Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, Chapters 2 and 3

Chapters two and three of Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance introduce the key characters. We’ve known Ivan for ages—he was born in Barrayar and appeared in eight of the Vorkosigan stories before this one. He’s always been a secondary character, and we’ve never seen his point-of-view before. It’s more complicated than I think readers might have suspected after reading The Warrior’s Apprentice . Later books have hinted at a more complex, deeper Ivan—Ivan is a rich tapestry. Rish and Tej are the new kids, and I love them. An attractive shipping clerk who won’t give Ivan the time of day and her sharpshooting blue-skinned companion? They had me at the quiet buzz of the stunner.

In chapter two, Ivan, Rish, and Tej (who is still going by Nanja, apparently with a straight face) escape from Tej and Rish’s apartment and head to Ivan’s apartment. After the last time he was kidnapped and tied up, Ivan’s not keen on being kidnapped and tied up. He works on loosening his bonds and keeping circulation going in his feet while reminding himself that the room he is in is neither small nor damp—Tej and Rish are nicer kidnappers than Ser Galen. But Ivan is not without resources; When the OTHER kidnappers come to the window, he’s ready with a cover story that gives Rish time to stun both of them with shots to the head. Teamwork!

We haven’t yet talked much about Rish, beyond noticing that she’s blue. In addition to being blue, she is an excellent shot and a talented dancer. I’m not sure whether she or Tej should get credit for having the escape route worked out or if they should share it, but when they use it to abandon their apartment Rish is the trailblazer. Rish is the stronger of the two women. And, since her skin color would have made her dangerously conspicuous on the streets of Komarr, Rish has been mostly confined to a rental flat for months—she’s been keeping herself busy by following soap operas. She does not appear to have succumbed to cabin fever. She has the skills of an Elli Quinn, and she seems to have spent most of her life as a decorative object and babysitter.

Ivan has also been a decorative object, of sorts. He has cultivated an aura of incompetence in order to avoid the drama that trails in his extended family’s wake. It’s also useful for avoiding work, although he is highly skilled at his job as ADC to Admiral Desplaines. I’m less impressed with his skill at applying the security training he gets once a year because of his place in the line of succession. He’s pretty good at the “wait until help shows up” part, but maybe not at the “don’t get stunned by strange women in apartment lobbies” part. I *think* that later in the story Ivan will mention an outer perimeter of personal security. That perimeter seems very comfortable with letting Jacksonian fugitives tie their protectee to a chair for hours at a time. They didn’t intervene the first time Ivan was kidnapped either, and they really should have because he was next in line to the throne at the time. Gregor has produced a few heirs since A Civil Campaign , moving Ivan further away from the Imperial Campstool. Those heirs are still minors, and I’m sure Gregor has proxies and guardians lined up in the event of emergency—Ivan will not be inheriting and need only worry about his place in the line of succession if someone decides that eliminating heirs is essential to their personal power grab. Again.

I’m almost certain that Barrayaran politics have changed enough in the last 34 years that no one would do that. Almost. But we’re living in troubled times—it can be hard to see the difference between almost certain and completely uncertain. Someone tried to destroy the wormhole to Barrayar. Someone tried to drop a jumpship on Vorbarr Sutana. Someone might have a list of people they need to eliminate in order to make a play for the Empire, and if they do, Ivan is on it.

Ivan’s outer perimeter is also content to let him jump from roof to roof like Batman. The more I think about this, the more I think I misremembered the outer perimeter thing.

Our trio arrives at Ivan’s apartment in time for him to change into his uniform and rush to work. He leaves Rish and Tej instructions not to go out or answer the door. An inventory of the kitchen reveals beer, wine, ration bars, and a box of instant groats. The groats have attracted a lot of attention in the comments, and they will be a plot point later. I’m inclined to think that groats are similar to oatmeal with regard to availability. Rish and Tej choose to eat ration bars with wine. This is an easy, no-prep solution to the problem of what to eat for the day. It’s also depressing. It’s not the only thing that’s depressing. After a bath and a nap, Tej and RIsh discuss their options. These include robbing a veterinary clinic for drugs they can use to commit suicide, cutting their wrists in the bathtub, or plunging off the balcony. Not right away—just in the event that they’re cornered by their enemies. Ivan’s apartment is comfortable, but it doesn’t have a lot of exits.

Meanwhile, Ivan is having a normal work day. He does tell Desplaines that he was abducted but passes it off as a joke. He uses his lunch hour to check in with Captain Morozov in the ImpSec Galactic Affairs office about RIsh—he’s covering up Tej, who is less phenotypically obvious. Morozov knows who Rish is, and I think he is learning more from Ivan than Ivan is from him. In this case, Morozov trades publicly available information—a description of Baronne Cordonah’s Jewels, and the history of House Cordonah back to the Cetagandan occupation of Barrayar—for Ivan’s admission that he has seen Rish. Morozov’s information explains why Tej and Rish are on the run, and Ivan declines to reveal where he saw Rish. Morozov is pretty good, though, so I feel like he spotted Ivan’s attempt to dodge the question.

Ivan ends his day with an interview with Dome Security. Apparently this is not his first workplace run-in with local authorities; Ivan once had Vorbarr Sultana’s biggest collection of parking tickets. Ivan dodges questions about where Tej and her “companion” are. He thinks he’s managing the interview well. I think he looks shifty. His claim that he was stunned for no reason strains credulity, and his claims to not know where “Sera Brindis” is give the impression that he’s trying to cover something up.

Because he is. Join me next week when all the things Ivan is covering up join him for dinner in his flat convenient to Solstice’s nightlife and restaurants.

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.

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