Lowdown: A woman specializing in doing the right thing wins an interplanetary war and saves planet struggling with internal politics.
I’ve never heard of Lois McMaster Bujold prior to receiving Cordelia’s Honor as a gift, which shows how disconnected I am from the contemporary science fiction scene: while I’m stuck to old favorites like Asimov, writers like Bujold go on acquiring much acclaim for their science fiction work. Question is, can the cream of modern science fiction writers tickle the feet of the good old giants?
Cordelia’s Honor is actually made of two separate books originally published a few years apart, Shards of Honor and Barrayar. Both are written in the same style, providing a detailed account of events taking place upon the hero Cordelia but not told in first person. The second even continues straight off where the first ended, yet the books are different.
Shards of Honor starts off with Cordelia surveying an alien planet thought to be devoid of humans. By the second page or so she gets shot at, starting off a page turner of an adventure story that goes all the way through to the book [rather unsatisfying] ending. As things develop, Cordelia encounters an enemy that becomes a friend and plays a key role in an interplanetary war. It’s exciting and you want to know what happens, but there’s nothing particularly special about the story.
Barrayar follows a Cordelia that’s now settled on a foreign planet with a very militaristic culture to counter the progressive one she grew up with. Political turmoil eschews, and Cordelia finds herself a soldier yet again. The story is more complex than Shards of Honor’s, but on the negative side it is not as much of a page turner. I’ll stop with the plot account’s here; the book's back cover says just a tad more but managed to ruin a lot of the plot twists and turns for me, so I don’t want you to go through the same.
Overall, the two books together comprise of an exciting read. Question is, how far can excitement take you? The story can be intriguing, but I kept feeling like there’s not much more to it than meets the eye. Sure, it’s science fiction, but it could have been set on an historical earth and worked just as well; in many respects, the story is not too different to your typical Napoleonic saga or War and Peace. Worse, especially for a book selling itself with its page turning credentials, Cordelia’s Honor is a fairly predictable book.
Ultimately, I have found the story to be about your classic hero types: the people that do the right thing as opposed to the easy thing. Being that it’s not that easy to do the right thing, the hero goes through hard times while we admire them and contemplate on the virtues of the ideals they live by and wonder if we could be their equals. Interestingly enough, the author herself claims that her book is about parenthood and the price of becoming one; I have to say that while I find this statement true, it is only mildly true as parenthood starts to dominate the picture only three quarters of the way through and is certainly irrelevant if Shards of Honor was to be read on its own.
Oh, and there’s another thing worth mentioning to do with the book’s style: Lois McMaster Bujold is a woman, a relatively rare attribute in science fiction. Her womanhood shows with Cordelia’s Honor reading more like a romantic novel than proper science fiction all too often and with detailed descriptions of what everyone’s wearing all the time. How shall I put it? Maybe I’m too much of a male, but these didn’t speak to me. Hugos or Nebulas, Asimov is on another league.
Overall: Cordelia’s Honor deserves more than 3 stars out of 5 for its intrigue factor, but it is not 3.5 stars good.