Monday, September 30, 2013

Read-Along: Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett, Part 3 (Final)

Today concludes the read-along of Terry Pratchett’s Wintersmith.   For the next three weeks, I will be participating in a read-along of the final novel in the Tiffany Aching series, I Shall Wear Midnight. I’m also planning on joining a read-along of Scott Lynch’s Republic of Thieves in November.  I’m really looking forward to seeing what comes next for Locke & Jean!
The questions for today are provided by Dab of Darkness, and cover from chapter 8 to the end of Wintersmith.  There are spoilers through the end of Wintersmith ahead.
1) What did you think of Annagramma's blunderings and then her reveal to Tiffany about her parentage? 
I think it makes sense, in the end.  Annagramma has a somewhat similar background to Tiffany, but instead of being proud of it, she wants to hide it. A lot of Tiffany’s witchery is about being true to herself, while Annagramma’s has been tied up with pretending she’s someone else.  I suppose putting on an act is actually a fundamental part of Annagramma’s identity, in a way.  Luckily, a good act is exactly what her townspeople want!  She just had to change up her props a little to fit what they needed.  Things have ended up a lot happier for Annagramma than I expected.
2) Lady Summer makes herself known in this section of the book. How did your impressions change with each time we saw her? 
The first glimpse of her was pretty much what I expected, she seemed irritated that some young thing had usurped her position.  I hadn’t considered how deadly the Summer Lady is, though.  I guess I was thinking of her more as the Spring Lady, making things grow and bringing abundance.  I guess the point was that life depends on the dance between the Summer Lady and the Wintersmith, and can’t endure with either of them alone.
3) Ah, the Cornucopia, the Horn of Plenty. Was it all you expected? What would you ask from the Cornucopia if you had it for a day? 
Gruy√®re, filet mignon, and French wine.  I’m sure only the best would come from the cornucopia!
4) Werk, werk, werk. So many chickens! Which is worse: 5 kilted Feegles hiding under your bed or a house full of chickens? What would you do with so many of the feathered egg-laying manure factories? 
I think the chickens would probably smell worse (though I know the Feegles don’t often bathe).  Realistically, I would probably sell them to somebody.  My little apartment has no room for chickens.
5) The winter was a harsh one, with wolves in the ice tunnels. However, Mistress Weatherwax put a stop to the wolves but never said how. What do you think she did? 
My immediate thought was that she killed them all, but that seems very un-Weatherwax-like.  My second thought was that she gave them a look, and they knew they’d best not cross her.
6) The immortal who tried to make himself into a man: did you enjoy the Wintersmith's attempts to make himself a man?
It was often funny, but also a bit chilling at times (no pun intended).  I can see how Tiffany pitied him—he had no idea what it was he was missing about being human. He gained the ability to think and to move like a human, but never the ability to understand human existence.
 7) Granny Weatherwax tests Rob Anybody's spelling and then sets him a heroic task. Do you think she was right to set that in motion or do you think someone else would have some up with the same idea?
I think Rob and the Feegles were the right people to send.  They’ve wandered around in pretty much all worlds, so they had a lot of knowledge to help Roland out in the underworld (though that is a really weird statement to make about Feegles).  Granny Weatherwax made the point that they can’t be heroic because they aren’t afraid of the underworld—but at the same time, I think their lack of fear helped Roland out.  And, you know, maybe they’ll come back down to the underworld with Roland later to kill all the monsters.  They can bring sandwiches and have a picnic afterward.
8) Finally, did you applaud Tiffany's solution to the Wintersmith dilemma? Did you find the ending satisfactory?

Yes, it makes sense that winter has to die for spring to come.  And she didn’t destroy him and his castle because she hated him, she did it because it was what she was supposed to do. 

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Review: The Highest Frontier by Joan Slonczewski

The Highest Frontier by Joan Slonczewski
Published : Tor 2011
Awards Won : John W. Campbell Memorial Award

The Book :

Jennifer Ramos Kennedy, a girl from a rich and politically influential family (a distant relation descended from the famous Kennedy clan), whose twin brother has died in an accident and left her bereft, is about to enter her freshman year at Frontera College.

Frontera is an exciting school built with media money, and a bit from tribal casinos too, dedicated to educating the best and brightest of this future world. We accompany Jenny as she proceeds through her early days at school, encountering surprises and wonders and some unpleasant problems. The Earth is altered by global warming, and an invasive alien species called ultraphytes threatens the surviving ecosystem. Jenny is being raised for great things, but while she's in school she just wants to do her homework, go on a few dates, and get by.”

This is my 8th novel for the Women of Genre Fiction Reading Challenge over at World's Without End, which means that I've never read anything by Joan Slonczewski before.

My Thoughts:

The Highest Frontier is basically a story of daily life, focusing on the activities of a freshman college student and the school's president. The timescale is roughly the first semester of Jenny's college career. She spends her days involved with schoolwork, research, social activities, volunteer work, local and national politics, and slanball, a zero-gravity sport where the ball is handled by thought power. President Dylan Chase, on the other hand, primarily deals with administrative problems and his relationship with his partner, who is the local pastor. There are tons of interesting scenes and subplots, but I kept expecting the story to build up into something more. While there was something of a climactic event near the end of the book, I didn't feel like it tied everything together. I'm left wondering if this is going to be the first of a series, and the more intriguing issues will be further explored in future installments.

A lot has gone into building Jenny and Dylan's world, far more than I can possibly discuss in detail here. Some aspects seemed spot on as an extrapolation from the present, such as the obsession with social media and constant connectivity (to Toynet, the next generation internet), as well as the weakening of academic curricula. Other things seemed a bit strange, like that a primary divide between political parties was the religious point of whether or not space existed beyond Earth's moon. I also found the cultural obsession with Marilyn Monroe and Paul Newman a little odd, considering that their heyday is already roughly half a century in the past. The environmental degradation of the Earth is pretty scary, as is the precariousness of life in space habitats, despite their Star-Trek-replicator-like amyloid technology.

There are many characters in the story, but many seemed to have a certain childish quality. I think that this might be an aspect of the future culture, with its Toynet escapism and coddling academics. Despite the dangerous decline of Earth, technology seemed to allow most of the rich to hide safely in their fantasies. Most of the students of Frontera, like Jenny, come from extremely wealthy and well-connected families, but we see some of them come out of their sheltered bubbles as they get to know the poor settlers in the nearby farming colony. I initially found Jenny to be an irritating heroine, mostly due to her extremely privileged life and her condescension towards others. As time went on, though, I think she showed herself to be a genuinely good kid, who just needed to learn more about the world and other people. Even if the story ultimately felt like just a series of events, it was fun to watch Jenny slowing maturing.

My Rating: 3.5/5

The science-fiction-daily-life story of The Highest Frontier follows Jenny's first semester of college, as well as the college president's life in the same time period. The world was very detailed, and while some aspects seemed a little farfetched, others were a disenheartening extrapolation of current trends. There are tons of subplots that are interesting in their own rights, but I never felt like they gelled into a complete story. I am wondering if there is a sequel planned, which might include a continuation of topics such as Earth's deteriorating environment, the difficulties of life in orbit, and the developing situation concerning the alien ultraphytes.   

Monday, September 23, 2013

Read-Along: Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett, Part 2

It’s time for week two of the read-along of Terry Pratchett’s Wintersmith! This week’s reading is chapters 5 through 7, and questions have been provided by Lisa of the blog Over the Effing Rainbow.  I actually decided to travel to London this weekend, just to get more in the mood of British fantasy while writing my answers!  (Okay, not entirely true, I went to actually went London to see friends, and it just happened to coincide with the Wintersmith reading ^_^.)
1. "I'm not here..." At Miss Treason's funeral, we see Tiffany get the better of the Feegles, sneaky though they are! What do you think of the way Tiffany's 'witching' is getting better here?

I think it’s kind of interesting that the types of “witching” Tiffany is best at involve manipulating herself, more than her surroundings.  In the previous books, her “See Me” trick was her most advanced skill (though it turned out to be pretty dangerous), and here we see her able to render herself effectively invisible.  Even the warmth magic we see at the beginning of the book primarily involved her holding herself in balance, rather than tossing elemental energy around randomly.  I think it’s a pretty cool take on “witchery”, and it’s also pretty impressive that she can out-hide pictsies. 

2. It's decided that Annagramma gets the cottage, at the meeting of witches - but we learn that Mistress Weatherwax put Tiffany forward for it. Do you think Tiffany should have gotten the cottage?

No, I don’t think so.  For one thing, she didn’t want it.  She wants to go home to the Chalk.  For another, while she is probably skilled enough at this point to take on a cottage, it would not help her in the witch network.  A lot of witchery seems to be social-network influenced, and having a young girl promoted over all the older, more experienced contenders, just because she was a pet of Mistress Weatherwax’s, would not do wonders for Tiffany’s reputation.  So, I think Mistress Weatherwax would be right to say Tiffany was ready for it, but I don't think everyone else would see it that way.  I tend to agree with Tiffany that the whole situation was a designed by Mistress Weatherwax to show everyone that Mrs. Earwig is a lousy witch teacher.

3. Nanny Ogg appears at last, to take Tiffany in while the wintersmith's about. Next to Mistress Weatherwax, she's my favourite of the witches! What do you think of her so far?

She seems pretty great.  All of the witches we’ve seen so far have been very solitary, so it’s nice to see that this is not necessarily the rule.  It’s also nice to see that women can have magic and families in Discworld.  I like that we have both a very stereotypical witch (Miss Treason) and a very non-stereotypical witch (Nanny Ogg) in the same story.

4. We learn a little more about "the dance" that Tiffany interrupted, now - and I love the summer-winter mythology that's explained to her here. What's your take on the effect it's having on Tiffany (and her feet)? And do you think we'll be seeing more of the Summer Lady as well as the Wintersmith?

I think we’ll be seeing more of the Summer Lady in Tiffany, and possibly more minor gods like Anoia.  I think we will definitely see more of the Wintersmith, in a literal sense, because he seems quite determined to construct himself a human body. 

5. Poor Annagramma ... I'm starting to have a little more sympathy for her now, as she turns up desperately seeking skulls! Do you think she's got what it takes to be a good witch, when it counts? Or is her case as hopeless as it seems?

I think it is as hopeless as it seems.  It’s not that she’s a bad person, but she just really isn’t cut out for this.  And as Nanny Ogg says, Tiffany is not going to get any thanks for helping her. I’m actually wondering if Annagramma is going to realize this really isn’t her calling, and end up going to University to become a female wizard.

6. Oh, dear. Rob Anybody has a Plan ... With all of the seriousness surrounding what Tiffany's gotten herself into, do you think the Feegles can help her this time? Or are even they in over their heads?

I am pretty amazed as to how well their plan seems to be working.  They said, “Tiffany will read anything put in front of her,” and they were so right.  I did like that Tiffany’s initial reaction to the romance novel was that the author didn’t seem to know much about raising and caring for sheep.  I have no idea if this will help her with her feelings about Roland (the Feegles are really not equipped to help her with that), but maybe she can get more used to the idea of romance from the books.  Then again, she is only just thirteen, so she has plenty of time to figure out what the feelings she has about Roland mean.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Review: Blackout by Mira Grant

Blackout by Mira Grant
Published : Orbit, 2012
Series : Book 3 of the Newsflesh Trilogy

There are Major Spoilers of the series ahead, so stop now if you haven't read the first two books! There is also a significant spoiler about Georgia & Shaun, which was implied in Book 2. If you're certain you know what it is already from that sentence, carry on! If not, you should probably skip this review.

The Book :

The year was 2014. The year we cured cancer. The year we cured the common cold. And the year the dead started to walk. The year of the Rising.

The year was 2039. The world didn't end when the zombies came, it just got worse. Georgia and Shaun Mason set out on the biggest story of their generation. The uncovered the biggest conspiracy since the Rising and realized that to tell the truth, sacrifices have to be made.

Now, the year is 2041, and the investigation that began with the election of President Ryman is much bigger than anyone had assumed. With too much left to do and not much time left to do it in, the surviving staff of After the End Times must face mad scientists, zombie bears, rogue government agencies-and if there's one thing they know is true in post-zombie America, it's this: Things can always get worse.”

This is the final installment in Mira Grant's (a.k.a. Seanan McGuire's) Newsflesh Trilogy. I loved the first book, but I was not much of a fan of the second. The final novel falls somewhere in between for me. I would strongly advise anyone interested in starting the series to not begin here, but to begin with the first novel, Feed. This is not a trilogy that is designed to be read out of order!

My Thoughts:

In Deadline, there were two major plot twists that threw me off, but I only alluded to them briefly in the review of that book. Since they continue to be a major factor in Blackout, I will now discuss them in more detail. The first was that George and Shaun had a romantic relationship, and the second was George's resurrection. It had been well established that George and Shaun were not related, though they were raised in the same household, so that was not the reason the re-definition of their relationship bothered me. My issue was that I had been really impressed by their intimate, non-romantic, brother-sister relationship, which is not something I see portrayed particularly often in novels. When I found out that it was actually a romance, I just felt disappointed. For George's resurrection, I felt that it ruined the emotional impact of the events at the end of Feed.

Having waited for roughly two years in between reading Deadline and Blackout, I feel like I am well enough over my initial disappointment to approach the final novel of the series with more of an open mind. While I'm still skeptical of the science and the motivation behind the new George, I enjoyed how the character was portrayed. The new George has some interesting identity issues, since she self-identifies as George while knowing analytically that she is not the same person. While I wasn't a huge fan of George and Shaun's romance, I did think their relationship was portrayed pretty well. I think it has mostly been George's story that has engaged me throughout the series, so the return of George, in whatever form, is welcome to me.

I was happy to see that George returned to narration, now splitting the role with Shaun. I was not partial Shaun as a narrator in Deadline, and I still prefer George's chapters in Blackout. Shaun is less abusive in Blackout, but he still seems very focused inward, on his grief about Georgia. He still talks to her in his head, and he still tends to repeat the same phrases and ideas over and over. For instance, just about every time he talks to illusion-George, he makes some comment about how he's chosen to be crazy because it's the only way to stay sane. I welcomed the return of George's more observant narration, even though she also used some repetition. A side effect of the two narrators' intense focus on each other, though, was the fact that few of the side characters seemed to get much development. I think the main focus was on the relationship between George and Shaun, though, and it is this relationship that is the most thoroughly and affectingly developed throughout the whole series.

In terms of the world-building, the focus this time around is on those who live “off the grid.” This includes Dr. Abbey and her secret lab, as well as others who choose or are forced to live outside ordinary society for one reason or another. The plot this time seemed to rely a bit too much on coincidence in a few places, and there were some digressions, but the conclusion did resolve the main questions from the previous books. I still felt the villains and their grand conspiracy was too over-the-top and illogical, but I anticipated that after the first two books. Overall, I think I can say I enjoyed the Newsflesh series for its thorough and creative depiction of a post-zombie-rising society, and for the story of Georgia Mason.

My Rating: 3/5

I enjoyed Blackout more than Deadline, but I still think that Feed is by far my favorite of the trilogy. I think that Blackout would be more enjoyable for those who appreciated the character-related plot twists of Deadline more than I did, though I think that Blackout expanded on these twists pretty well. The final novel also included the return of a narrator that I preferred over Shaun, and whose story I found more engaging. However, Blackout also contained some of the same weaknesses of the earlier books in the series, such as excessive repetition and stereotypical, over-the-top villains. I think that I enjoyed Feed more than I enjoyed the series as a whole, but I am still a fan of the detailed post-Rising world that Grant has created.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Read-Along: Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett, Part 1

Today starts of the continuation of the read-along from earlier this year of Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching books. The book this month is Wintersmith, in which Tiffany Aching unwisely attracts the attention of the elemental that crafts winter.  There will be three posts over the next three weeks covering Wintersmith, and then three weeks of I Shall Wear Midnight will follow in October!
This week’s questions were provided by “Dab of Darkness”, and they cover the first four chapters of Wintersmith.

1) Did anyone else read the Feegle Glossary in the Introduction? What Feegle words have you incorporated into your daily speech?
I read it, and I think it is a bit useful in understanding some of what the Feegles say. I have to admit I don’t incorporate any into my daily speech, though.  I try not to be very accented in day-to-day life, though I know a little bit of US southern creeps in.  
2) Chapter 1 starts the story with a flashback. In it, Tiffany says, 'This I choose to do. If there is a price, I choose to pay it.' Pretty ominous, huh? How did you feel about the serious nature of this first chapter?
I thought it was a nice way to start off the book, showing us how bad things would eventually get.  It was a good saying, too.  I think Tiffany used it to remind herself that she wasn’t just a scared little girl caught up in dangerous circumstances, but that she had chosen to take on the burden of dealing with the consequences of her actions.
3) Ms. Treason is 113 years old, and odd. What aspect of her oddness was most endearing to you? Which the most disturbing? 
I think the all-black quirk was cute.  I can see how she would be irritated by Tiffany’s wearing blue and green. Using other creatures’ senses is probably the most disturbing.  It would be creepy to have someone use your eyes to look at themselves.  Even more, though, it makes you wonder what else someone who can do that would be capable to doing to you.  I can imagine it’s not very pleasant for Tiffany, after her experience with the Hiver using her body.
4) Miss Tick finds herself once again persecuted for being a witch, and is being held per the instructions of Witch Hunting for Dumb People (which she secretly wrote). What instructions or tidbits would you include in such a book, or in one entitled Feegle Hunting for Really Dumb People? 
For the witch book, I might have added that they are to provide the witch with a diving suit, and that they are to place the clothes by the river and not watch them the following night.  If the clothes vanish, it means the witch is properly dead.  That would save Miss Tick’s poor clothes, but maybe it's a bit too obvious?  For Feegle Hunting, my book would probably just say, ”You don’t want to do that. Trust me.”
5) After Tiffany wakes up after the Morris Dance, she stomps off into the snow to cool off & yells for the Wintersmith. What amused you about that scene? 
I suppose this is Tiffany’s teenage rebellion phase, and she’s doing it as hard as she can!  Sadly, there’s usually a reason people tell you not to do things, and it’s generally a smarter idea to figure out what that reason is before rebelling.
6) Boffo and little assumptions fed ticking clocks. What do you think of Ms. Treason's little tricks? 
It reminded me of Edgar Allan Poe… I read somewhere that most biographies about him are not entirely factual, because he made such an effort to spread wild stories about himself.  I think it is a great idea.  She will definitely be remembered for a long time by the townspeople after she’s gone, even if none of the things they remember about her are actually true.
7) We have been reintroduced to Roland, but this time we learn a little more about his family: his ill father and his controlling aunts. What do you think Roland will do about this problem? 
I think his current solution can’t possibly work.  It’s fine for putting off finding an actual solution, but I think he’s 16 or so, right?  And he doesn’t inherit until he’s 21?  He can’t live in a room and sneak food from the kitchen for 5 years.  There’s got to be some way he can prove his aunts’ unfitness for guardianship. Is minor emancipation something that can happen in Discworld?

That wraps up today's read-along post! The next will come on 9/23, and will cover chapters 5-7, and the last will be posted on 9/30, and will cover the rest of the book.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Review: Infidel by Kameron Hurley

Infidel by Kameron Hurley
Published : Night Shade Books, 2011
Series : Book 2 of the Bel Dame Apocrypha

The Book :

The only thing worse than war is revolution. Especially when you're already losing the war...

Nyx used to be a bel dame, a government-funded assassin with a talent for cutting off heads for cash. Now she's babysitting diplomats to make ends meet and longing for the days when killing was a lot more honorable.

When Nyx's former bel dame "sisters" lead a coup against the government that threatens to plunge the country into civil war, Nyx is tasked with bringing them in. The hunt takes Nyx and her inglorious team of mercenaries to one of the richest, most peaceful, and most contaminated places on the planet - a country wholly unprepared to host a battle waged by the world's deadliest assassins.

In a rotten nation of sweet-tongued politicians, giant bugs, and renegade shape shifters, Nyx will forge unlikely allies and rekindle old acquaintances. And the bodies she leaves scattered across the continent this time... may include her own. Because no matter where you go or how far you run in this world, one thing is certain: the bloody bel dames will find you.”

This is the second novel in the Bel Dame Apocrypha, and it has taken me a ridiculously long time to get to writing my review of it. My only remaining long-overdue review is for Daniel Abraham's The Dragon's Path, and hopefully I'll be able to keep from ever getting this far behind again. At least, now that this review is complete, I can finally plan on reading the third novel of the trilogy, Rapture! While Infidel does have a complete plot in itself, I would strongly advise starting with the first book of the series.

My Thoughts:

One of the things I loved in God's War was the creativity of the alien world, with its diseases, bug-based technology, and the distinct religions and cultures that have developed in the differing colonial settlements. Infidel, which begins after the events of the first novel, expands upon the world that has already been established. Though the plot this time involves unrest within the Nasheenian government, most of the new information was about countries that had only a minor role in the first book. For instance, a good portion of the story takes place in the wealthy, peaceful, arms-dealing country of Tirhan, which has been profiting from the endless war between Chenja and Nasheen. I enjoyed learning more about this dangerous world, and I feel like there could be many more stories to tell in it.

The world of this series continues to be bug-filled and violent, with a fair amount of murder, some torture, and a lot of profanity. Nyx and her companions live in a very brutal world, and as not particularly high-class mercenaries, they are accustomed to casual violence. Nyx has established a new team, since her previous one abandoned her (for very legitimate reasons), and they have once again taken on a job that leaves Nyx in over her head. There are a couple of cracks in the plot for me, such as one instance where all the characters seem to briefly forget a couple of key pieces of information. The intrigue this time also seemed a bit too convoluted in some parts, but the plot moved forward quickly enough that it was enough to let the pieces fall into place.

As in the first book, the character interactions were far more fascinating to me than the political plot. I still love Nyx as a protagonist, though she seems even more of a nihilist this time around. Even so, I still felt like she was desperately searching for a way to give her life a sense of meaning. For instance, her team is composed of a former drug addict and a boy who would be shipped to the front to die in a few years. One could argue that she was only able to hire the bottom of the barrel, but it seemed like she also genuinely wanted to help them (even if she believed the effort would be ultimately meaningless). I think that she also sought meaning through Rhys and through the bel dames. Her feelings towards Rhys were more blatant this time around, and their (non)-relationship still inverts gender stereotypes. Another major character this time around is Inaya, an extremely conservative woman from the previous novel. It turns out she has plenty of secrets, and she seems to be a kind of foil to Nyx's character.

My Rating: 4/5

Infidel continues the story that began in God's War, following the assassin and mercenary Nyx as she tries to complete an even more deadly task than before. For me, the highlights of the novel are the creative alien world, the complex and deeply flawed protagonist, Nyx, and the complicated relationships between the characters. The political plot was interesting, but it had a few weak points for me. Infidel is a good sequel to God's War, and I'm looking forward to continuing the story in Rapture.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Review: Captain Vorpatril's Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold

Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold
Published: Baen, 2012
Series: The Vorkosigan Saga
Awards Nominated: Hugo Award

The Book:
Ivan Vorpatril has a relatively peaceful job as an assistant to Admiral Desplains.  His personal life, though, becomes much less peaceful when he reluctantly opens the door to his cousin, Byerly Vorrutyer of Imperial Intelligence.  Byerly has the seemingly harmless request that Ivan, ever the ladies’ man, work his charm on a certain lady that may be in danger.

Ivan is not the sort to leave a lady in harm’s way, especially a very attractive lady, but he soon learns that Tej and her blue companion Rish are in much more trouble that he bargained for.  Ivan makes a brilliant and unexpected move to ensure Tej’s safety, but his tactics may leave the two of them stuck together for quite some time…” ~Allie 

This is the 9th book I’ve read of the Vorkosigan Saga, so I am nearly two thirds of the way through reading the entire series!  I’ve been trying to read them in internal chronological order, but I’m also reading the latest ones when they show up in the Hugo nominations. I still recommend Shards of Honor/Barrayar as the best introduction to the saga, but Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance seems designed to also give a kind of crash course intro to the universe.

This is part of a series, so there may be spoilers of the series.  There are a few slight spoilers of this book as well, since I was unable to find a way to discuss it that avoided them entirely.

My Thoughts:

In long-running series of any media format, the growing wealth of information on the universe, characters, and notable events may eventually become a barrier to new fans, or even old fans that haven’t read the books in a while.  This saga ranges over a couple of decades of published novels, so I can see how it might be past that point for some readers.  I feel like this novel fills the role of a recap story, designed to revisit and remember characters and events for old readers, and to introduce them for new readers.  The current-time plot is a mix of a romantic comedy and a heist story, with plenty of humor and fun dialogue.  The story seems a little constrained, though, by the intent to touch on as many topics from previous novels as possible, and this also sometimes made it feel a little crammed with information.

The protagonist this time around is Ivan Vorpatril, who I find hilarious, though he is the sort of person that would annoy me to tears in reality.  He’s basically a friendly, professionally un-ambitious pick-up artist.  He has kind of a laid-back cheerfulness that I’ve always thought plays well against Miles’ energy (though Miles makes only a small appearance in this particular novel). The second viewpoint character is Tej, a new addition to the Vorkosigan Saga.  In a lot of ways, Tej’s story, being taken in by a Vor and having to deal with Barrayaran culture, is very similar to situations from earlier novels in the series.  Tej was nice as a match to Ivan’s personality, but she was not a particularly engaging character for me.  While the story was entertaining, there also seemed to be something missing.  Bujold’s novels usually say something interesting about societal norms or gender, but Ivan and Tej fall pretty well in line with a pretty standard romantic narrative.  It was still fun, but just a bit more lightweight than I expected.

In addition to Tej and Ivan’s romance, the story contains a pretty funny heist subplot, and a lot of meet-and-greeting. The first part of the story, where Ivan and Tej meet, was probably my favorite—it was really funny, but Tej also seemed to be in real danger.  After this section, though, the stakes drop considerably.  Tej and Ivan attend a fairly constant stream of dinner parties, afternoon tea, and other social gatherings, where she is able to meet and react to many of the various characters of the Vorkosigan Saga universe as they explain various bits of personal and political history to her.  The heist subplot kept things interesting, but I would have to say this is the lightest novel I’ve yet read in the series.

My Rating: 3/5

Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance is suitably funny and entertaining, but it’s a bit more fluffy than what I would call the usual Vorkosigan Saga novel.  It’s mostly a romantic comedy featuring Ivan Vorpatril, with a small dash of intrigue thrown in from the side of his romantic lead’s ambitious family.  While I enjoyed the novel, I felt that it lacked Bujold’s usual examination of gender or social norms, switching in traditional ‘guy/girl’ jokes instead.  Tej and Ivan cover of lot of ground in introducing characters and events from the series, which made me feel as though this were intended to be a kind of series recap story.  It’s a fun, lightweight novel, but it’s nowhere near my favorite of the series (which is still Barrayar, so far).