, given Cordelia’s culture (as someone else mentioned) that she could ever have grasped just HOW twisted and sadistic Vorrutyer and the Prince were unless she’d been exposed to it. How could she? The only other Barrayaran she knew was Aral, and he was derided as the ‘Butcher of Komarr’ — an appellation that turned out to be wildly false. In fact, when she and her crew are about to be taken prisoner, the other crewmembers are apprehensive about her fate if they’re captured, but Cordelia shrugs it off — she clearly thinks that most of this stuff is propaganda, and we see by the jingoistic speech she’s given to read at the end that she’s actually got a good reason for believing the rumors are inflated. It’s hard to separate fact from fiction in that situation.

    But by having her have contact with Vorrutyer and witnessing — she sees that not all the rumors are baseless. Further, she gets a better idea of what happened to Elena Senior — which is critically important for multiple reasons. One, it explains why Aral and Simon showed up when they did (minor) but two, Bothari’s actions in relation to Elena explain SO much as to why he refused and why he acted as he did to save Cordelia. (It’s also heartbreaking to know when you go on and read what eventually happens to Bothari.)

    Aral later explains that Bothari begged Elena away when Vorrutyer and the Prince were done with her. And he saves her life. HOW he does it — yeah, weird and creepy for Elena, but the point is exactly what Cordelia gets: Bothari has been as twisted and broken and tortured as Elena. But because it was done to his head, and not to his body, we STILL dismiss it as nothing. Vorrutyer and the Prince essentially took a man with psychological problems to begin with and raped him mentally. There’s really no other word for what they did. And THAT, even more than the horrors they visited upon Elena, tells both Cordelia and the reader just what kind of people Vorrutyer and the Prince are, and why the Emperor is not wrong in wanting to stop the Prince by any means necessary. Breaking someone physically is horrific enough. But breaking someone mentally? Physical injuries can heal. Mental injuries destroy a whole *person*, and these two did it just for the hell of it.

    I even understood WHY Bothari indulged in the happy household fantasy he did, totally creepy as it was — the level of self-hate he had to feel for the things he was forced to do, the level of regret — I think he was trying to mend his own mind as much as he was trying to mend Elena’s body.

    The actions to Elena are still terrible. But they are not and never were Bothari’s doing, any more than it’s a whip’s fault for causing injury and not the wielder. Bothari was a tool.

    So yeah, he was already fighting Vorrutyer before Cordelia came along. Cordelia took the right approach and she also reminded him of Vorkosigan and the man Aral helped him to be. Cordelia, as much as I love her, is not the only person in Bujold’s world who is capable of creating men as greater than they dream of being (in Aral’s words) – Aral does, too, though I think he fails to realize it. Miles comes by all this honestly on both sides.

    Further, this whole scene explains in part WHY Bothari is as fiercely loyal as he is. Aral showed Bothari how to be someone better. Cordelia reminded him of that and basically said, “Look, I’ve seen the person you really are. I understand you’re being forced, and I forgive you.” And that combination is why Bothari chose to do what he did. It wasn’t at all a ‘convenient’ rescue.

    But Vorrutyer? Nope, she ain’t forgiving him for crap. SHE knows who the villain is here, and it wasn’t Bothari. And notice, THAT is the point where Bothari acts.

    So if all you saw was a gratuitous sex scene, no offense, but you saw ‘sex scene’ and didn’t bother to read into what it really was. It was there for a reason, and a good one.

    I might also add that it adds an extra dimension to Aral’s problems with his bisexuality. It’s not ONLY that he’s bisexual in a world which doesn’t accept any sexuality variations at all. It’s that the guy he fell for is someone who is the antithesis to what Aral holds dear. I think that if Vorrutyer had been an honorable guy, Aral probably would have bucked the system and stayed with him. What Vorrutyer doesn’t get is that it was his dishonor and sadism that made Aral break with him.

    I admit also, I despise anti-heroes (which is why I hate Donaldson’s Covenant series, as much as I appreciate his plot and writing) and don’t care for reluctant heroes, and I love heroes who actually do believe in things like honor. So, yeah, I loved Aral. I prefer the struggle of a good guy trying to stay good over the blah blah blah redemption arcs. It’s a lot harder to STAY a good guy than it is to go do penance and IMO, a more interesting story.

    Thus, why I loved Aral’s conflict in this, too. He’s a soldier whose duty, as he sees it, is to protect his home and his people and to serve the Emperor. His honor and moral code demand that he not commit murder to do so and that he stops those who would, no matter what the cost to himself. And if his world won’t give justice to those who’ve committed it (especially in Aral’s own name), he will by-hell inflict it himself to keep it from happening again, even if (again) there’s a personal price to be paid. And though Aral makes light of it, if he’d been anyone else, he would have been quietly murdered for stopping that political officer. As it was, he was demoted not one rank, but at least two and made a pariah. (How much of one we find out much later, with Miles’ first posting, and we realize that Aral got shunted to that godawful base Miles first gets assigned to.) That’s…huge.

    And yet, here’s the Emperor, showing him that the one and only way that he can save Barrayar is to set up a scene of wholesale murder. Not just of anyone, but men who know and trust him.

    Without Cordelia seeing exactly what Vorrutyer was and what he was capable of doing, I don’t think there is anything in her background which would let her understand Aral’s dilemma, nor anything which would have prevented her from just telling all to the therapists rather than covering it all up herself.

    So, yeah. We needed that scene.

    Granted, I loved Barrayar more than Shards — but that said, this is still a good work, and Bujold only got better from there. And yeah, there is a LOT here that makes everything in the later novels make so much more sense, but it’s well worth reading in its own right.

    Oh, and final note – I’m hugely pro-choice myself, but I didn’t take Cordelia as being anti-abortion. It’s also important to note that at this point, Cordelia has never had anything to challenge her views as to quality of life versus existing. If you read Shards and especially her view about what happens to Dubauer, and then go read the closing of the Vorkosigan saga and see what choice she makes…she has learned to make the distinction between quality of life and existing. But in the Beta Perfect World in which she’s been raised, there is no such tradeoff. TBH, the people of Beta Colony really are pretty sheltered.

    The one comment that I think may have triggered the idea that she was anti-abortion was “Some of the women were pretty emotionally divided about abortions. This [putting the fetuses in the uterine replicators] puts the blood guilt on you.”

    She’s not saying HER point of view. She’s saying that was the point of view of some of the women who were affected. I truly didn’t get that Cordelia was anit-abortion, tho. And, having had a very problematic pregnancy myself, I can understand why she fought so hard for Miles — it wasn’t so much because of — damn, don’t want to spoil, but basically, for Reasons, she knows Miles will be her one and only shot at children. She’d come from a world which permitted very few of them, and had wanted a large family. If nothing else, she wanted ONE. I totally get that, though I admit, I understand it a LOT better now than I did when I first read it.

    Anyway, hope that helps.

  • Dermal Free Shipping
    May 2, 2017 at 10:50 pm

    You could definitely see your skills in the paintings you write. The world hopes for more passionate writers such as you who are not afraid to say how they believe. At all times follow your heart.
    Dermal Free Shipping https://goodtomorrow.tumblr.com

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