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Reviews of Shards of Honor (1986)

Review by djq (2011-01-01)
This novel was Bujold's first published novel and the first one she wrote in the Miles Vorkosigan series, named after its primary protagonist. However, the novel does not contain Miles Vorkosigan. It is the story of how his parents met and came to fall in love with one another. The novel is also not the earliest chronologically in the series. A short story (Dreamweaver's World) and a novel (Falling Free) were subsequently written as prequels. Begin there instead, if having stories beginning to end is important to you. Shards of Honor as a standalone book is out of print today, and is usually sold in bookstores in the omnibus titled Cordelia's Honor. With this purchase you get the next book chronologically in the series, Barrayar, a novel that won awards.

Shards of Honor won no high awards, and although a readable novel and a great first novel, it does not rank among Bujold's finest. It probably would not be read today were it not for the fact that it is a beginning of Bujold's showcase series.

The story itself starts somewhat like a Star Trek (classic series) situation. A small Betan (think U.S. at the end of the cold war) landing party has flown down to a planet for obscure reasons, and is immediately attacked by other human beings from the militaristic world called Barrayar (think Cold War Soviet Union). The Betan contingent is all but wiped out, with the exception of its captain; she is named Cordelia. (Yes, just as in Star Trek, ship captains put themselves in danger here too by being in the landing party.) But where are the Barrayarans? Only a confused captain, betrayed by mutionous elements of his ship, is left. His name is Aral Vorkosigan, father of Miles. Together, if they are to survive, Aral and Cordelia, must make a journey across dangerous terrain in order to reach a cache only Aral knows about and then radio for rescue.

This is a wonderful premise for a novel and the interactions between Cordelia and Aral are well-written, plausible, and make for great dramatic reading. However, Bujold wraps this all up in the first third of her novel, and it is the best third. The rest of the novel meanders strangely into other plots and Barrayaran politics that are okay, but not at the level of the primary story.

There are primarily three antagonists and therefore three phases of the story. The first antagonist is a combination of the planet's hazards themselves and the mutinous elements of Vorkosigan's crew that forced him to face them. Then, in the second third of the novel we are introduced to a sadistic rapist as an antagonist. He was simply too brutal, evil, and one-dimensional for the lighter tone of this love story. Thankfully, Bujold dispatched him quickly, which made the reainder of that phase's antagonist be simple discovery. The third antagonist arises in the strange Scientology-like slant as anti-psychiatry phase. The villans here are Betan psychologists who ostensibly want to help Cordelia recover her sanity, which she hasn't really lost. They want to reprogram her to forget her love, Aral Vorkosogan. The plot here makes me wonder if Bujold has had some bad dealings with psychiatrists herself and has a gratuitous ax to grind. I also wonder what psycholgists as antagonists really have to do with the overall structure of her work.

Anyway, the novel has slow parts, but is never dull, and certainly not formulaic. The slow parts thankfully don't last long and are forgivable because the best parts of this book -- the dynamic between Aral and Cordelia -- is so awesome. This admittedly flawed novel still has to be classified as one of the greatest romance stories in all of science fiction. I strongly recommend it.

Review by mwisse (2003-03-10)
Sometimes you just have a day were you don't want to read anything challeging, not in the mood for something new and untested and you just want to reread some old favourite. It's with this attitude that I reread Shards of Honor.

At heart Shards of Honor is a love story, a love story about two (literally!) star crossed lovers.

Commander Cordelia Naismith of the Betan Astronomical Survey leads an expedition to a newly discovered planet, where they run afoul of the Barrayan Imperial Navy, which has set up a secret depot there to further their immenent war of conquest. Left for dead after the Barrayans killed or took prisoner her entire expedition, she wakes up to find she's not alone --as the Barrayan commander was betrayed by a conspiracy in his own troops and left behind.

Together Cordelia and the Barrayan commander, Aral Vorkosigan have to make the danerous trek to the Barrayan's base, evade the conpiracy and restore Aral to his rightful command. And that's where their trouble starts, because unknowingly and unwillingly they've fallen in love -- and now their respective countries are at war.

Part military sf, part love story, what makes this novel more then the sum of its parts is Bujold's strength in creating believable characters and her psychological insight, even this early in her career. If this is not yet of the same quality as her later Miles novels like Mirror Dance or Komarr there's at least the promise of these already present.

(Taken from my booklog at

Martin Wisse

Review by bkedryna (2003-03-07)
Great adventure book that starts the Vorkosigan series. This one describes how Cordelia meets Aral, his betrayal by his own men and subsequent trek for revange.
Highly recommended, but beware: once you start, you won't stop until you read the whole series!

©Steven Jeffery /, 2017
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