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Captain Vorpatril's Alliance
by Lois McMaster Bujold
Baen Books, $25.00, 422pp
Release Date: November 6, 2012
At last, Ivan Vorpatril gets his own adventure, instead of being Miles' donkey and occasional delivery boy of the deus ex machina. A lot of us have become fond of Ivan and wished more for him than the role of comic relief. This is, after all, the man who saved a lot of necks, not to mention other anatomical parts, during A Civil Campaign, and later arranged for the humping ice bunnies at Miles' wedding.

Ivan is on Komarr, working as a secretary to Admiral Desplains and helping perform an annual Fleet inspection. There is a suspicion of smuggling that may involve suborned Vor, so Ivan has redirected his sensitive nose from detecting occasions for dalliance to assessing threat levels in communiqués. His quiet, orderly existence gets derailed when none other than Byerly Vorrutyer shows up on his doorstep with an odd request. Naturally Ivan's first response is to say "No!" but By appeals to Ivan's sense of chivalry, and it turns out that Miles and Mark do not have a genetic monopoly on that virtue.

When Ivan's intervention thwarts a double kidnapping, Ivan finds himself sheltering two extraordinary young women, Tej and Rish, refugees of a Jackson 's Whole coup that left them on the run, low on resources, and at the top of bounty hunters' lists across three systems.

Protecting them eventually involves relocating to Barrayar, where Ivan's mother, the formidable Lady Alys, and the disconcerting former head of Imperial Security, Simon Illyan, take an interest in the young ladies' dilemma.

Miles shows up, albeit briefly, but he is too busy being a new da to steal Ivan's thunder - besides, Ivan is managing quite well on his own, until, that is, some unlooked for newcomers arrive on the scene, one of whom is actually making a long postponed return. What she knows about long buried secrets could change the landscape, political and otherwise, of Vorbarr Sultana.

Bujold works wonders with her unerring ability to find the right word, the perfect phrasing, and her sense of humor has strongly reasserted itself. Captain Vorpatril's Alliance is almost as much a Regency-style romance as A Civil Campaign, except that there are only two lines of romance, not the complex interweaving of four or more that made that earlier book such a masterpiece of the form. Politics of empires and familial interactions come to the fore, and several loose ends that were left dangling and flapping in previous stories get spliced in this volume.

Veiled Spoiler Alert!!!! Bujold also drops a bombshell. A single hyphenated word changes everything, and it makes the most appalling sense. Stop reading if you don't want a pointed clue. You do? Okay. It's in Chapter 10, page 155; find the hyphenated word, not the one for hair color, and ask yourself, "Where have I seen this word before earlier in this series?" Myself, I think my hair turned grey with shock. Nice work, Ms. Bujold. It fits, perfectly.

Chronologically this one falls a year or so after Diplomatic Immunity and 4 years before Cryoburn, so if you are wanting to see Miles in the role of count, you’re still waiting. Let’s all send good, appreciative thoughts Bujold’s way, which, along with royalties, will encourage her to spin another silken narrative in the Vorkosigan Saga. SOON! ~~ Chris R. Paige

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