Miles Vorkosigan's cousin stars in Captain Vorpatril's Alliance.

Miles Vorkosigan’s cousin Ivan Vorpatril crops up from time to time in the novels in this series. He comes across as a happy-go-lucky character who uses his devastating good looks and abundant charm to prey on all the beautiful women of the Empire with whom he manages to ingratiate himself. Miles calls him “Ivan, you idiot.” Though he has held a series of jobs in the imperial military, he’s hard to take seriously. Miles certainly doesn’t. But in Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, Ivan gets his due. And we begin to see what this son of his brilliant mother, the Emperor’s social secretary, is really made of. Miles himself surfaces only in a cameo role. Ivan’s on his own as he stumbles into a thicket of intrigue.

Miles Vorkosigan’s cousin stumbles into a thicket of intrigue

Ivan is now a captain in the Barrayaran navy serving as aide-de-camp for the admiral in charge of its galactic operations. They’re on a brief assignment on the planet Komarr when Ivan is approached by his mysterious cousin Byerly Vorrutyer. It turns out that By is not the witless, drug-addled hedonist he appears to be but is in fact an undercover agent for Imperial Security. And he needs Ivan’s help to avoid being exposed. Reluctantly, then, Ivan agrees to check out “a Komarran citizen named Nanja Brindis.” Although it soon becomes clear that the young woman is not Komarran and her name is not Nanja Brindis. And in learning these truths Ivan will find himself in a messy interplanetary dispute that threatens his life and hers. The two, of course, are drawn together, and it’s hardly a surprise when their “alliance” turns into marriage.

Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance (Vorkosigan Saga #14) by Lois McMaster Bujold (2012) 432 pages @@@@ (4 out of 5)

The backstory to the Vorkosigan Saga

Lois McMaster Bujold has a clever way of doling out the backstory to the Vorkosigan Saga in bits and snatches. Now, in the 14th book in the series, as we explore the long-hidden depths of Miles Vorkosigan’s cousin, we learn at last a little more about the early days on Barrayar. The planet “had one of the most bizarre colonization histories in the whole of the Nexus,” Bujold writes.

“The story extended far back to the twenty-third century CE, when wormhole travel had first been developed, launching a human diaspora from Old Earth. A prize because of its breathable atmosphere, the planet drew an early settlement attempt of some fifty thousand would-be colonists. Who promptly disappeared from all contact when their sole wormhole link proved unstable, collapsing with catastrophic results. Missing, presumed dead, and over the next six centuries, all but forgotten.”

Thus began the Age of Isolation on Barrayar, which lasted until barely more than a century.

Where those mock-European names come from

If you’re a fan of the Vorkosigan Saga, you may have wondered where all those mock-European names come from. And Bujold explains that, too. “The Firsters actually arrived in four disparate settlement groups—Russian, British, French and Greek . . .” And as a military caste emerged to liberate the planet from invasion, the prefix “Vor” was added to the surnames of the officers, who came to rule all Barrayar once its independence was ensured. Now you know.

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