Barrayar - Lois McMaster Bujold Barrayar continues and completes the story of former survey ship captain Cordelia Naismith and her husband Aral Vorkosigan, Regent of Barrayar. it is pretty enjoyable. is Bujold becoming one of my favorite scifi authors? i'm surprised at that realization. her style is not particularly striking, often rather plain and unadorned. i don't usually gravitate to those sorts of writers - the straightforward ones. but her themes, her careful way with characterization, her undramatic recognition of the complexity, fallibility, and occasional heroism of the human species are all things that this usually impartial robot observer finds himself genuinely responding to, with uncharacteristic human warmth.

characterization is clearly Bujold's major strength and this novel supplies ample opportunity for intriguingly multi-leveled characters to shine. in particular Bothari - poor Bothari! - so damaged by life and the terrible things done to him that he has become a person who will take on the persona of whoever he is needed to be. his need for someone to guide him, his craving for validation and for purpose... made so palpable by Bujold.

the first half of the novel is pretty intimate in scale. it mainly concerns various domestic issues (and by "domestic" i mean "in & around the home" rather than "homeland") as Cordelia acclimates to the overly formal, high-strung, and resolutely warlike Barrayaran culture. it feels odd and a little wrong to use the words domestic and intimate when describing a (low-key) space opera whose first half includes two assassination attempts and various other dramatic incidents. but that is the feeling i got and it worked really well. the reader gets to know Barrayar in an unhurried fashion, just like Cordelia. and the reader continues to understand Cordelia in that same deliberate, slowly unfolding sort of a way. i liked the lack of hustle & bustle and i appreciated the calm, unrushed pace.

it all changes in the second part. and so swiftly! from slow acclimatization right into a fast-moving adventure narrative, things happening pell-mell... a flight, a rescue, a secret journey, confrontations, deaths, a raging fire... my gosh, a head gets cut off and carried in a bag to be dramatically tossed onto a boardroom table! awesome. it was incredibly satisfying to see how well Cordelia adapted to her new world, how easily she is able to win others to her side, how passionate and furious and even murderous she can get when dealing with people who have attacked her loved ones. Mother Bear! yet she still stays herself - compassionate, warm-hearted, saddened & angered by the small-mindedness of others. she's an awesome character. and this is a satisfying book.