Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, Chapter 25 and Epilogue

We’re finishing up Ivan’s book this week. I’ve been procrastinating on this blog post all weekend, for once not because of time management but because I’m a little sad to let it go. Ivan goes out in such a good place—perhaps not where he planned to be, but in command of his own destiny. I don’t think that Ivan and Tej will be happy for every moment of their lives together from here on out, but I’m confident that they will put things right when they go wrong, and I’m thrilled for them.

Chapter 25 wraps up the loose ends of the Ghem Estif-Arqua Family and the sinking of ImpSec. In previous books, Ivan warned against the dangers of surprising Gregor. And indeed, while Gregor is willing to see what happens in situations that he is informed of in advance, he really hates being surprised. I’m not going to suggest that his retribution is swift or severe or anything like that, but it is efficient and effective in removing the sources of unwelcome surprises from his immediate environs. And yet not from his sphere of influence. In fairness, his sphere of influence is a multi-planetary Empire plus those areas in which he has agents or personnel who can act on his behalf in matters deemed to be of Imperial importance.

The Ghem Estif-Arquas are returning to whence they came—mostly Jackson’s Whole, but Amiri is going back to Escobar and his lab, and he’s very excited about it. Officially, the family is being deported, but Gregor is being both generous and diplomatic about the process. He’s providing 5% of the proceeds of the bunker, a jumpship, a pilot, and Byerly Vorrutyer as a minder. Shiv gets to have a final word with the transport contractor who betrayed him and rub some salt in his wounds. There’s a farewell lunch with Lady Alys beforehand, and transport to the shuttleport is not a prison van. It’s all very civilized, and, I think, very reflective of Gregor’s desire to deal with House Cordonah again in the future, when they’re back in control of their jump station.

In addition to the jump point, and a history of dealing squarely with the Barrayaran Empire, the Ghem Estif-Arquas are valuable to the Barrayaran Empire as a source of information. Duv Galeni and Illyan spend two hours with Lady Ghem Estif, and Duv then scrambles additional personnel for the ride to Pol Station—an ImpSec agent and a graduate student. Exactly no graduate students were scrambled for urgent oral history projects when I was in graduate school. I’m jealous. So is Duv, who doesn’t get to go do the work himself. His academic work didn’t seem that important to him when we met him on Earth, back in Brothers in Arms, but Duv seems more like a history professor every time we see him.

I wish Rish played more of a role in the farewell sequence. She and Tej were each other’s only support in the early chapters of the book, and I liked their relationship. It makes sense that, when everyone is known to be living rather than dead and the crisis of fleeing House Prestene has abated, Rish is closest to her fellow Jewels. Nonetheless, it’s a little incongruous that she and Tej don’t have any parting words for each other.

Tej says goodbye to her mother, who tries to convince her to come with the rest of the family. Tej finds this frustrating but, she thinks, was it really necessary to bloody her forehead trying to solve a problem already going away on its own? She decides not. She gives Ivan Xav credit for her strategy. There’s a near-repeat of this scene with Tej and her father. Shiv always expected to deal for Tej, and he planned to drive a hard bargain—it’s what he does. He’s struggling with the idea that Tej dealt for him. Tej brushed off her mother, but she doesn’t hesitate to point out the upside of the deal she made to her dad. Shiv makes one last threat to kill Ivan if he doesn’t take care of Shiv’s little girl, but it’s pro forma. Mostly. Tej’s reflections about her parents remind me of Ekaterin’s advice to Kareen from A Civil Campaign; Ekaterin said that adulthood wasn’t a prize handed out for being a good child. Tej is finding that happiness isn’t a prize you get for putting up with enough crap. They’re both things you have to take for yourself.

Ivan and Tej will be taking their happiness on Ylla. It’s a planet. Ivan has been assigned to be senior military attaché at the embassy there. It does not have any junior military attachés. It does have a “slightly alcoholic consul.” An alcoholic senior officer was one of the early signs that Kyril Island was going to be particularly dire, back in The Vor Game. The bigger issue was that the base commander was a sadistic war criminal with no particular interest in human rights, but this doesn’t stop me from seeing Ylla as Ivan’s Kyril Island. How would The Vor Game have been different if Ivan went to Kyril Island and Miles got the desk in Vorbarr Sultana? I infer from the Epilogue that Ivan would have found a way to make it much more pleasant. Or perhaps not—eighteen-year-old Ivan wanted a status that would impress his peers. Since he was, at age 18, still roughly third in line for the Imperium (even if tied with some other contenders) in a way apparent to anyone who could count, this strikes me as a little strange. I think it might be how he thinks of his rivalry with his cousin. Thirty-six-year-old Ivan has developed his own special brand of hygge. It takes three weeks for him to relocate the embassy to an island on the Equator. Things aren’t perfect—Yllan seawater causes strange rashes, and its sea monsters eat people—but there are fruity girly drinks and letters from home.  What happened to everyone in the end?

  • Admiral Desplaines says he misses Ivan and wishes him well.
  • House Prestene amputated Topaz’s legs—the replacements were successful and the Jewels are performing for the public again.
  • Rish is terrible at writing letters.
  • Tej’s brother Erik betrayed the family—they are keeping him in cryo-storage for now.
  • Tej’s grandmother retrieved a substantial collection of Barrayaran genetic samples from the bunker. She sold it to the Star Crèche and then destroyed it in front of the Star Crèche envoy. Apparently, Haut ladies do not appreciate being culled.
  • One of Mark Vorkosigan’s businesses has raised ImpSec from the swamp. The building was mostly intact—Dono Vorrutyer may have been mad, but he was a hell of an engineer. The building is now being operated as a museum and tourist attraction. A new ImpSec HQ is under construction. At his request, it is not being named after Simon Illyan.
  • Simon and Alys took a long intergalactic trip that included a stop at the Betan Orb.
  • Jole has a new sailboat. No word on his reaction to Vormercier’s peculation scheme.
  • Miles and Ekaterin continue to reproduce—they’ve just had their third child, Lady Elizabeth Vorkosigan.
  • Ivan is approaching his twenty years in the service. He’s considering a career in diplomacy. He completely ignored his thirty-sixth birthday.

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.

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