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Cordelia Naismith, captain of an Astronomical Survey ship from the extremely liberal and technologically advanced Beta Colony, is exploring a newly-discovered planet when her base camp is attacked. While investigating, she is surprised by a soldier, hits her head on a rock, and awakens to find that, while most of her crew has escaped, she is marooned with an injured crewman and Captain Lord Aral Vorkosigan of Barrayar, notorious throughout human space as the "Butcher of Komarr". He had been left behind for dead by a treacherous rival. During their five-day hike to a secret Barrayaran base, she finds Vorkosigan not at all the monster his reputation suggested, and is strongly attracted to him. She helps him defeat a mutiny, despite some well-intentioned interference from her crew, and she is "rescued" and returns to Beta Colony.
It turns out that the secret base was a staging point for an invasion of Beta Colony's ally Escobar, to be led by Crown Prince Serg, the demented son and heir of Emperor Ezar. Cordelia goes to Escobar in command of a decoy ship and successfully distracts the Barrayaran ships on picket duty at the wormhole exit so the transport ships following her can deliver a devastating new Betan weapon to the Escobaran defenders.
She is captured, briefly tortured by the sadistic Admiral Vorrutyer, then unexpectedly rescued by Vorrutyer's henchman, Sergeant Bothari, who kills his master. Afterwards, Commodore Vorkosigan hides the pair in his cabin. The new weapons give the Escobarans an overwhelming advantage and the Barrayaran invasion is driven back with heavy losses, including Crown Prince Serg, his flagship, and all hands aboard. As Vorkosigan takes charge and organizes his fleet's retreat, Cordelia overhears one critical fact and deduces, step by step, a political secret that would plunge Barrayar into a generation of civil war if it ever got out. When Vorkosigan can no longer hide her in his cabin, she is placed in the ship's brig. The ship is attacked and loses power, including internal gravity; Cordelia braces herself in a corner of her cell, but when lights and gravity are restored she discovers that it is a ceiling corner, falls and breaks her arm. She endures a considerable wait while medics treat the more seriously injured, as the ship escapes from Escobar space and returns to the secret base.
On her way back to Beta Colony after a prisoner exchange, she is assigned a cabin mate who turns out to be a Betan psychiatrist convinced that her injuries are evidence that she was tortured by Vorkosigan, and the fact that she denies being tortured means that her memories have been suppressed. Desperate to keep her terrible secret, Cordelia refuses to let herself sleep, developing insomnia, stuttering, and a nervous tic, which further leads the psychiatrist and doctors to conclude that she has also been brainwashed and is being sent back to Beta Colony as a spy. At home on Beta, the authorities are determined to "cure" her, forcing her to flee.
She manages to reach Barrayar, where she marries Aral Vorkosigan. The dying Emperor Ezar Vorbarra appoints Aral as Regent-Elect for his grandson and heir, the four-year-old Prince Gregor. Aral, who is next in line of succession after the Prince, at first refuses, but Cordelia convinces him to take the job.
EP Independent - Reviews
EP Books/Literature Reviews
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