Shards of Honor, written by Lois McMaster Bujold and published by Baen Books in 1986, is both the first book published and the first book chronologically of the main sequence of the Vorkosigan Saga. The epilogue "Aftermaths" was actually published first, in Baen's Far Frontiers, Volume V, Spring 1986. The story has also been collected in the omnibus edition Cordelia's Honor. The Reader's Chair audio edition, published in 1996, was read by Michael Hanson and Carol Cowan.
Chronologically, the events of Shards of Honor fall approximately one year before the birth of Miles Vorkosigan; the tale describes the circumstances of the meeting of his parents Aral Vorkosigan and Cordelia Naismith.
Shards of Honor came in second place for a Locus Award for Best First Novel in 1987 and was nominated for a Compton Crook Award for Best First Novel of 1986.
The Reader's Chair audio edition won the "Earphones Award" in June 1997 and the "Critics' Choice Romantic Favorites" in February 1998, both from AudioFile.
It was the wrong war ... In the wrong place, at the wrong time, for the wrong reasons. She even wore the wrong uniform; Cordelia Naismith, Betan Expeditionary Force, had been hurried into battle still wearing her old tan Astronomical Survey fatigues.
Now, captain of a throwaway ship on a mission of deception, she convoys a weapon of wicked subtlety to entrap and destroy an enemy armada.
But Cordelia will discover deception within deception, treachery within treachery, until finally she is forced into a separate peace with her chief opponent, Lord Vorkosigan. It is a peace that earns her only ignominy -- even though it foreshadows a new beginning, for herself, her lover, and both their peoples.
Cordelia Naismith, Commander for the Betan Astronomical Survey from the extremely liberal and technologically advanced Beta Colony, had been exploring a newly-discovered planet along with her botanist Ensign Dubauer, when she saw her shuttle take off unexpectedly to return to her survey ship, the Rene Magritte. While investigating, she discovered her base camp destroyed by plasma arc fire, and one of her men Lieutenant Rosemont dead from nerve disruptor head wounds. During her investigation, she and Dubauer were surprised by a "hatchet-faced" Barrayaran soldier with a nerve disruptor. Dubauer saved her by throwing his body in front of her, taking the brunt of the blast. She passed out after she hit her head on a rock.
- "It must be like living with cannibals, to be a Barrayaran."
- ―Cordelia Naismith[src]
When she awakened, she found herself alone with a Barrayaran officer, who identified himself as Captain Aral Vorkosigan, in command of the war cruiser General Vorkraft. Cordelia immediately accusd him of being a "hired killer" over the death of Rosemont, then quickly realized Vorkosigan had been the target of a mutiny. He informed her that Dubauer was effectively dead from his disruptor injuries, but Cordelia argued that even with severe mental trauma, she considered him alive and worth saving, even after Vorkosigan offered to cut his throat to end his pain. Cordelia thus learned one aspect of Barrayaran culture - that outward display of physical weakness was a social stigma.
Cordelia bargained with Vorkosigan: her parole in exchange for helping Dubauer come along to the supply cache Vorkosigan intended to take her, giving him the ultimatum, "You can either leave us both or kill us both." Vorkosigan directly responded, "I do not kill prisoners", and agreed to bring the injured ensign.
Cordelia was impressed by Vorkosigan's help, such as helping bury Rosemont in a deep grave after native scavengers attempted to steal the body and helping to defend the campsite despite having been slashed on his leg by them, but her feelings became mixed when she identified him as the "Butcher of Komarr". He responded by telling her that he had not orchestrated the Solstice Massacre - it had been the work of his second-in-command from behind his back. In retaliation, he had killed the treacherous political officer with his bare hands, which created an uproar in the government, and his subsequent demotion to Captain. Cordelia instinctively believed him.
Later, Cordelia and Aral shared romantic histories, which were similarly ill-fated. Aral told her about his first wife, who had been unfaithful to him due to his absence, his killing of two of her suitors in duels, and her suicide. Cordelia told him of her first husband, who had tricked her out of her first Captaincy promotion by promising to raise children with her if she would let him get promoted ahead of herself but who then broke off their relationship once he got the promotion.
Discovering Barrayar's plans
- "You found a jump through here to Escobar?"
- ―Cordelia Naismith[src]
When they arrived at the "supply cache", Naismith realized that it was actually a large depot, too large to be a simple cache, and began to suspect that the Barrayarans had larger plans for the planet than Vorkosigan had let on. She and Vorkosigan encountered his second-in-command and friend, Korabik Gottyan; she remained hidden with a stunner as Vorkosigan confronted Gottyan, who knew Vorkosigan was still alive from Bothari's report. To Vorkosigan's dismay, Gottyan revealed that while he was not part of the mutiny, he had put Bothari in solitary confinement - Gottyan wanted to silently kill his superior officer to become Captain himself. Cordelia shot Gottyan with the stunner, thus allowing Vorkosigan to secure his treacherous second-in-command. Vorkosigan then found fresh-faced, amiable and loyal Ensign Koudelka, in whose custody Naismith and Dubauer were placed. Once in the depot, the prisoners were fed, Vorkosigan and Dubauer received medical aid, and all were transferred to the General Vorkraft.
Aboard the Vorkraft, Cordelia met with Vorkosigan in the infirmary and was introduced to Lieutenant Commander Vorkalloner. She daringly revealed her assumption that Barrayar intended an invasion, which Vorkosigan frankly acknowledged. Vorkalloner's surprise indicated that the invasion plans were still top secret and still being debated among the higher brass. After the meeting, Cordelia re-acquainted herself with Bothari (who disdainfully compared her to a Vor lady). Privately, back in her own quarters, Vorkosigan proposed marriage, inviting her to become Lady Vorkosigan on Barrayar. Cordelia did not accept or refuse his proposal, but was shocked when Vorkosigan finally revealed his government's true intention: an invasion of Escobar, motivated by the discovery of a wormhole jump between the new planet and Escobar.
- "We just couldn't leave you in the hands of the Butcher of Komarr. It was unanimous."
- ―Stuben to Cordelia[src]
Cordelia started spending time reading about Barrayar, only to find that her people were unwilling to leave her behind. Instead, they managed to sneak up on the General Vorkraft by means of a new projector technology that their ship was field-testing. They followed the ship back to the planet, visited the surface, and found Radnov and Darobey, the leaders of the mutineers, left behind.
With the help of Radnov and Darobey, they were able to sneak aboard the General Vorkraft. They freed the rest of the mutineers, and while Radnov and his group went to take over engineering, the Betans arrived at her quarters intending to collect her and Dubauer and flee.
Cordelia sent them off to collect Dubauer from sick bay, but instead of fleeing directly as well, she performed a detour: she stopped by the bridge and told Vorkosigan that she was taking back her parole, and then she ran to engineering, snuck in the back way, and cleared out the mutineers with the help of the most reluctant member of their group, an engineer named Tafas.
Finally, she fled with her shipmates to warn Beta Colony and Escobar of the coming invasion.
- "The Emperor, for one, will be delighted."
- ―Vorkosigan, regarding Vorrutyer's death[src]
Cordelia, now a captain in the Betan Expeditionary Force, went to Escobaran space in command of a decoy ship and successfully distracted the Barrayaran ships on picket duty at the wormhole exit so the transport ships following her could deliver a devastating new Betan weapon to the Escobaran defenders.
She was captured, briefly tortured by the sadistic Admiral Vorrutyer, then unexpectedly rescued by Vorrutyer's henchman, Sergeant Bothari, who killed his master. Afterwards, Commodore Vorkosigan hid the pair in his cabin. The new weapons gave the Escobarans an overwhelming advantage and the Barrayaran invasion was driven back with heavy losses, including Crown Prince Serg, his flagship, and all hands aboard. As Vorkosigan took charge and organized his fleet's retreat, Cordelia overheard one critical fact and deduced, step by step, a political secret that would plunge Barrayar into a generation of civil war if it ever got out. When Vorkosigan could no longer hide her in his cabin, she was transferred to the ship's brig. The ship was attacked and lost power, including internal gravity; Cordelia braced herself in a corner of her cell, but when lights and gravity were restored she discovered that it was a ceiling corner rather than a floor corner; she fell and broke her arm. She endured a considerable wait while medics treated the more seriously injured, once the ship had managed to escape from Escobar space and returned to the secret base.
Escape to Barrayar
- "Sorry, Bill. I just have this awful vision of being p-peeled like an onion, looking for the seeds."
- ―Cordelia's opinion of therapy[src]
On her way back to Beta Colony after a prisoner exchange, she was assigned a cabin mate who turned out to be an Escobaran psychiatrist convinced that her injuries were evidence that she had been tortured by Vorkosigan, and the fact that she denied being tortured meant that her memories had been suppressed. Desperate to keep her terrible secret, Cordelia refused to let herself sleep, developing insomnia, stuttering, and a nervous tic, which further led the psychiatrist and doctors to conclude that she had also been brainwashed and was being sent back to Beta Colony as a spy. At home on Beta, the authorities were determined to "cure" her, forcing her to flee.
She managed to reach Barrayar, where she married Aral Vorkosigan. The dying Emperor Ezar Vorbarra appointed Aral as Regent-Elect for his grandson and heir, the four-year-old Prince Gregor. Aral, who was next in line of succession after the Prince, at first refused, but Cordelia convinced him to take the job.
- Korabik Gottyan
- Ym. Nilesa
- Lt. Rosemont
- Lt. Stuben
- Dr. Ullery
- Ezar Vorbarra
- Piotr Pierre Vorkosigan
- Elizabeth Naismith
- Captain Mehta
Behind the Scenes
- Speculation that Shards of Honor was originally a fanfic for The Original Startrek has been widespread. The answer is 99% no. See Goodreads answer for details.
- The origins of oatmeal and blue cheese meals came from a Vietnam War anecdote told to the author by a veteran. See Goodreads discussion for details