Review: Barrayar or I need more Bothari in my life!

Hello everyone! Today it seems like I am back with a new review! Yay! And it would be a really long one, sorry not sorry! So let’s start with it!

Title: Barrayar
Series: Vorkosigan Saga Publication Order #7 / Chronological #2
Author: Lois McMaster Bujold
Page Count: 336

On opposing sides, Captain Cordelia Naismith and Admiral Lord Aral Vorkosigan marry and live in aristocratic splendor on his home planet Barrayar. Cordelia agrees with the dying old emperor that the Empire would be better if Aral would serve, but he knows secrets she does not.

Well, this synopsis is not the best. But at least let you immerse yourself in this story without knowing what would happens, and what you would find. And you would find a lot, because we have a ton of things happening. And we have a lot of themes, too, because even if this book is quite full of actions, and twists, and things, we have also some interesting point that the author makes for us. Because this is a book about political intrigues, unrest, war and fights, but it is also a book about motherhood, about woman condition (and this is way more about our world than not Barrayar, really), about friendship and even more.

All things considered, we can say that this book is about Cordelia, because she is the real center of it all, and she is the one who moves things along. She is not the only one, and I am not saying that the other characters are plain or unimportant, not at all. But Cordelia is not only our MC, she is the motor of the the story (political intrigues aside), the one who take us to Barrayar discovery, and she shows this world to us through her Betan lenses. And she is the one who keep all our characters together, she is the one who is acting like glue for all the characters that are orbiting around she and Aral.

And we can say that this book is about politics, and intrigues, and fights, because we have that. Quite a lot. Poor Cordelia thought to have married a retired soldier but that’s not what she gets. At all. And we see her doubting her choosing, because well, she didn’t sign for that! For the intrigues, for the assassination attempts and for the tension and the fear. And she didn’t sign up to miss her husband, to spend fewer and fewer time with him, to be the one who takes care of the mental health of the crew of people around them, and as sure as hell, she didn’t sign up to get pregnant in a world far from home, both physically far and socially and mentally far.
But this was one of the things that I have appreciated the most: we see Barrayar, its society and its culture, through her gaze, tinged with homesickness.
She kept seeing things from the point of view of a Betan, which is a completely different society (and more often than not, it is the “most civilized” one, in a sense), and even if she is aware that Betan was not perfect (and she was proof of that, because what they did to her was pretty awful, and nightmare inducing too) she is homesick, she is pregnant in an alien world, far from her family and all the things she knows. And let’s be honest, Betan pregnancy experience (and all things related) win over Barrayar’s one every damn time!

Yep, Betan managed to transform the born of a new person in something that can be impersonal (it can be, it not has to be, mind me!) and maybe someone can object to this (not me, but I can understand if this may bother you) but to be fair, it is just one option, you can make the experience as much personal as you want. The only thing that may be not good is that there is a high birth control on Betan. You need a license to be a parent and you cannot really have as many children as you want (I have to admit that, even if a touch distopyan, a license to became parent, one that require some courses and things is not an awful idea, per se, but I think that this is not the right place for it). And this gives us so many interesting points to think about. Because it encompass not only pregnancy, but women condition too. And even if this book is set in a far future, in worlds far away, it is sadly on point on this topic.

And aside for the food for thoughts, we have so many great characters! Cordelia is fascinating and so full of life. She is determined to change things, and the best thing is that she has this whole “this won’t do, so change it. And do it now!” attitude going. She is commanding, she is no-nonsense and her will is pure steel. I adored her. I have to admit that there was a part in which she let me down. I wasn’t really disappointed with her, because it was an understandable choice, and she did her best to make the situation right, but I was nonetheless a bit disappointed. But it was a small thing, really. Sometimes she is just immense, with passion and a wonder for life, she was fantastic. And sometimes scary as hell.

“I don’t want power. I just object to idiots having power over me.”

And then we have Kou and Drou. Sure, sometimes you would feel the urge to shake them, and keep doing it since they won’t see reason. But they are just so sweet.

“Are you saying I should run after her?”
“Crawl, actually, if I were you,” recommended Aral. “Crawl fast. Slither under her door, go belly-up, let her stomp on you till she gets it out of her system. Then apologize some more. You may yet save the situation.” Aral’s eyes were openly alight with amusement now.
“What do you call that? Total surrender?” said Kou indignantly.
“No. I’d call it winning.” His voice grew a shade cooler. “I’ve seen the war between men and women descend to scorched-earth heroics. Pyres of pride. You don’t want to go down that road. I guarantee it.”

Gregor, Piotr and Kareen are all real, I cannot say that I love all of them (and Piotr I am looking at you!) but they are not bidimensional or plain. They feel real. And the same can be said for the other characters that we met and that didn’t have main roles to play.
The only one subdued was Aral. I love him, and I like how he can be just, ruthless and understanding and supportive, all wrapped up in a single person. But I think that Cordelia in this book outshone him. But they are an amazing pair!

“I was so afraid for you, I forgot to be afraid for your enemies. I should have remembered. Dear Captain.”

And now let’s talk about the best thing of this book. And yes, it is a character. Bothari. He is flawed as hell. He is not a really good person. Well, ok he is not a villain, and he is not bad, but well… he is not good either. And yet my heart hurt for him. A lot.
On some level, he made me think about Glotka from The First Law Trilogy. They are not really alike, they are quite different in so many ways, and yet… yet, something in him made me think of the Inquisitor. And since Glotka is one of the best characters ever, to me, this is such an high prize! I just loved the complexity of Bothari. And he is a victim, too. And I couldn’t resist. I really need to see more of him.

And now I should have to write a little spoiler. So if you haven’t read this book, just skip this part, please!

In a scene we see Bothari as a midwife. It was just… I don’t know. So out of place, and yet so perfect. I just laughed out loud at the sheer crazyness of it, and then I had to stop reading and just watched the wall, my mind blown from the perfection of this scene. I think it would stay with me for a long long time.
I don’t really know why this scene was the ONE but it was. And to give you a little example, I was reading The Rise Of The Red Hand after this one. And I was bored, so bored. But it was an ARC so I didn’t really want to DNF it. And so I was there, keeping reading without really wanting to do it. And then again this scene came to my mind “Bothari as a midwife!” and the sheer perfection of it, the complexity of this character, the perfection of all his contradictions, just made me realize that, even if it’s true that not all the books can compare to such amazing levels, and that they don’t have to, because I don’t think that I would love to see Bothari in every single book I read. He is unique, and this was one of the thing I loved about him. So it’s ok to not be on the same level of this one, but… if something this good and so marvelous and amazing can exist, surely I would find something to read that won’t bore me to no end. And so I decided to drop the book.
I don’t know if this makes sense to you, but for me it was a really clear moment.
And let’s get back on the topic. Bothari is not the stablest man on Heart. And he is quite ruthless, he needs others to be his compass, his moral compass because he is just so broken that he doesn’t know if he aims true. But this need to find someone to be his compass, this trying to take all his shattered piece together make him a tragic figure. And one beautifully tragic at that.

End of the Spoiler part. You can go on reading safely from this point onward!

There would be a lot more to say about this book. because it was a fascinating reading, and it was so in many different levels, that you can go on talking about it for hours. But I think that this is quite a long review so I would just add a last thing and then I would be done!
This book is also a marvelous ode to life. Yes, life is imperfect, life is pain, but it is also love, and wonder. It celebrates life is many different ways!

Welcome to Barrayar, son. Here you go: have a world of wealth and poverty, wrenching change and rooted history. Have a birth; have two. Have a name. Miles means “soldier,” but don’t let the power of suggestion overwhelm you. Have a twisted form in a society that loathes and fears the mutations that have been its deepest agony. Have a title, wealth, power, and all the hatred and envy they will draw. Have your body ripped apart and re-arranged. Inherit an array of friends and enemies you never made. Have a grandfather from hell. Endure pain, find joy, and make your own meaning, because the universe certainly isn’t going to supply it. Always be a moving target. Live. Live. Live.

I really hope to have managed to convey a little of the pleasure and the amazement I felt while I was reading it. Because it is really hard to make justice to this book!

If you have read this far, thank you! And what about you? Have you read this book? Or this series? Let me know!!

Happy reading!

20 thoughts on “Review: Barrayar or I need more Bothari in my life!

  1. Maryam (@thecurioussffreader) says:

    It sounds like a fascinating read!! I want to read the Vorkosigan saga but I’m always intimated by the number of installments in the series. I’m not the best at completing series (even trilogies! 🤣) so this sounds like a lot of work but at the same time, this world intrigues me quite a bit.
    Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Susy's Cozy World says:

      Yes, starting from the beginning is the right choice! But the good thing is that this series can be read in two orders, one is that of the publication (and in this case this book is the 7th)and the other is chronological (and in this case this book is the 2nd).
      And thank you!!!


  2. maddalena@spaceandsorcery says:

    You have no idea of how much I enjoyed reading your review, because your love for this series and its characters shines through so very brightly and resonates with mine – I have a special place in my… reading heart for this series, and every time I can bring someone else to read and enjoy it, I’m very happy 🙂
    Yes, this is a book very Cordelia-centric and it’s almost a pity that from here on she will be only a side character since Miles will take (or rather hog) the limelight, but viewing Barrayaran society through her eyes is both a joy and a horror, particularly where the role of women is concerned.
    As for Bothari, you will be able to meet him again since – and it’s hardly a spoiler – he will become Miles’ bodyguard and companion.
    I kind of envy you because you still have a good number of books in this amazing series to explore… 😉

    Liked by 1 person

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