Book Review: Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen

Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen
By: Lois McMaster Bujold
Published by: Baen Books
Release date: February 2, 2016
Genre: Science Fiction
352 pages
Source: galley kindly provided by publisher

Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen is the 16th (!) installment in the Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold.  If you are not familiar with this series, drop whatever you are reading and pick up the first one, Shards of Honor.  It reads a bit like a space opera version of Pride and Prejudice, with laugh-out-loud internal dialogue and a heroine who is less constrained by society.  So, so good, but I digress...  In Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, Bujold gives her readers what every devotee of a long-standing series wants: the details of what happens to her beloved characters as they live out their lives.

Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen begins several years after the death of Vicereine Cordelia Vorkosigan’s husband, Aral.  She is beginning to come out of her grief and consider what to do with a legacy left her by her late husband.  Admiral Oliver Jole, in charge of the Sergyar fleet and a long-standing intimate of the Vorkosigans, is swept into Cordelia’s plans.

This novel was definitely not what I was expecting, and I’m not even talking about the admission of Aral Vorkosigan’s bisexuality.  That news drops in chapter one.  Usually in a Vorkosigan novel we get inter-planetary intrigue, scheming, and some decisive military action.  This time, however, Bujold has settled on a bit of family intrigue and how old soldiers and stateswomen extricate themselves from public service and try to live the remainder of their lives for themselves.  I liked seeing active, older characters in science fiction—Cordelia is seventy-six, with another fifty to sixty years of life expectancy, and Oliver is around fifty years old—and their concerns are realistic to their time of life.  At the same time, although I enjoyed visiting with some of my favorite characters, I really missed the action and excitement of the earlier novels in the series.

Three years after her famous husband's death, Cordelia Vorkosigan, widowed Vicereine of Sergyar, stands ready to spin her life in a new direction. Oliver Jole, Admiral, Sergyar Fleet, finds himself caught up in her web of plans in ways he'd never imagined, bringing him to an unexpected crossroads in his life.

Meanwhile, Miles Vorkosigan, one of Emperor Gregor's key investigators, this time dispatches himself on a mission of inquiry, into a mystery he never anticipated; his own mother.

Plans, wills, and expectations collide in this sparkling science-fiction social comedy, as the impact of galactic technology on the range of the possible changes all the old rules, and Miles learns that not only is the future not what he expects, neither is the past.