Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, Chapter 14

Chapter 13 ended on a dramatic cliffhanger near (but not in) the detention area at the shuttleport, where Tej and Rish were about to be reunited with most of their family.

Tej and Rish have talked about their family—the Arquas of House Cordonah—a few times so far.  We know that one of Tej’s older brothers didn’t feel like he was cut out for life in a Jacksonian House and relocated to Escobar to work with the Duronas, because the Nexus is Galactic, but also very small.  We know that Tej and Rish have a lot of siblings, not all genetically related. Rish and the other Jewels were designed by the Baronette who is, among other things, a geneticist. We know that two of Tej and Rish’s siblings are in the hands of the Prestene Syndicate, and one of them is cryogenically frozen.  I think there might be more than two missing? There are a lot of Arquas and I am having some difficulty keeping track.

Prior to this chapter, we learned that Tej’s siblings were generally not supportive of her interests.  Indeed, they didn’t even try to fake interest in her interests. We learned that the elder Arquas spared no expense in their children’s education.  Nonetheless, Tej was a round peg in a family full of square holes—her siblings were interested in the family business, and while Tej has been taught to understand business, she didn’t find it appealing.  Perhaps in recognition of this, her parents arranged two allowed suitors for her. She didn’t like either of them enough to marry.

If you got the impression that Tej’s family was a smidge difficult—and that is certainly the impression I got—Chapter 14 will not surprise you.  The Arquas are here! They came for Rish and Tej! They mostly aren’t dead! This is phenomenal news! Tej and Rish are ecstatically happy. Everyone else is kind of cynical.  They’re curious about why Tej didn’t check in at the scheduled rendezvous. The simple answer to that is Tej thought they were all dead and she and Rish were being pursued by the Prestene Syndicate.

I’m giving the Arquas an unfriendly reading.  There are some structural reasons for this—if a couple is happy in the first third of a romance novel, whatever happens in the second third is probably going to leave scars.  Bujold frequently looks for the worst thing that could happen to a character and does it to them. The timing and the author both lead me to believe that the Arquas are that bad thing.  I have considered the possibility that I’m being unjust. I could read all of their comments about Ivan as friendly ribbing between siblings. And I tried! The Arquas are refugees fleeing a violent gang.  They’re desperate for a chance to regain what was taken from them by the Prestene syndicate—not just money and prestige, but two (or so) of the children they used their money and prestige to protect. They’re going to be tense and cynical.  Indeed, they’re doing remarkably well given the intensity of their shared trauma. This is a testament to the strength and resilience of their familial bonds. The Arquas came to Barrayar to get Tej and Rish because they love them and want to protect them.

I hope you appreciated that science experiment, because while all of that is true, I’m not finding it compelling in the face of what I think is contradictory evidence regarding the Shortcomings of the Arquas.

Grandma was involved in the Cetagandan Occupation of Barrayar.  I have strong feelings about this phase of Barrayaran history and its consequences.  I know she wasn’t present on the planet voluntarily, but she was there to promote Cetagandan military goals and she did so enthusiastically.  Shiv and Udine had children, and also created another group of children in decorative colors to be loyal servants to the Baronette, and subjected them to loyalty programming.  I don’t know exactly what loyalty programming entails, but it sounds bad.

Et al., the Arquas claim to have rescued Tej and Rish.  I understand that the family was gravely concerned about Tej and Rish’s safety, and the marriage story may have reached them in a very alarming way.  However, on arrival, I think it should be apparent that Tej and Rish were managing their situation well and did not require rescuing. Denial isn’t a good look.

Furthermore, the Arqua clan announces that they think Tej should have married a House Heir on Jackson’s Whole when they were offering options, instead of Ivan, now.  They’re allowed to have feelings about Ivan, and any feelings they have at this point will be unjust in some way because they haven’t had time to get to know him yet.  But this criticism of Tej’s married state overlooks the importance of personalities and relationship chemistry in the marriage equation. And they know it. The Baronne goes on to suggest that Ivan would be an interesting marital alliance if Tej had known about his connections, but of course Tej is too stupid for that.  And her sister Star criticizes Tej for not working out a monetary contract before stepping into the groat circle. There’s a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking coming from the Arquas, who have apparently never heard what Count Piotr had to say about getting over heavy ground as lightly as you can and not criticizing the man on the ground. Or maybe they have heard it, and are ignoring it—their goal here is to make Tej believe that she needed to be rescued, then believe that they have rescued her and that she owes them something for their rescuing services.

Given their manipulative and dismissive approach to their beloved daughter, it’s hardly surprising that the Arquas think of Ivan only in terms of his usefulness.  Since they are unwilling to get involved in a Barrayaran civil war (“extended altercations with the locals”) to make Ivan Emperor, the Arquas assume that his utility is limited.  This irritates Tej enough to remind her that her family’s present debacle is the result of problems that could be blamed on her sisters. I am SO INTRIGUED by this. She keeps it to herself, and they move on to a conversation about assassinations they have arranged in the past (bounty hunters, husbands) and could arrange in the future (Ivan).

Where is Ivan?  He’s paid a bond for all nine Arquas, rented a vehicle to transport them, and gotten all of the Arquas hotel rooms.  Then he went to work. Join me next week as Ivan deals with snakes, and his mother throws a dinner party.

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.

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