Lois McMaster Bujold’s Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance is the latest Vorkosigan novel, except this time it’s not really a Vorkosigan novel, as the protagonist is Ivan Vorpatril, better known to readers of earlier volumes as “that idiot Ivan.” It was nominated for a Hugo this year, so the obvious question to ask is: Is this a Hugo-caliber novel?
To which the only possible answer is: It depends. It’s not any kind of all-time classic, which you’d hope would be the standard, so optimistically speaking you’d want to say no. But then, most Hugo nominees recently have been pretty aggressively mediocre, and it easily clears that bar.
But since this is Bujold, we don’t need to compare it to other Hugo nominees in some abstract sense, we can compare it to her own prior novels, many of which have received Hugo nominations. And in that light, it’s not as good as The Vor Game (which won), Barrayar (also a winner), Mirror Dance (another winner), Memory, or A Civil Campaign; but it’s better than Cryoburn and is much better than Falling Free. So, in the continuum of Hugo-nominated Vorkosigan books, it falls into the top end of the bottom third.
Exhaustive and faux-precise rankings aside, I think you’d have to say that this book represents a step up from the recent Vorkosigan novels, and has the most in common with some of the early Miles books—not particularly deep, plotting that you don’t want to think too hard about, but fun and propulsive and energetic. In a way, that’s actually a bit odd, since part of the point of the Vorkosigan books is that Miles is a unique character, and seeing Ivan stuck into a Miles story saps that a bit. But with a bit of lampshading, that ends up not being too distracting. Recommended to fans of the series.