Barrayar, written by Lois McMaster Bujold and published in 1991 by Baen Books, is the immediate sequel to Shards of Honor in the Vorkosigan Saga, dealing with events immediately following. It was initially published serially in four installments in Analog from July to October 1991, and has since been collected in the omnibus edition Cordelia's Honor. It is the eighth book published in the Saga. An audio version was produced by The Reader's Chair in 1997, read by Carol Cowan and Michael Hanson.
The story continues the tale of the meeting of Miles Vorkosigan's parents, Aral Vorkosigan and Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan; the next tale in the saga chronologically is The Warrior's Apprentice, which is set some seventeen years later.
Barrayar won the Hugo Award for Best Novel, the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel, the Rickie Award for best SF novel (voted by viewers of Toronto SF TV show Prisoners of Gravity), the HOMer Award for Best SF Novel, was nominated for a Nebula Award for Best Novel, and was nominated for the SF Chronicle Award for Best Novel, all in 1992.
It was also nominated for a Seiun Award (Japanese Hugo) for best translation of a foreign novel in 2001.
Cordelia Naismith, legendary ship commander in the Betan Expeditionary Force, a woman who beat the Barrayaran militarists at their own game, was never one to fulfill stereotypes. Having married the commander of the forces her side defeated in battle, she was ready to settle down to a quiet life devoted to raising little Vor lordlings, interrupted only by the occasional ceremonial appearances required of the Lady Vorkosigan.
But Cordelia had not paid sufficient attention to what an important Vor lord she had married; when the Emperor died, only her husband's reputation for honor stood between her adopted planet and the unspeakable horrors of a dynastic civil war fought by first-rate soldiers armed with up-to-the-minute technology.
Aral Vorkosigan had little choice but to take up the burden of Regency – as Cordelia had little choice but to support him in his decision. But neither of them realized the part Cordelia – and her unborn son – would play in Barrayar's bloody legacy.
- "I am afraid."
- ―Cordelia's thoughts[src]
At the start of Barrayar, the Emperor was dying, with Aral Vorkosigan as his chosen Regent for his not-quite five year old grandson, Gregor Vorbarra. At this time, the Vorkosigans were newly expecting their first child, a boy who was to be named Piotr Miles Vorkosigan. A great many meetings took place; Cordelia began to establish friendships with Princess Kareen and her handservant Drou (Ludmilla Droushnakovi) – Kareen went so far as to assign Drou to work for Cordelia for a time so she could learn more about how to be a woman soldier.
Cordelia began by having Drou take her to a shop, Sieglings, where she purchased a swordstick for Aral's secretary Kou (Clement Koudelka). Soon after, when informal combat tournaments began at Vorkosigan House, Cordelia decided that she should have her own team and got Drou allowed to take part in the battles. Learning experiences soon followed, as the men learned that she was in fact a very capable fighter.
Matters with Aral's Regency work began to get complex. First came an assassination attempt using a sonic grenade that almost succeeded. Simon Illyan's list of potential culprits was dauntingly long. Soon afterwards, Cordelia met Vidal Vordarian at the first Emperor's Birthday celebration for Gregor; the conversation they had was sufficiently troubling that she directed Illyan to move Vordarian to his "short" list. Soon afterwards, while Aral was very busy trying to cope with a threatened Cetagandan war (the soon-to-come Third Cetagandan War), young Carl Vorhalas managed to semi-accidentally kill a friend of his in a not-quite-pretend duel. Aral declined to pardon him, so he was executed soon afterwards. Carl's older brother Evon was enraged and tried to assassinate Aral with poison gas; this seriously threatened the lives of him and his pregnant wife Cordelia. The antidote to the poison, while quite effective, was a powerful teratogen that attacked the bones of their unborn son, Miles. In a radical procedure for Barrayar, the fetus was transferred to a uterine replicator – an artificial womb – to undergo an experimental recalcification treatment that might repair some of the damage to his bones.
- "ImpMil, and ImpSec, and ImpEverything, is giving me a bad case of ImpClaustrophobia. Let's go down to Vorkosigan Surleau for a few days. You'll recover better there yourself, it will be harder for all your dedicated minions," she jerked her head at the corridor, "to get at you, there. Just you and me, boy."
- ―Cordelia suggests a visit to Vorkosigan Surleau[src]
While Cordelia and Aral were recuperating at the Vorkosigan country estate in Vorkosigan Surleau, Count Vidal Vordarian attempted a coup. Gregor was rescued by his loyal security chief Captain Negri and reunited with the Vorkosigans. Cordelia, Gregor, and various retainers then escaped into the hills on horseback and hid amongst the rural peasant population while Aral and his father organized the resistance.
After Cordelia rejoined Aral at his headquarters, Tanery Base, they learned that the replicator containing Miles had been captured. Without proper maintenance, the fetus would succumb within two weeks, but Aral could not bring himself to mount a rescue when there were greater concerns. Cordelia therefore convinced her bodyguard Droushnakovi, Piotr's armsman Bothari, and Aral's secretary, Lieutenant Koudelka, to help her rescue Miles and Gregor's mother, Princess Kareen.
- "If I could somehow get to the Residence, I bet I could get in. If Vordarian's just taken over all the standard Security arrangements and beefed them up."
"And get back out?"
- ―Drou offers to help Cordelia[src]
Along the way, they discovered Alys and Padma Vorpatril hiding in the old Caravanserai; the couple was in real danger of being found out, and Alys was past term for delivering her to-be-son Ivan. They tried to rescue the family, but Padma was killed in battle with Vordarian's forces. Ivan was born very soon afterwards. Cordelia sent Koudelka to go with Alys and the baby to smuggle them out of the city to Tanery Base.
Meanwhile, Cordelia, Drou, and Bothari took to the sewers to sneak into the palace via a particularly secret escape route created by old Emperor Ezar. Once in the palace, Cordelia and her party were captured. They overpowered their captors and executed Vordarian after one of his bodyguards accidentally killed Princess Kareen; then they escaped with the replicator. Returning to Tanery Base, Cordelia barged in on her husband Aral and father-in-law Piotr as they were bargaining with a couple of Vordarian's senior officers about the latter switching sides, and interrupted these delicate negotiations by dumping Vordarian's severed head onto the conference table. The coup fell apart without its leader and peace returned to the planet. The enlightened Betan Cordelia was given charge of Prince Gregor's early education, with far-reaching consequences for Barrayar.
- "Vortala . . . is not all-wise. Let's just say, he has a little trouble recognizing as such some forms of power which are not synonymous with force. Your window of opportunity is narrow, though; at age twelve Gregor will enter a pre-Academy preparatory school."
"But do they realize . . . ?"
"I do. And you do. It's enough."
- ―Cordelia gets to write Barrayar's future[src]
Because of his exposure to the antidote, Miles Naismith Vorkosigan was born with extremely fragile bones that tended to break under any stress, and his growth was stunted. On Barrayar, babies with birth defects were traditionally killed, though this practice was illegal by the time of Miles' birth. So-called "muties" were still reviled and shunned, and Miles, though genetically healthy, would have to deal with prejudice throughout his life, starting with his grandfather Piotr.
- "Remake this world into one Miles can survive in. And Elena. And Ivan. And Gregor."
- ―Cordelia's charge to Aral[src]
- Konstantine Bothari
- Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan
- Aral Vorkosigan
- Piotr Pierre Vorkosigan
- Vidal Vordarian
- Elena Bothari
- Carl Vorhalas
- Evon Vorhalas
- Miles Naismith Vorkosigan
- Padma Vorpatril
- Alys Vorpatril
- Prime Minister Vortala
- Dr. Vaagen
Behind the scenes
For a detailed discussion of how the tale was written, and the meaning of "Was bisexual", see http://lists.herald.co.uk/pipermail/lois-bujold/2021-January/012393.html