Barrayar continues the story of Cordelia Naismith Vorskigan (mother of the more famous Miles) which was begun in Shards of Honour. Cordelia has retired from her command in the Betan Expeditionary Force to marry Lord Aral Vorskigan, commander of the opposing forces during the Betan-Barrayan wars; she has returned to Barrayar with him, and now she’s homesick, frustrated and pregnant. Barrayar’s society is primitive, almost feudal, compared to Beta Colony; medical science has a lot of catching up to do, and the weather isn’t too great either.
Yet there is plenty to distract her. All is not well with the House of Vorskigan. Lieutenant Koudelka, a nerve-mangled veteran, is finding it difficult to cope with the attraction between himself and Drou, Cordelia’s bodyguard. Aral’s father Piotr makes no secret of his contempt for his daughter-in-law’s newfangled galactic notions. And Bothari is having bad dreams, a result of the heavy-handed therapy typical of Barrayan military medicine. Meanwhile, Aral has become Regent and is acquiring personal and political enemies on every side. It’s only a matter of time before this begins to change Cordelia’s life.
Bujold’s competent, chatty style is not altogether suited to a plot as action-packed as this; she has a tendency to skip from in-depth characterisation to violent episodes so urgently described that the reader has to flip back to check they really happened. There are many unexplored allusions to events in the previous novel, which can be discouraging for the first-time reader; perhaps some of the apparent non sequeteurs in the plot would make more sense if a little more of the background was explained.
Despite this, Barrayar is an entertaining read. Bujold’s characters are deftly-drawn and sympathetic, and her space-age feudal culture rings true. A fast-paced, action-packed adventure novel suffused with wit and tinged with romance; great holiday reading.