Lois McMaster Bujold’s Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen is the latest Vorkosigan book; the protagonist this time around is Cordelia, who was also the protagonist of the first book, Shards of Honor, published back in 1986.

And this feels like an installment of a series that’s thirty years old, featuring a character who’s aged some forty-odd years over the course of the books. It’s quieter, it’s slower, and it’s suffused with reminiscence—almost everything that occurs summons up memories and associations with past events; for all that the book is taking the storyline forward, it’s doing so while continually looking backward.

And not only is it looking backward at events we’ve read about, but it’s presenting us with something of a retcon while doing so. (Call it a secret history if you think Bujold had it in mind all along; I have no idea, myself.) As suspicious as I was of the retcon before reading, I think it actually works medium-well. It’s a thing that developed over the course of her marriage to Aral Vorkosigan, and almost all of the books we’ve had since then have been from the POV of Miles, who wouldn’t after all have any idea about the inner workings of his parents’ marriage.

At any rate, this is a quiet, slow book that’s really just about the reshaping of a relationship between two people who’ve known each other a long time. It’s traded in the pyrotechnics and manic energy of earlier Vorkosigan books for a more reflective and deliberative middle age.


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