Classic Book Review: Shards of Honor

I have a great best friend.  I also have a great best friend that I’m not married to, and that person has never let me down when it comes to book suggestions.  They introduced me to Ancillary Justice, after all, which is one of only 2 books that I would rate 10/10.  I decided to take up the suggestion to read The Vorkosigan Saga and –


Uh… Well, Shards of Honor was a place many people suggested starting, and it is the direct prequel of the highly awarded Barrayar, so… let’s start there!

The Book

Shards of Honor Shards of Honor
Author: Lois McMasters Bujold
First published in 1986
Published by Baen (and feels like it)
Amazon Link

I enjoyed this wholeheartedly.  I don’t think it was absolutely masterful as Ancillary Justice, but this was fun as hell and went by far too quickly.  The summaries and everything just don’t do it justice.  Even if there are arguments about beginning the Vorkosigan Saga at a different point, this was definitely a great introduction to the world, in my opinion.

Non-Spoiler Review

The story has both character and plot driving elements.  Some of the more romantic elements felt a bit cheesy to me, but both Cordelia Naismith (the main character) and Aral Vorkosigan (the love interest) were active, smart, and good.  It made it easy to enjoy their stories despite what often felt like pointless actions they were forced to take.

One of the things I thought McMasters Bujold did very excellently was craft a set of planets with wildly different political theories.  Not only did they rule themselves differently, but the values of the societies seemed to influence what technologies they developed.  The concept of societal and individual honor is woven throughout the book, and she ties it up at the end quite neatly while leaving room for a sequel.

The only other major complaint I have is something I find common in Baen publications.  There’s a focus on keeping everything action oriented, even when it seems like slowing the pace down might be good.  Sometimes, like when I picked up Shards of Honor, that’s what I want.  Sometimes, it’s just bad.  While McMasters Bujold pulled off the Baen feel excellently, this is something that I dislike in my books.  What I really like is boring books.

4/5 Discoball Snowcones

4 Discoball Snowcones


What I think I liked best about this book was that Cordelia wasn’t ever just a captive.  She wasn’t ever just a scientist or just a soldier.  She could wear multiple caps and do it well.  How I think she pulled this off was this deep-seated charisma similar to what you see in Hazel from Watership Down, how she knew her crew, her allies, and her enemies well and used their talents and weaknesses with excellence.

There was one scene where Captain Naismith was about to get raped by a brainwashed soldier, Sergeant Bothari, when she reminded herself that Bothari had been tortured too.  She uttered just the perfect, sympathetic sentence that allowed her to mentally destroy Bothari.  As a result he slit Admiral Vorrutyer’s throat and it was just totally awesome.

The end was a little weak if you ask me.  McMasters Bujold tried to rationalize Naismith’s escape to Barrayar and subsequent marriage to Vorkosigan, but I was like, “She’s so totally obviously got PTSD.  Then she decides to marry a guy after knowing him, what, 6 days total if you include both events with him?” I just didn’t buy it.  I could dig her desire to see Vorkosigan again, but her departure from Beta felt like a betrayal to me.  It just didn’t seem right.

Even so, the book was great.  Totally looking forward to Barrayar.

Next week:

Next week, I’ll be reviewing the direct sequel, Barryar!  From what I can tell, it won’t have as much space-faring or explosions, so I wonder why in the world Baen published this monster.  Oh well – Onward!

8 thoughts on “Classic Book Review: Shards of Honor

  1. booksofb says:

    I’ll also say that I agree 100% about Ancillary Justice – one of the best books I’ve read in a looooong time! I’d also give Yoon Ha Lee’s Ninefox Gambit a try. The first book in this series was almost as good as AJ but the 3 books overall – as a series – were – I thought even better than Ann Leckie’s trilogy. Cheers, Brian

    • H.R.R. Gorman says:

      I saw your review on Revenant Gun, and I subsequently decided to put the Yoon Ha Lee trilogy on my Chrustmas list. If I don’t get it as a gift, I may purchase it because it *does* look right up my alley.

      • booksofb says:

        Let me know what you think about YHL. AL and YHL gave me something precious – superbly written, truly innovative stories – a very rare gift these days. Cheers, Brian

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