Shards of Honor – Lois McMaster Bujold

Flashes of Promise.

Stars: Three of five.

Review format: Review plus links.
Shards of Honor- Lois McMaster Bujold. Cover summary: In her first trial by fire, Cordelia Naismith captained a throwaway ship of the Betan Expeditionary Force on a mission to destroy an enemy armada. Discovering deception within deception, treachery within treachery, she was forced into a separate peace with her chief opponent, Lord Aral Vorkosigan —he who was called “The Butcher of Komarr”—and would consequently become an outcast on her own planet and the Lady Vorkosigan on his.
Sick of combat and betrayal, she was ready to settle down to a quiet life, interrupted only by the occasion ceremonial appearances required of the Lady Vorkosigan. But when the Emperor died, Aral became guardian of the infant heir to the imperial throne of Barrayar —and the target of high-tech assassins in a dynastic civil war that was reminiscent of Earth’s Middle Ages, but fought with up-to-the minute biowar technology. – from the publisher’s site
Provenance: Purchased online via It is only published in an omnibus version called Cordelia’s Honor.

Shards of Honor was Lois McMaster Bujold’s first published novel, and it establishes the Vorkosigan Saga universe in which so many of her books have been set.  It’s solidly written and enjoyable, though I do not think it is as good as her later books, or even up to the level of fun in her  Warrior’s Apprentice, published the same year.

The protagonist Cordelia Naismith is in the general mold of ‘spunky heroine’ – her mental landscape is a nice place to visit, though she does not ‘feel’ to have lived through quite as many years of experience as the author posits.

One minor disappointment was that this book had far less of the humor that I so enjoyed in the Miles books.  In addition, the book’s structure seemed a little disjointed and the pacing uncertain. Miles’ adventures are much more action packed on average. Granted, I did read this after reading thirteen back-to-back Vorkosigan book/novellas including the four Hugo winners – so they set a high standard.

In short, I recommend you start with Miles’ debut in Young Miles (containing The Warrior’s Apprentice, and  the Hugo winners The Mountains of Mourning and The Vor Game). If you like the universe, then circle back to get to know Miles’ parents better with Shards of Honor and Barrayar.

Ware Spoilers below

Other links related to Shards of Honor (added by me, not generated)

  • Three/five from Chainletters
  • Janicu: Her thoughtful review recommends it to SFR fans.  Interesting perspective in that this was the first Bujold book she’d read.
  • Janicu points out a resonance with Anne McCaffrey’s Restoree – I agree.  I read Restoree maybe 20 years ago – ‘cuz I discovered the Pern books and set out to purchase and read everything else McCaffrey wrote.  I haven’t gone back to compare the physical descriptions, but Harlan may look a fair amount like Aral.


  • I read somewhere that Shards of Honor was originally a longer book, but it was re-edited so that a chunk of the story was put in the following book Barrayar.  Maybe that contributed to some of the wandering pace and unresolved-feeling stopping place?
  • I read an electronic copy.  It bugs me not literally feeling the progress through the book – actual tactile sense of how much has been read and how much remains. This probably ties in with my unhappiness with the pacing.
  • Cordelia’s mission/delivery of the new secret military technology … just felt odd. I think the delayed reveal of what she’d brought … was forcing the suspense too much. On the other hand, Vorkosigan’s exploit with Prince Serg’s attack was very nicely done, and that did benefit from the suspense.


  • A high point was the sequence in which the Betan government decides that Cordelia has been brainwashed rather than having fallen in authentic love with Aral Vorkosigan.  The attempted re-programming and Cordelia’s escape are a hoot.
  • It was very nice to get to know Kou and Drou (and their actual given names Clement and Ludmilla).  They do not figure as major characters in the Miles books, so it’s fun to see where they came from and how they met.
  • Definitely nice to see more of the Barrayar culture from Cordelia’s Betan perspective.
  • The sequel Barrayar is really good – read this one so you can get to that one.


Should I link your review? Let me know in a comment, and I will add it here.

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  1. #1 by janicu on September 12, 2011 - 2:41 pm

    Thanks for the linkage. I too loved the bits where Cordelia had to deal with the surreal treatment she receives by her own planet when they think she’s been brainwashed. Her calmness and fast thinking when I would have just been screaming in frustration (had I been in her shoes), was awe inspiring.

  2. #2 by umbrarchist (@umbrarchist) on January 14, 2013 - 1:22 pm

    I just recently reread Shards of Honor. I first read it back in the 80s. I regarded the first half as just OK and the second half as better than average. At the time I was very story oriented and not that interested in dialogue. I did not get hooked on the Vorkosigan series until Barrayar. That was a GREAT story and I probably still did not pay a lot of attention to characters and dialogue. Since then I have read the entire Vorkosigan series. Since I have read most books multiple times and become accustomed to Bujold’s style or maybe it is just age.

    So on rereading Shards of Honor I like the first half more because of the repartee between Aral and Cordelia but the boy meets girl on alien planet is still not impressive but they had to meet somewhere to set up the rest of the series. Having read the series my perspective is different. Barrayar is still a great story though. It makes sense that both books are in Cordelia’s Honor. The first half of Shards of Honor are just the introduction.

  1. REVIEW: Cordelia’s Honor (Shards of Honor and Barrayar) by Lois McMaster Bujold » Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog

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