34. Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold. 239 p. Republished July 2000.
This is the first book in the Vorkosigan Saga. The story begins with Commander Cordelia Naismith conducting a survey of a recently discovered planet. She, along with the rest of her Beta Colony team, are attacked by Barrayan forces, and her crew is forced to retreat and leave her behind. Knocked out in the scuffle, Naismith finds herself the captive of Captain Vorkosigan, himself left for dead.
The two, leading one of Naismith’s crewmen who was injured in the battle, treck across the wilderness in hopes of reaching a Barrayan supply cache. During their journey, Naismith and Vorkosigan find themselves fighting between duty and attraction. But for both of them honor wins out, and as Vorkosigan regains control of his ship, Naismith is officially taken prisoner. Naismith takes the opportunity to learn of Barrayan society and culture, comparing its politicized militray impericism with the democracy of Beta.
After a daring escape, Naismith returns to Beta, warning of impending invasion. Restructured into the military, Naismith becomes captain of a small ship and a very important mission. Her cargo delivered, Naismith and her crew are once again captured just before the next battle. But this time Naismith must face the sadistic tastes of a Barrayan Admiral, whose penchant for female prisoners is infamous. Relying only on her own instinct and some unexpected help, Naismith must find a way to survive without compromising herself or her mission.
With Shards of Honor, Bujold begins to build a complex galaxy laced with very familiar political and ethical dillemas. While her story, with mankind spread among the stars, may be set in the far distant future, the details that provide realism to her plot and characters focus around modern issues in morality. Despite this burden, Bujold, using a perfect balance of wit, science, military action, political subterfuge, and romance, has developed a story capable of captivating any audience. For this very reason, I find myself comparing Shards of Honor to Herbert’s Dune more than anything else.
Rating: 3 out of 5