Desert Isle Keeper
Captain Vorpatril's Alliance
Captain Ivan Vorpatril, cousin of the famous (notorious?) Miles Vorkosigan, agrees as a favor to informally check on a woman who has drawn the interest of some criminals under investigation. Never immune to stunningly gorgeous women, especially ones in distress, Ivan finds himself sucked into a situation as convoluted as anything his Miles has ever landed in. Like so many Bujold novels, this book needs half a dozen genre classifications to do it justice (it’s an action-adventure-science fiction-comedy-romance-heist caper), and miraculously, it succeeds in every one.
On Jackson’s Whole, everything is available for a deal, and someone dealt Tej’s family straight out of power in a coup. She’s on her last fraudulent ID when Ivan wanders into her workplace and tries to pick her up. As a complicated net of enemies, friends, and bureaucrats close around Tej, Ivan offers a temporary marriage to protect her. You know it’s a Bujold wedding when there’s furniture piled in front of the door to hold off immigration officials, the bride is considering jumping off a balcony, the maid of honor once shot the groom with a stunner and tied him to a chair, the best man was been hired to kidnap the bride, and the entire thing hinges on the fact that the groom remembered to buy instant groats – and you’re barely a third of the way through the book. There’s lots more where this came from.
I enjoyed Ivan in previous books, and I appreciated his lack of a “main-character makeover” here. Earlier in the series, we know him as a playboy who is not an idiot but nowhere near as smart as Miles, often saying precisely the wrong thing at a critical juncture. The temptation to gussy a secondary character up when he’s the star has overwhelmed many authors, but fortunately, old Ivan is exactly the Ivan we get here. I say “fortunately,” because his strengths and flaws make him the right man for Tej. She, too, knows what it’s like to be surrounded by scheming adrenaline junkies and pressured to marry for a family alliance. Ivan’s straightforwardness and lack of insatiable ambition is a delightful relief.
While I thought that Tej and Ivan were good for each other, romance is only one of the many plot threads of this book, and therefore there’s not as much focus on their courtship or them as characters as you’d get from a regular science fiction romance. I also felt that their conversation about whether or not Tej should stay with Ivan was artificially postponed, a consequence of these perhaps being the only two straight-shooters in the entire Vorkosigan universe. Any other characters could have had the conversation without coming to a conclusion. Tej and Ivan had to be separated lest they work things out too soon.
It’s a rare series book in which the cameos by previous characters are a highlight, not a drag. Miles has a brief appearance here, as does Emperor Gregor, and, in larger roles, Ivan’s mother Lady Alys and security man Simon Illyan. All are impeccably in character. If you haven’t read the Miles books, don’t start here, because many of the plot twists of previous books are revealed in this one. There’s one recurring character I don’t even want to name because that’s a plot twist in that book. The new characters, including some of Tej’s Jacksonian relatives, are great additions to the Vorkosigan universe, and I hope to see them again. The setting of Barrayar is also, in its own way, a character, and I loved that instead of inventing a new setting, Bujold took us back to one we already knew and let us see a different side of it in more depth (literally!).
In any other series, charming, strong, good-looking aristocrat Captain Ivan Vorpatril would have been the hero. It’s only because his cousin is the mad genius Miles Vorkosigan that Ivan had to wait so many books to get his own story. If you haven’t read Miles’s books, for heaven’s sake, start, and if you have, do check in on his cousin. You won’t regret the side trip.