Surprise! Admiral Aral Vorkosigan was bisexual. Yes, the former Regent and Prime Minister to the young Emperor Gregor, Viceroy of Sergyar, the feared Count Vorkosigan, was bisexual. And the Admiral and his equally formidable wife of more than four decades, Cordelia Naismith, lived in a virtual three-way marriage with his handsome young aide, Oliver Jole. So now we know: the father and mother of Lord Auditor Miles Vorkosigan, the current Count, maintained a ménage a trois for the better part of twenty years with the full knowledge of Simon Illyan, the long-time head of Barrayaran Imperial Security. And now, three years after the Admiral’s death, Oliver, presently Admiral of the Sergyar Fleet, and Cordelia have started . . . dating. They are, in truth, in love. And this is just one aspect of the nontraditional love story Lois McMaster Bujold offers us in Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen.
A nontraditional love story—and plenty of other surprises
Strange things, these, in the sixteenth novel in the Vorkosigan Saga. Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen is, in fact, a love story. And, like every previous book in the series, it’s an unusual one. Because Cordelia is seventy-six, and Oliver is turning fifty. And plenty of other surprises come to light in the course of this tale.
Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen (Vorkosigan Saga #16) by Lois McMaster Bujold (2016) 352 pages @@@@ (4 out of 5)
Most of the action unfolds on the planet Sergyar, where the Barrayaran Empire has established a colony which now houses two million settlers. Cordelia and (until three years ago) Aral had reigned over the colony as coequals, Viceroy and Vicereine, for two decades.
Space opera without interstellar war, political intrigue, or long trips to the stars
If you’re expecting an adventure story involving interstellar war or political assassination, which is the stuff of so many of the Vorkosigan novels, you’ll be disappointed. I was. Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen instead fills in many of the blanks in the long-running story of Miles Vorkosigan and his extended family. Miles himself doesn’t make an appearance until late in the novel—with wife Ekaterin and their six (count ‘em, six) children in tow.
A well-written tale
As usual, Lois McMaster Bujold does an exceptionally good job of portraying young people. (A lot of youngsters figure in this tale.) She also proves adept here in depicting the day-to-day reality of holding high office. As anyone who has led an organization of any size is aware, a leader’s time is not their own. Both Cordelia and Oliver are captive most days for as long as sixteen hours at a stretch to the staff who surround them and the constituents who always seem to want more. So, in more ways than one, this is a nontraditional love story. Just imagine trying to work in a little bed time in the midst of all that.
About that title
Naturally, the book’s title refers to the two lovers. But its origin is not fast in coming. Only late in the story do we learn that Oliver is known to many of his troops as “Gentleman Jole” for his steady, always respectful ways. And Cordelia has somehow gained the moniker “the Red Queen,” presumably because she has come to be feared by the colonists of Sergyar under her administration as the planet’s Vicereine.
For further reading
I’ve reviewed all the books in this series at The pleasures of reading the complete Vorkosigan Saga.
For more good reading, check out:
- The ultimate guide to the all-time best science fiction novels;
- Great sci-fi novels reviewed: my top 10 (plus dozens of runners-up); and
- The top 10 dystopian novels reviewed here (plus dozens of others).
You might also check out Top 10 great popular novels reviewed on this site.
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