by Lois McMaster Bujold



346pp/$28.00/February 2016

Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen
Cover by Dave Seeley

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Lois McMaster Bujold has always jumped around in the chronology of her Vorkosigan novels. Her latest, Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen is set three years after Cryoburn and seven years after her most recent novel, Captain Vorpatril's Alliance. While Cryoburn ended with a major twist to her universe, Bujold didn't immediately return to explore its ramification until now, and even now, with Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen taking place three years later, Cordelia has come out of the most intense period of mourning Aral Vorkosigan's loss and is moving on with her life in Sergyar.

The novel focuses, almost equally, on the two titular characters. While Cordelia, the Red Queen, is known to readers and anchored two novels on her own, Oliver Jole may not be as familiar to readers, although he is not new to the Vorkosigan universe, originally introduced in a couple of paragraphs in 1999's The Vor Game as Aral Vorkosigan's lieutenant, reappeared in 2010's Cryoburn as one of Aral's pallbearer, and with a few mentions in Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, where we learned of his love of sailing. Nothing in his background fully prepared the reader for his large role in the current novel, which appears to be how Bujold wanted it. Even the ever-observant Miles comments in the novel about frequently overlooking Jole.

The novel is a leisurely exploration of Jole and Cordelia's mutual courtship of each other, made more complex by her position as the vicereine of Sergyar and his position as the Admiral in charge of Sergyar's military, providing the potential for a very public view of their relationship. Making things more interesting is their lengthy relationship prior to Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen. Although Bujold had not previously presented the details, Cordelia, Aral, and Jole had a more intricate relationship than merely husband-and-wife and husband's loyal retainer.

While most of the Vorkosigan novels are action based, Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen is more a character study of Oliver Jole and Cordelia and a novel exploring the relatively newly discovered world of Sergyar, where Cordelia and Aral first met in Shards of Honor. Although the planet has been settled by the Barrayarans, their colony mostly consists of the city of Kareenburg, which is just beginning to look like a permanent location. Unfortunately, it is also in a geographically undesirable location and one of the sub plots deals with Cordelia's desire to move the capital to a better location, Gridgrad. Furthermore, Cordelia and Oliver spend time at a lake where Oliver is able to focus on his sailing as well as learn more about the mostly unknown fauna of Sergyar.

Sergyar isn't the only thing that has advanced over the course of the series. Barrayar and its society was deeply conservative when Aral met Cordelia in Shards of Honor. Over the subsequent years, Cordelia's position in Barrayaran society, Miles' physical situation and adventures, and Gregor's attitudes have made the culture more accepting of differences. This comes into sharp focus when Cordelia explains her plan to have additional children to Oliver, not only in Oliver's response, but in the reaction of other Sergyarans who learn of the plan.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the book is a seemingly throwaway conversation that doesn't relate to the main focus on the novel. Miles and his family come to visit Cordelia and begin trading observations about the caste structure of the Cetagandans. They become aware that their understanding of the Cetagandan society is deeply flawed and lacking and their understanding of the Cetagandan Wars may be entirely incorrect and a better understanding may be necessary in order to interact with the Cetagandans more realistically. Bujold broadly hints that this may be a focus for future books in the series.

Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen only succeeds as part of the series to which it belongs. A reader without knowledge of Cordelia's background or Barrayaran custom may not be entirely lost in the novel, but won't have a reason to stick with the characters through its duration. Perhaps because of the focus on character over plot or action, Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen feels more like a placeholder or a novel which is setting up future adventures in the Vorkosigan Saga rather than a novel on its own.

Purchase this book

Amazon BooksOrder from Amazon UK

Amazon Books



Return to

Thanks to
SF Site
for webspace.