I really enjoy Bujold’s writing style, and I love the whole Vorkosigan saga. Seriously, Bujold could probably write about her characters simply cooking dinner or going shopping and I’d happily read it. However, in most of her books, she excels at juggling the mundane details of daily life and relationships with planet-spanning high drama and life-or-death intrigue. In ‘Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen’ she dispenses with the action and writes a simpler, quieter story. It’s still good, but I missed the ‘action’ half.
Without giving away too many spoilers, the story here is about the personal drama involved when two older people fall in love, consider starting a ‘new’ family, and have to break that news to both their professional and family circles. All of it rings very true – the complexities of real human relationships, the considerations concerning balancing personal and professional obligations, the lifestyle changes that come with deciding to have children later in life, the possible hurt feelings of those who may fear that former loves are being supplanted. Of course, these concerns aren’t necessarily what all readers are looking for in a ‘space opera.’
Bujold has stated that she feels that this book can be read as a stand-alone. I would have to respectfully disagree. I feel that having read the earlier ‘Cordelia’ books (Shards of Honor and Barrayar) is essential, and one is more likely to enjoy the book if you’ve read a great deal more of the saga than just those.