Over the years, and the course of well over a dozen novels, there’s been a number of different… ‘periods’ or groups in the Vorkosigan Saga. There’s the Cordelia books, the Admiral Naismith books, the Lord Auditor Vorkosigan books… as well as a number of little offbranches.

The series started with Cordelia, who has always been a favorite character of mine, so this return to her was overdue and welcome. From the other end of a fairly crowded timeline that is approaching 50 years, this is a mix of the familiar and the new. The past haunts this novel more directly than usual in this series. Surprisingly, the book that has the biggest impact is not earlier Cordelia books, but The Vor Game, from a view that Miles never had of the action.

I might suggest this is a less apt point to enter the series than usual as there is a fair amount of the past here. However, the real main part of the past present here is not in any of the other books anyway. So maybe you might as well get the new-old and old-old here with the same amount of weight. And that leads into the obvious problems here, with a relationship with a long history that there’s no signs of previously. It shocked me, and I was grumpy about it for a bit, but that passed; I have a feeling that for Bujold this is part of her own re-questioning of assumptions.

My actual disappointment stems from the fact that the book is a bit directionless. Bujold likes alternating between the viewpoints of the principles in a romance, and Jole has a real decision to make here. At the end, a firm decision is made, and the story comes to a natural close. But there was never any real tension here. It is too obvious where this is going, despite the other branch of the decision having its own obvious upsides, not even the inertia of that path carries through here. Cordelia’s side doesn’t even have that much tension; Cordelia has made her decisions and nothing really touches that bedrock. This feels like a transition, and I hope we see some interesting books emerge on the other side.

But in the end, don’t let any of this scare you off. This isn’t a great book, and doesn’t feature any of the action or tightly-wound plots that I like, and I associate Bujold with. But Bujold’s real strength as an author is the ability to do that and have wonderful characters and meditations on the human condition, and this is well worth reading just on that end.