Review: Shards of Honor

Shards of Honor is the first book in Lois McMaster Bujold's critically acclaimed Vorkosigan Saga. It is written entirely from the point of view of Cordelia Naismith, a captain in the Betan Astronomical Survey. She finds herself marooned on an unknown planet, her crew and ship missing. Besides a young ensign, the only other person with her is the fearsome Barrayaran soldier, Aral Vorkosigan.
I came in looking for some meaty character-driven writing and was not disappointed. Bujold has described her approach as planting an eavesdroppping device in her main character's brain: this is pretty much true for the entire book, and we never once leave Cordelia's side.
Which works well, since Cordelia is awesome. She's tough and manages to brave her way through the multitude of setbacks thrown at her - including, but not limited to, a shipwreck and multiple harrowing imprisonments. She's also compassionate, refusing to abandon her ensign after he is permanently incapacitated by a nerve disruptor, the barbaric weapon of choice of the Barrayarans. Aral is just as fleshed out, his personality and values shining through at every part of the story. These were characters I could really root for, and whose emotions resonated strongly with me.
Shards of Honor is ostensibly a love story, but it's also a rollicking space adventure with generous sprinklings of social commentary and political intrigue. Barrayar is depicted as a feudalistic and warmongering planet, at odds with the technologically advanced and democratic Beta Colony. There are definite echoes of our Earth in both; I look forward to exploring these intriguing societies in the later books.
I was much less impressed with the prose. Bujold does have some fantastic turns of phrase1, but I encountered some awkward bits fairly often. Filler words are used judiciously in dialogue. We're privy to seemingly every single thought going through Cordelia's mind, which, when coupled with descriptions of her outward actions, felt clumsy and heavy-handed. There were also some truly dark and horrifying moments that were breezed past, with a tone that felt oddly incongruous with the subject matter.
Just as good prose greatly enhances my enjoyment of a story, so does mediocre prose stick out like a sore thumb (Mistborn, I'm looking at you). Now the prose in Shards of Honor isn't great, and were it not part of the hugely successful Vorkosigan Saga, I would probably not continue with the other books.
In any case, I picked up Barrayar after breezing through Shards of Honor, and boy am I glad I did. But that's a post for another day.


1 Such as The seconds spun like spiders down her spine.

Day 3 of #100DaysToOffload

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