3.5 for the Aral and Cordelia story, and 5 stars for the last chapter, which is a totally separate story (‘Aftermaths’) rounds out to 4 stars.
‘Shards of Honor’ is the first novel in what has since become an extensive series (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vorkosi…) of which I’ve read a great many. It’s always odd to go back and read an early book featuring characters who were later fleshed out a great deal more. To be frank, this book does not fully live up to many of the later entries into the saga – but then, how could it, really? The world, and the people in it, have grown in the three decades since this book was written.
None of this is to say this isn’t a good book. It is.
Non-combatant Betan scientist Captain Cordelia Naismith and her exploration team are ambushed and attacked by a group of militaristic Barrayaran soldiers. Next thing she knows, her spaceship must flee, leaving her behind. Also marooned on the planet is the Barrayaran commander Aral Vorkosigan, betrayed by his own men. Cooperation may be the only way that either of them can stay alive – and the only way that Cordelia can keep a severely injured member of her crew alive, as well. Forced into proximity, the two of them may learn that although they come from wildly disparate cultures, as individuals they may have more in common than they would have guessed.
That’s just the beginning of the story, and it progresses with plenty of action, but also with a very realistic, human focus on emotions, values, and decision-making.
At the end of the book, ‘Aftermaths,’ a separate short story which was actually written (and published) before the rest of the book, goes even farther with that theme. It gives us a look at an aspect of space battles that action-packed stories of glory usually skip – the civil servants employed to collect the corpses floating in space, working an unpleasant but necessary job. It’s a powerful and heartwrenching tale.