Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen by Lois McMaster Bujold
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This review comes with a warning: it isn't quite the "clean" fiction I normally go for, partly because I didn't know what I was getting into. This book talks about sex, bisexuality, affairs, threesomes, umm... and stuff like that. Now that's out of the way...
I jumped into Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen ("Gentleman", because the title is so long) on the basis of having read two of the Sharing Knife books (Legacy and Horizon) as well as a friend saying "Oh I used to love her Vorkosigan saga when I was growing up!" So I pretty well knew that I was jumping into the tail end of a series. (And there was wiki, though I didn't use it until after I'd finished reading this book.)
The lovely thing about Gentleman is that it doesn't require you to have read all the books to follow what's going on. It's quite a self-contained story on its own. Bujold is a seasoned writer - she drops hints and reminders of what has happened before in such a way that you don't feel you've missed anything from not reading those earlier books, but at the same time, you have the urge to pick it up because it sounds so darned interesting. (By the sound of it, though, some of these are new to followers of the series. Hm.)
Gentleman isn't exactly the military sci-fi story that the blurb leads you to expect. Instead, it's rather more space opera, following the budding romance between Cordelia Vorkosigan, the widowed Vicereine of Sergyar, and Oliver Jole, Admiral of the Sergyar Fleet. It's charming and a little slow-paced, and you come to the end of it feeling like nothing much has really happened (really, nothing much really did) but it's still a complete story about... relationships, I guess.
It takes its time to meander into the past, reminiscing about what has been, bringing up old stories - sometimes recasting them in a new light? - as well as introducing new stories of the past. Yet the present and the future is very much a cause for concern as well: Cordelia and Oliver have to work through their... decisions very carefully, considering both the impact on their lives in the present as well as their implications for the future; triggering, as the blurb says, Miles Vorkosigan to travel all the way from Barrayar (with his family as cover) to find out what was really going on in Sergyar. Not that a family visit from her son wouldn't have been welcomed by Cordelia.
Other diversions appear, giving an impression of things happening, yet not. Gentleman is really a romance told over a backdrop of digressions which include cultural problems with the Cetagandans, Betan views on love, sex and marriage, Bayarran prudishness, Jole's love of sailing, the incredible yet-to-be-documented biodiversity of Sergyar, exploding radials, frozen embryos, boot polo, and construction problems.
Note: I received an ARC from review via Edelweiss.
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