If I made a list of the books I re-read shortly after finishing, ordered by the briefness of the delay in starting that re-read, the top five slots would all be occupied by books in Bujold’s Vorkosigan series. While I have deep philosophical problems with some aspects of underlying socio-political messages of the stories, I will be one of the first to admire her ability to create a “good read”.
I say all this to provide a context for my reaction to this latest Vorkosigan story. Meh. Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen follows the unexpectedly [to the reader] intertwined personal lives Cordelia Vorkosigan (Regent of the planet of Sergyar) and Oliver Jole (Admiral in charge of same) several years after the death of Aral Vorkosigan, Cordelia’s husband and Oliver’s long-term lover. Now that they are beginning to recover emotionally from the death of the man they both loved, Cordelia has plans for her future that offer Oliver some options that only this latest generation of Barayarans have any need or ability to take account of. Options that involve creative uses of reproductive technology.
GJ&tRQ isn’t a romance in any sort of structural sense, but it is very much organized around personal, domestic concerns and consequences. Family dynamics. Relationships. Life choices. That sort of thing. And given that one of the things I’ve always loved about the series is the focus on those dynamics, one might think the love would carry over here. But…meh. All in all, it felt like nothing much happened. The dancers walked through the figures and returned to their places, a little flushed and out of breath, but nothing more. And the non-personal aspects of the plot revolve around the everyday logistics of running a colony planet. Early on in the story, the phrase “bureaucracy porn” popped into my head. I’m sure a thrilling novel could be built around diplomatic disasters and finding ways to turn the tables on dishonest contractors, but this novel wasn’t it.
I joke that the series hasn’t been quite as interesting since Miles became happy, but there’s a definite correlation in my enjoyment of the books. A Civil Campaign was the last one that triggered an immediate re-read. About a third of the way through GJ&tRQ, I realized that if I put the book down and walked away, I wouldn’t feel like I’d missed anything. It is a technical well-written story about interesting characters, but it feels like the butter is being scraped over too much toast at this point. I’m sure that Bujold can still write a book that would have me diving back to page one after I get to “the end”, but I’ve come to the conclusion that such a book is likely to be outside the Vorkosigan universe.