Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance opens with Ivan’s door buzzer, at his temporary flat on Komarr. In addition to all the Ivan you could ever want, this book has a generous helping of Byerly Vorrutyer. And as a brief introductory note, I think Byerly suffers from the comparison. He has his charms, our Byerly. He’s creative, snarky, and—I understand from commentary in the later chapters—good in bed. He’s got lovely eyes. Here, Byerly is juxtaposed with Ivan, who has regular employment, a very nice short-term rental, and a box of instant groats, and who does a really stellar job ordering takeout. The number of novels I have read that feature extraordinarily wealthy protagonists is… not small. The number of those protagonists who effectively deploy a carefully-curated selection of takeout food is inexplicably much smaller. No one needs a lover who crawls through their window to watch them sleep, but everyone sometimes needs fresh caprese with avocado on a thickly-sliced grilled rosemary focaccia.
(Miles mostly brought Ekaterin over to his house to eat food prepared by his cook, the most amazing cook who ever cooked. He ordered takeout for her once, on Komarr.)
If Byerly is suffering from comparison to Ivan, Ivan feels strongly that he is suffering from proximity to Byerly. Ivan and Byerly were first seen in each other’s presence in A Civil Campaign. At that time, Ivan was trying to wind up Miles in re his romance with Ekaterin. Byerly was keeping tabs on Alexei Vormoncrief and assorted other parties for ImpSec’s Domestic Affairs department. Byerly exceeded his brief as an ImpSec agent in the climax of that adventure, leaving Ivan to play stunner tag in a parking garage in defense of Dono Vorrutyer. I am a huge fan of Dono’s, but Ivan isn’t—Dono makes him feel profoundly uncomfortable. Indeed, that entire adventure made Ivan feel profoundly uncomfortable; Ivan likes to say that he isn’t an important person himself, he just happens to know some important people. He likes to avoid complications. Byerly treats Ivan like an important person, and Byerly is a complication.
And indeed, Byerly has appeared at Ivan’s front door to ask a favor. He needs Ivan to pick up a girl. The girl in question has drawn the interest of the parties that Byerly is monitoring on behalf of ImpSec, and Byerly is concerned that their interest is unhealthy. Her name is Nanja Brindis.
I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE, BUJOLD.
She will later acknowledge that this fake identity—the only one she has left—is the weakest of the ones with which she left Jackson’s Whole. But she made it work! Anyone who can make that identity last more than 10 minutes on an English-speaking planet while travelling with a blue-skinned companion has some serious undercover chops.
Nanja—whose real name is Tej—is working as a packing clerk at Swift Shipping. Ivan shows up near closing the next day with a ghastly vase to ship to Miles in Vorbarr Sultana. He tries very hard to chat Tej up, but she’s genuinely not interested. Ivan is unsurprised—he attributes most of his romantic conquests to the law of averages. His charm works on 10% of women; In a target-rich environment, he’s bound to find someone. Efforts to woo one particular woman are more difficult, especially if she has other pressing concerns and also a blue roommate. Tej thinks Ivan is a bit old for boyish smiles. She may be the first person to think of Ivan as old, but, as we will discover, she was raised to have a critical and discerning eye. For his part, Ivan thinks Tej is gorgeous and unique—he assesses her face as being either natural or the result of very expensive, custom-designed surgical modifications. Tej does her best to shake Ivan off before returning home, but he has her address (Byerly gave it to him) and he reappears near her flat. What’s a girl to do? She has him shot.
Ivan practically volunteers to be shot—he flings himself toward the stunner to protect Tej. It’s a light stun, which leaves him available for slurred conversation with Tej and her accomplice/roommate/stunner ambush/sister, Rish. They assume he’s a hired killer (Ivan cannot deny this) and search his wallet to try to find out who he’s working for. Fun fact: In addition to carrying multiple forms of ID and a credit chit, Ivan is carrying nineteenth-century style calling cards. I’m sure he wouldn’t have them if he didn’t have a use for them—apparently the Vor leave cards for each other when paying calls. Tej and Rish find the cards mysterious, but their primary interest is in making sure that Ivan does not draw attention to them in the lobby of their apartment building.
Even lightly stunned, Ivan makes a credible effort to deploy his personal (boyish) charms. When he’s not asking about Rish’s blue skin. I find Ivan very charming, but the exigencies of this situation aren’t doing him any favors—he’s significantly more charming in later chapters. This is an interesting opportunity to assess Ivan’s dating strategy; He likes to make a woman laugh. I think he might be almost as over-socialized as Ekaterin, though for very different reasons. His lightly-stunned attempts at humor distract him from other matters, like Tej’s confidence in her ability to obtain black market fast penta. Rish vetoes a trip out for interrogation drugs, and they decide to tie Ivan to a chair while they figure out what to do with him. Consensus is that he would make a terrible bodyguard.
Join me next week when Ivan explores the practical limits of his ability to impact a situation while tied to a chair!