Jul 262013

Capt VorpatrilCaptain Vorpatril’s Alliance, by Lois McMaster Bujold

Synopsis: A romantic comedy and a heist adventure set in an Imperial Britain-style future.

Brief Book Review: Bujold can write witty dialog like no one else. Her writing style is a pleasure to read, you can tell she’s having fun and she infects you with that same sense of joy. There are no surprises in this book, it follows all the tropes from the first-chapter Meet Cute onward, but even though you know how it’ll end it’s still fun to watch it going there. Or it would be, if this was a novella, which it really should have been. Because between the charming bits at the beginning and the end there is an slog of absolute drudgery in the middle. You know what’s extremely boring in real life? Reading about the archaic and intricate ways that seating guests around a dinner table in formal events signifies their status and importance in the noble bureaucracy, and how a faux pas in the utensil setting reveals either a person’s ignorance of custom or their deliberate snubbing of someone else’s station. You know what’s even MORE boring? All that same crap about a society that doesn’t even exist! If that wasn’t bad enough, Bujold takes pains to give us superfluous and absolutely irrelevant information constantly. Allow me to demonstrate a typical over-worded sentence.

“I’d have loved to go with him, but I’m running a diplomatic luncheon”X

See that big red X? That would be the PERFECT place for a period! We have all the info we need. But there was no period. Instead we got:

“I’d have loved to go with him, but I’m running a diplomatic luncheon at the Residence today for Laisa, as she had to go down to that Vorbarra District economics conference in Nizhne-Whitekirk.”

That part in italics? It meant nothing. There was never anything that happened at any “the Residence”, Laisa never showed up in the book, the Vorbarra District is some random place we never see with no impact on anything, the economics conference is never touched on in any way again, and what the fuck is Nizhne-Whitekirk??? No one else in the book cares, so why should I? I got the (uncharitable) impression that a novella was being padded out to novel length because novels earn money and novellas don’t, and the victim of this fraud was hours of my life.

The members of our book club who follow her work assured me that this book is less tedious if you’ve read all her other works. It’s like a jaunt down memory lane, visiting all the old friends, with shout-outs and nods to the fans. I guess that sort of nostalgia can be fun, but there’s nothing here for people who don’t follow the series. I had flashbacks of being forced to read biblical genealogies. Even then, 200 pages of nothing happening for the sake of nostalgia is too much. Not Recommended.

Book Club Review: This book did provide us discussion of style vs substance. There’s no denying that Bujold has great style, her prose is like a great pop song. Like most pop songs however, it also doesn’t have much to say. There’s nothing here that’ll stick with me. When the story was moving the writing really was enjoyable. Some of our members were appreciative of the style on its own merits, sometimes it’s fun to listen to pop music and you don’t need anything deeper there. But that sort of conversation can be had about any book with great style and no meat, there’s nothing that makes this one special in that regard. Plus it could have done without the 200 pages in the middle. Not Recommended.

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