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Thinking About Dragaera: Athyra

Maybe [the jhereg] were the only beings in the world who knew what was really going on, and they were secretly laughing at everyone else.

Athyra is the sixth Vlad Taltos book, published in 1993.  It takes place “some years” after Vlad’s departure from the Jhereg at the end of Phoenix.

About athyra

The athyra is a bird of prey with a mild psychic ability it uses to both attract prey and repel predators.

About Athyra

Athyra rules minds’ interplay…

The House of the Athyra is known for intellectual pursuits, particularly in the area of sorcery.  Vlad describes two types of Athyra:

“…Some are mystics, who attempt to explore the nature of the world by looking within themselves, and some are explorers, who look upon the world as a problem to be solved, and thus reduce other people to either distractions or pieces of a puzzle, and treat them accordingly.”

Savn considered this, and said, “The explorers sound dangerous.”

“They are.  Not nearly as dangerous as the mystics, however.”

“Why is this?”

“Because explorers at least believe that others are real, if unimportant.  To a mystic, that which dwells inside is the only reality.”

Previously in the series, we have only encountered one significant Athyra character: Loraan, the wizard from whom Vlad stole Spellbreaker and the staff containing Aliera’s soul during Taltos.

Athyra are far from the only Dragaerans who practice sorcery, but no other Dragaerans push the boundaries of sorcery like the Athyra do, through centuries and even millennia of careful study, observation, and experimentation.1Vlad mentions his Hawk friend Daymar as being similar to an Athyra at one point, but while Daymar has the same eccentric-intellectual personality as the stereotypical Athyra, he is more of a dilettante, and his unique capabilities as a sorcerer seem to owe more to his overwhelming raw power than to dedicated research.

About Athyra

After a prologue featuring four unnamed people eating an unidentified bird around a campfire, the story starts with a brand new viewpoint character, Savn.  He’s a young Teckla apprenticed to Master Wag, the physicker for the village of Smallcliff.  On his way home from Wag’s, he encounters Vlad and points him towards Tem’s house, the village inn.  At home that night, he has a mystic vision of Vlad opening and closing the paths of his future life, which shows him that, contrary to his assumption that he would eventually become Smallcliff’s physicker, he has choices that he can make in his life.  (At this point and a few others, we get viewpoints from Rocza, helping fill in some of the story details that Savn isn’t yet aware of.  As Loiosh’s mate, Rocza has a psionic connection with him but not with “the Provider” (Vlad); she frequently does not understand the things that Loiosh asks her to do on Vlad’s behalf, but helps him anyway out of some combination of love and hope of reward.)

The next morning, a cart driver called “Reins” is found dead outside Tem’s.  Savn assists Wag with the autopsy.  Speculation at Tem’s points at Vlad (being an Easterner who has only just arrived in town); Vlad claims otherwise and offers to help find the killer.  He discovers that the local lord, Baron Smallcliff, is the Athyra sorcerer Loraan, from whom Vlad stole Spellbreaker.  This fact surprises Vlad because he thought Loraan was dead, and he tells Savn that the Baron is probably undead.

Vlad also offers to teach Savn witchcraft, and starts with a meditation technique and psionic communication.  He does this in a cave that he wants to explore for other reasons; he explains that “Dark Water” (water that runs underground and has never seen the light of day) can be used to aid necromancy and also, when contained, to repel the undead.  Vlad also begins filling Savn in on some background: Loraan wants to kill him, and probably killed Reins to draw Vlad in, as Reins had been the driver who delivered the hidden Vlad to Loraan’s keep previously.  Vlad intends to avenge him.

Savn isn’t sure what to think, but the amount of time he’s been spending with Vlad is starting to draw attention – first nasty looks from others in the town, and then a beating from his former friends, which Rocza breaks up.  Savn is aware that his life is changing but he no longer knows what lies ahead of him.  The rest of the harvest passes in a blur.

Later, Savn spots some of Loraan’s men-at-arms heading to Tem’s, and runs ahead to warn Vlad; in the ensuing fight, Vlad is wounded and escapes via teleport.  Savn gathers some supplies (including Vlad’s pack from his room at Tem’s) and goes to the spot where he first met Vlad; from there the jhereg lead him to Vlad who has a broken rib, a collapsed lung, and a wound to his leg.  Savn recalls a similar case from his training with Wag, and improvises an underwater-seal suction system to reinflate Vlad’s lung.  Confident after the successful procedure and waiting for Vlad to wake, Savn practices the witchcraft trance and wanders in his own dreams; a voice2I speculate that this is Verra, who I think is still keeping an eye on Vlad, but I have no certain facts on this at the moment. tells him that he still matters and Vlad will need him again.

Savn goes for more supplies, avoiding a mob searching for Vlad, and brings Wag back to Vlad; Savn’s sister Polyi eventually shows up as well.  They move Vlad to the caves both for access to water and to avoid discovery.  Vlad has a fever from an infection in his leg wound, which Wag begins to treat while reciting the proper handling of the “Fever Imps” which constitute Wag’s basic grasp of germ theory.  Savn and Polyi stay with Vlad overnight, and argue about Loraan’s undeath and Vlad’s intention to kill him.  The next morning, their parents don’t seem upset about their absence, and Savn suspects Vlad has bespelled them; nobody else Savn talks to believes Vlad capable of it.

When the two jhereg show up at Savn’s house again, he goes with them despite being angry at Vlad, but he brings a kitchen knife in case he decides to kill Vlad.  Polyi accompanies him, and they treat Vlad’s fever again.  Savn accuses Vlad of magically manipulating his parents’ minds, and Vlad admits to it.  Savn reminds Vlad of what he’d said about Athyra explorers treating people like objects and Athyra mystics acting like they don’t exist; Vlad realizes he’s been doing both.  He finally fills Savn in on the details of the situation: Loraan is working with a Jhereg assassin, who wants to kill Vlad Morganti-style because of his departure from the Jhereg.  Savn doesn’t know whether to believe Vlad, and engages him in something of an epistemological debate; Vlad’s position comes down to “don’t assume, find out”.  Vlad tells Savn about his plan to enter Loraan’s manor via the cave system, and believes himself somewhat safe under the assumption that Loraan can’t possibly maintain a teleport block over all the caves.

Savn decides to apply Vlad’s argument to the question of Loraan’s undeath and goes to the manor to request an audience, claiming he has information about the Easterner.  He observes that his Baron is unusually pale, and that he is in fact accompanied by a Jhereg assassin, but Loraan quickly grows impatient with him.  Savn is thrown into the same cell as Master Wag, who has been tortured into giving up Vlad’s location.  Savn sets Wag’s broken limbs and remembers he still has the kitchen knife; he uses it to stab a guard in the back with surgical precision, and goes in search of the cave-connected room that Vlad had hoped to enter.  He finds the room, hears tapping on one of the gates, and opens it to admit Vlad, Polyi, and the two jhereg.  Then Loraan and the Jhereg assassin, Ishtvan, teleport into the room.

The ensuing fight happens mostly in the darkness, with Vlad trying to get his enemies to distrust each other.  He is still wounded, though, and he tries to get Savn and Polyi to run as Ishtvan closes in on him.  Instead, Savn fills his lantern with Dark Water and uses it to weaken Loraan.  Loraan calls for Ishtvan to kill Savn, which gives Vlad the distraction he needs to kill Ishtvan; Loraan knocks the lantern from Savn’s hand and then knocks Savn unconscious.  Savn drops directly into the witchcraft trance, and watches himself catch the Morganti dagger passed to him by Rocza and kill Loraan with it.

The epilogue continues the scene from the prologue; we learn that the four people are Vlad, Savn, Polyi, and a minstrel named Sara; they are eating an athyra.  Savn does not seem to be aware of much; the use of the Morganti dagger severely damaged his mind.  Vlad asks Sara to take Polyi back to town but keeps Savn with him, as the townsfolk are unlikely to treat him well anyway, and he intends to find a way to heal Savn’s mind.

The Athyra Thesis

The Athyra thesis can be summed up as “Knowledge is power”.  There is more to it, of course – not least the unspoken corollary that both power and knowledge are desirable things, and the more the better.  Another corollary that Athyra tend to believe is the idea that knowledge (and the power that comes from it) ought to be held close, guarded carefully, and not shared if one can possibly help it – the fewer people that know a thing, the greater its power.

In the first five Vlad books, Vlad typically takes the side of the antithesis for most of the plot.  Throughout Athyra, however, Vlad displays the qualities of the namesake House, both positively and negatively.  His discoveries and knowledge drive the plot as he figures out that Loraan is undead (and that he killed Reins) and develops a plan to kill him.  He teaches Savn how to enter a trance state for witchcraft, and how to communicate psionically, but he keeps a lot of secrets about what else he knows and what he plans to do.

After Vlad describes the two types of Athyra, Savn asks him whether he’s an explorer or a mystic (implicitly asserting Vlad’s Athyra similarity); Vlad says that he hasn’t found the answer to that question, “but I know that other people are real, and that is something.”  That something doesn’t keep him from using those other people for his own purposes, though.  He manipulates Savn and his family in multiple ways, including outright mental magic cast on Savn’s parents, and he puts Savn and Polyi in lethal danger.  (Nor are Savn and his family the only people Vlad uses; Reins is dead because of Vlad’s choice to use him to get into Loraan’s keep during Taltos.)

The Athyra Antithesis

Savn, being the viewpoint character for this book, takes on the antithesis role that Vlad has taken on in prior books.  Until he meets Vlad, Savn has led a mostly unexamined life – helping his parents farm and studying under the village physicker, whom he will inevitably succeed at some point.  While somewhat well-educated by Smallcliff Teckla standards, given Master Wag’s rigorous education in how to think critically about the cases he handles, Savn is both younger and more ignorant than any other Dragaeran character we’ve spent any significant time with.  He continually seeks guidance from those around him, thinking about the things he’s experienced according to their standards instead of relying on his own knowledge.

Even in the areas of Savn’s training, medical care (and to a lesser extent, storytelling), Savn applies his expertise for the benefit of those around him.  As the village physicker, he expects the end result of his apprenticeship to be a life serving others with very little improvement to his own station in life; Master Wag is respected by the villagers, of course, but at the end of the day he’s still a Teckla living and working in a small village.  Such a life is opposed to everything the Athyra consider important, both in one’s general ignorance of the wider world and in its use of what knowledge one does hold to help others but rarely oneself.

Synthesis

The synthesis between the Athyra thesis and its antithesis builds from the first chapter.  A few hours after Vlad and Savn meet for the first time, Savn has a vision of the world opening up for him, and realizes that he has choices in his life.  He doesn’t necessarily have to stay in Smallcliff his whole life, and he doesn’t even necessarily have to be a physicker.

Following that, Savn begins to learn how to think, and realizes in the process that he can’t depend on other people for his answers.  Even Master Wag’s suggestion to simply observe and think doesn’t satisfy him any more than would Bless’s appeal to divinity or Speaker’s appeal to authority.  Eventually he takes the question to Vlad himself, in the process of trying to decide whether he believes what Vlad has been saying about Loraan.

“Vlad, how do you know what the truth is?”

… “Let’s start with this,” [Vlad] said.  “Suppose everyone you know says there’s no cave here.  Is that the truth?”

“No.”

“Good.  Not everyone would agree with you, but I do.”

“I don’t understand.”

“It doesn’t matter.”  Vlad thought for a moment longer, then suddenly shook his head.  “There’s no easy answer.  You learn things bit by bit, and you check everything by trying it out, and then sometimes you get a big piece of it all at once, and then you check that out.”

Vlad goes on to challenge the things that “everyone knows” or that have been passed down to Savn by tradition – that the Baron is a good person, or that Vlad’s fever was due to the Fever Imps that Master Wag taught Savn about.

“Well, I assume, since it’s been done that way for years-”

“Don’t assume, find out.”

“You mean, I can’t know anything until I’ve proven it for myself?”

“Hmmm.  No, not really.  If someone learns something, and passes it on, you don’t have to go through everything he learned again. … But you don’t have to accept it on faith, either.”

“Then what do you do?”

“You make certain you understand it; you understand it all the way to the bottom.  And you test it.  When you both understand why it is the way it is, and you’ve tried it out, then you can say you know it.”

At the climax of the book, Savn is unable to perceive most of the fight between Vlad, the Jhereg assassin Ishtvan, and Loraan; he is both literally and figuratively in the dark.  But he’s still able to test the knowledge he’s acquired, realizing that first-hand observation has validated Vlad’s assertions about Loraan.  With that understanding he is able to turn the fight around by using Dark Water to weaken Loraan, and the defeat of both antagonists follows from there.

In the end, Savn embodies the synthesis by turning his knowledge into power as the Athyra do, but sacrificing his mind in the process – the one price, above all else, that no Athyra would ever choose to pay.

Other interesting notes

  • The name “Savn” seems to be derived from the word “savant”, which typically means a person with broad or deep knowledge; etymologically, as a noun it simply means “one who knows”.  (The French word savant translates to the present participle “knowing”.)  The word is best known by many as part of the phrase “idiot savant”, which may well describe Savn at the end of the book (though it is unclear how much of his medical knowledge Savn retains at this point).
  • The chapters are each preceded by a verse from the Dragaeran folk song “Dung-Foot Peasant”.  Each verse describes a category of person the singer will not marry for some given reason (except for the last verse, in which the singer says they’ll marry a bandit.  Each category also describes someone in the chapter – Savn and his family are the peasants of the first verse (and the title), Tem is the serving-man of the second, the third refers to the town Speaker, and so on.  The “bandit” of the seventeenth verse is Vlad himself; he had previously stolen from Loraan, has been making a living by occasionally stealing from other bandits, and is in fact the person Savn leaves town with.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Vlad mentions his Hawk friend Daymar as being similar to an Athyra at one point, but while Daymar has the same eccentric-intellectual personality as the stereotypical Athyra, he is more of a dilettante, and his unique capabilities as a sorcerer seem to owe more to his overwhelming raw power than to dedicated research.
2. I speculate that this is Verra, who I think is still keeping an eye on Vlad, but I have no certain facts on this at the moment.

Thinking About Dragaera: Yendi

“Morrolan, how many Yendi does it take to sharpen a sword?”

He looked at me through slitted eyes.  “Tell me,” he said.

“Three.  One to sharpen the sword, and one to confuse the issue.”

Yendi was the second Dragaera book to be published, in 1984.  It takes place before the main chapters of Jhereg; Vlad has established himself as a Jhereg boss but is still relatively early in his career.

This was a tricky book to untangle.  Not that that’s surprising – it’s practically right there on the title page…

About yendis

The yendi is a snake with a slow-acting but deadly venom.  The Lyorn Records say that the yendi’s victims often don’t notice the bite until they suddenly die an hour later.

About Yendi

Yendi coils and strikes, unseen…

Little is known about the House of the Yendi.  The name of the House is a byword for subtle and intricate plots; those machinations appear to be the only identifying trait of the House.  The Yendi certainly aren’t going to make it easy for anyone else to notice them, because when you know there’s a Yendi about, then you can be assured that they’re up to something.

About Yendi

A neighboring Jhereg boss, Laris, encroaches on Vlad’s territory and incites a turf war.  Things escalate quickly (and expensively for both sides), and after surviving two other attempts on his life, Vlad is killed by the famous assassin duo “the Sword and the Dagger” – but not permanently.  He wakes up in Dzur Mountain, Sethra Lavode’s stronghold, and discovers that the assassins were also killed, and have also been brought to Dzur Mountain and revivified.

The Sword and the Dagger are an interesting pair.  As assassins, they are considered to be second only to Mario Greymist1Mario being the assassin who killed the Emperor before the Interregnum.  He is a legend among the Jhereg – and extremely expensive to hire..  The Sword is an ex-Dragon named Norathar e’Lanya, who turns out to potentially be the actual Dragon Heir (or would have been had she not left the House after she was supposedly shown to be a bastard).  The Dagger is Cawti2Those reading in chronological order may not already know that Cawti will soon be married to Vlad, but the publication order makes a will-they-won’t-they plot here pretty pointless., an Easterner woman with a background not unlike Vlad’s.  They quickly bond over their similarities and only pause briefly (to acknowledge that Cawti has returned their fee and dropped the job of ensuring Vlad’s death) on the way to commencing a romantic relationship.

Another unsuccessful assassination attempt later, Vlad decides that his survival of four different attempts on his life can’t be coincidence.  Meanwhile, Aliera’s interest in genetic studies (and her desire to not be the Dragon Heir) surfaces again, and her scan of Norathar reveals her to be a true Dragon and the rightful Heir.  Back at Castle Black, in the process of trying to put these pieces together, Vlad discovers that the Sorceress in Green (a perennial guest at Morrolan’s party) is a Yendi, and everything starts to come together once they know there must be Yendi machinations involved.

The plot turns out to be a collaboration between the Sorceress in Green and Sethra the Younger (a Dragon and apprentice of Sethra Lavode’s).  They wanted to insure that the Dragon Heir would be someone who would name Sethra the Younger as Warlord and start a war with the Easterners.  Norathar, Aliera, and Morrolan were ultimately the targets of the part of the plot that involved Vlad; Vlad himself and his entire operation was essentially collateral damage in the attempt to kill Norathar and discredit Aliera and Morrolan via their involvement in the Jhereg war3Though Vlad’s friendship with Aliera and Morrolan was part of the plan to draw them into the war in the first place..

Sethra Lavode takes care of punishing her apprentice.  Meanwhile, Aliera, Norathar, and Morrolan (along with Vlad and Cawti) take the usual Dragon approach towards the Sorceress in Green: killing her, revivifying her, and mind-probing her to get details of her other plots.  Before her death, though, Vlad extracts Laris’ location from her at the point of a Morganti knife, allowing him to wrap up the turf war with a direct strike to his opponent (and take over his territory and operation in the process).

The book closes with Vlad and Cawti visiting Vlad’s grandfather, asking for his blessing for their marriage.

The Yendi Thesis

To quote Vlad, “It is axiomatic that nobody but a Yendi can unravel a Yendi’s scheme.”  Previously in the same conversation – when he is talking with Morrolan immediately after discovering that the Sorceress in Green is a Yendi – he says, “Wherever you find a Yendi, you find a plot.  A devious plot.  Twisted, confusing, just the kind of thing we’re facing.”  Similarly, in Phoenix, Vlad (as the narrator) says that a Yendi’s definition of “civilized” behavior is “making sure no one ever knows exactly what you’re up to.”

To the extent that the Yendi have a guiding ethos at all, it seems to be conspiring to get what you want as subtly as possible – ideally without anyone else even realizing that you’re involved, let alone realizing that you’re benefiting from the things that happen as a result of your schemes.

The Yendi Antithesis

Morrolan replies to Vlad’s Yendi axiom with “Maybe I use different axioms”, and that is the core of the Yendi antithesis – a refutation of the arrogant assumption that nobody outside the House of the Yendi can figure out a Yendi’s machinations.  But it isn’t necessarily “unraveling” that Morrolan has in mind – if the Sorceress in Green’s scheme is the Gordian Knot, then Morrolan wants to be Alexander, cutting straight through the tangled mass of Yendi intrigue.  The problem with the Alexandrian solution, though, is that you have to know where the knot is before you can swing a sword at it, and it takes the protagonists most of the book just to positively identify the people behind the scheme.  Still, once that is done, Sethra axiomizes the Yendi antithesis in another way: “It is vain to use subtlety against a Yendi.”

Once again, the Dragon mode of thinking acts in opposition to the named House – where the Yendi incite confrontation between others to attain their ends, Dragons prefer to be right in the middle of the confrontation with swords in their hands.

Synthesis

Simply to reach the point where they can do something about the plot carried out by the Sorceress and Sethra the Younger, Vlad and his allies have to think like Yendi.  But the discovery of an actual Yendi in their midst is the key that allows them to finally put all the pieces together – the Yendi way of life proves to be somewhat self-defeating in this case.  And then the protagonists can largely shift into the Dragon mode to deal with the Yendi plot – apply sufficient force directly to the principals of the scheme, and watch it break apart.

Vlad’s solution to his own problems is a blend of the two approaches as well.  In the midst of the combat in which the Sorceress is cornered and killed, Vlad takes advantage of the conflict between the Dragons and the Sorceress (which is at this point basically being fought over Dragon honor) to extract some information from the Sorceress which he needs to accomplish his own ends; he then steps back and lets the rest of the battle proceed without him.  This is a typically Yendi approach to the situation.  On the other hand, armed with that information he goes personally to deal with Laris, killing him with his own hands (and presumably a knife) – whereas the Yendi seem to avoid getting their own hands dirty whenever possible.

Other interesting notes

Yendi coils and strikes, unseen

Fittingly, the lone Yendi in the novel stays hidden for most of the story.  Prior to the reveal of the Sorceress’ House at the end of chapter 14 (i.e. about 80% of the way through the book), the word “yendi” appears only three times:

  • In chapter 8, Vlad-as-narrator mentions that Sethra occasionally turns would-be heroes who attack her into yendi or jhegaala.
  • In chapter 13, when Vlad and Cawti are brainstorming about whether they were supposed to figure out that the attempts on his life weren’t genuine, Vlad remarks, “Come on, lover.  We aren’t Yendi.”
  • Just a few lines later, when Vlad is speculating on Laris’ intentions to figure out how to respond, Cawti replies, “Are you sure you aren’t part Yendi?”

Of these three occurrences, one refers to the actual animal and the other two are used rhetorically (though in a way that makes it clear to the observant reader that we’re starting to get close to the truth of the matter).  Nevertheless, for eighty percent of the novel, the novel’s namesake House remains hidden4Unless you know what to look for.  Vlad is introduced to the Sorceress in Green in Chapter 1 and refers to her as an Athyra.  Morrolan tries to correct him but gets cut off when Vlad suddenly needs to leave to deal with the incursion into his territory – resulting in Vlad going without that vital piece of information for another thirteen chapters.  If Morrolan had been able to finish his sentence, this would have been a shorter book – and a much less fun one..

Chronology and plot arc

  • In Jhereg, Vlad was already married to Cawti; in Yendi we see how they meet.  Their romance is fairly abrupt, but while it’s possible to interpret that as a failure to write credible romance on the part of the author, I see it as an indication of how isolated both Vlad and Cawti feel – both as Easterners among Dragaerans, and as assassins among society.  Is that a sufficient connection upon which to build a marriage?  We’ll see, soon enough.
  • In the denouement of the novel, Vlad folds Laris’ territory into his own; by the end of the book, he doesn’t have complete control over it, but he does by the start of Jhereg.  Parts of Dragon and Tiassa come between the end of Yendi and the beginning of Jhereg; we’ll see whether those books address any complications that come up as he’s consolidating his control over the area Laris used to own.

Next time

The next book in publication order is Teckla.  We’ll have a lot of politics to discuss, I suspect…

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Mario being the assassin who killed the Emperor before the Interregnum.  He is a legend among the Jhereg – and extremely expensive to hire.
2. Those reading in chronological order may not already know that Cawti will soon be married to Vlad, but the publication order makes a will-they-won’t-they plot here pretty pointless.
3. Though Vlad’s friendship with Aliera and Morrolan was part of the plan to draw them into the war in the first place.
4. Unless you know what to look for.  Vlad is introduced to the Sorceress in Green in Chapter 1 and refers to her as an Athyra.  Morrolan tries to correct him but gets cut off when Vlad suddenly needs to leave to deal with the incursion into his territory – resulting in Vlad going without that vital piece of information for another thirteen chapters.  If Morrolan had been able to finish his sentence, this would have been a shorter book – and a much less fun one.

Review: Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen by Lois McMaster Bujold

Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen is Lois McMaster Bujold’s latest novel of the Vorkosigan Saga, and it is one of my recent favorites from the series.  It is also practically impossible to talk about without discussing plot details from earlier in the series – this is perhaps the least stand-alone Vorkosigan book yet, steeped as it is in the history of its characters.  So, stop reading now if you haven’t at least finished Cryoburn, the end of which I will be spoiling shortly.

I’ll also be discussing Gentleman Jole’s plot in more detail a little later, but I’ll warn you before I get into anything that isn’t apparent within the first chapter or two of the book.  Ready?  Here we go.

Cryoburn was one of my least favorite books in the series, but its ending makes it hugely important: its themes of handling mortality and death are capped off by Miles learning of the death of his father, Aral Vorkosigan, who has stood astride Barrayaran history like a colossus for the last forty years.  Aral served as Admiral, Regent, and Prime Minister of Barrayar, as well as Count Vorkosigan, and Miles’s entire life had been lived under that shadow.  But naturally, Miles is far from the only one to be affected by Aral’s death.  Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen examines the echoes of Aral’s life and the shape of the hole he left in his passing by returning to the viewpoint character that started off the entire series, and perhaps the only person who grokked Aral in fullness: Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan, Aral’s widow and the Vicereine of Sergyar.

Cordelia isn’t the only protagonist, though.  The narrative flows relatively fluidly between her and the other main character of the story, Admiral Oliver Jole.  (Jole was first introduced in The Vor Game, though I had honestly forgotten about his existence until this book.)  And as not only an old friend of the Vorkosigans but also the senior Barrayaran military officer in Sergyar space, the former Viceroy’s passing left a hole both personal and professional in Jole’s life as well.  Aral has been dead for three years by now, but his ghost is essentially the third main character of the book.

(And here is where the spoilers for the latest book begin.  You have been warned.)

In fact, Jole’s relationship with the Vorkosigans is much more profound than we had been able to see from Miles’ point of view in The Vor GameGentleman Jole opens with Jole in his role as Admiral greeting Vicereine Cordelia upon her return to Sergyar space, and they arrange for a more unofficial reunion – whereupon the reader learns that Jole was, for many years, effectively the third person in the Vorkosigans’ marriage.  And Cordelia has a proposal for him: she is going to use some frozen gametes to have some more daughters, and offers her former co-spouse the use of her “eggshells” (i.e. enucleated ova) and Aral’s X-chromosome-bearing gametes so that Jole could have sons by Aral.

Cordelia’s return to Jole’s life, her offer, and the emotions redeveloping between them naturally turn his life upside down (in a way that only entanglements with Vorkosigans can), and the bulk of the novel is the two of them navigating the new opportunities that they see in front of them and the memories they have behind them.  The story is, at heart, a romance; it is clear well before the midpoint that Cordelia and Jole will rekindle their relationship, but the questions of how and for how long remain open.

The structure and setting of this book – a romance between Cordelia and a Barrayaran admiral taking place on and above the planet Sergyar – mirror that of Shards of Honor, the very first book of the series, and in that way I see Gentleman Jole as a bookend to the series, wrapping up the story of Cordelia and Aral with a bow and a happily-ever-after (at least to the extent that Aral can get such an ending posthumously).

Which leads me to the question: is this the end of the Vorkosigan Saga?  It very well could be.  If so, I found it an extremely satisfying one, both structurally for the series and as a story in its own right.  Cordelia Vorkosigan is one of my favorite characters – not only in this series, but across all of science fiction – and she deserves all the happiness that this ending gives her.

My 2015 Hugo Nominations

See also my 2015 reading list for all the fiction I chose from.  Nominations are in no particular order (though mostly in the order in which I read them).

Best Novel

  • The Flux, Ferrett Steinmetz
  • Apex, Ramez Naam
  • Seveneves, Neal Stephenson
  • Karen Memory, Elizabeth Bear
  • The Traitor Baru Cormorant, Seth Dickinson

Best Novella

  • Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, Kai Ashante Wilson
  • Binti, Nnedi Okorafor
  • The Last Witness, K. J. Parker
  • “The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn”, Usman T. Malik
  • Envy of Angels, Matt Wallace

Best Novelette

  • “Fabulous Beasts”, Priya Sharma

Best Short Story

  • “Variations on an Apple”, Yoon Ha Lee
  • “Some Gods of El Paso”, Maria Dahvana Headley
  • “Damage”, David D. Levine
  • “Oral Argument”, Kim Stanley Robinson
  • “Schrödinger’s Gun”, Ray Wood

Best Related Work

  • Writing Excuses, Season 10, Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Tayler, Dan Wells
  • The Wheel of Time Companion, Robert Jordan, Harriet McDougal, Alan Romanczuk, Maria Simons

Best Graphic Story

  • Schlock Mercenary: Delegates and Delegation, Howard Tayler
  • Gunnerkrigg Court, Tom Siddell
  • Erfworld, Rob Balder, Xin Ye, Laura Ahonen
  • Order of the Stick, Rich Burlew

Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form)

  • Inside Out
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form)

Best Editor (Long Form)

  • Marco Palmieri
  • Beth Meacham
  • Lee Harris
  • Joe Monti
  • Harriet McDougal

Best Professional Editor (Short Form)

  • Ellen Datlow
  • Ann VanderMeer
  • Liz Gorinsky
  • Beth Meacham
  • Carl Engle-Laird

Best Professional Artist

Best Semiprozine

Best Fanzine

Best Fancast

Best Fan Writer

Best Fan Artist

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer

  • Andy Weir (for The Martian)

Remaining categories to be filled in soon!

I LIVE

I’ve decided to start doing some long-form blogging, and I’m going to repurpose Pyrlogos to do so.  The comics won’t be going away, but the Comicpress theme will, and I’ll be editing the posts to include image links to comics (or whatever I need to do to make them appear reasonably in the archives).

Just so you know.  Changes inbound.  See you on the proverbial flipside…

I’ve been putting this off.

It’s been hard to figure out how to approach the subject; I’m still not quite sure just how “done” I am with Pyrlogos I am right now.  The world still interests me; the story still interests me; the characters still won’t get out of my head.  But I’ve been pretty deeply unsatisfied with the way I’ve written the story so far, and trying to figure out how to address that has been one of the things I was hoping for a few months to resolve so I could move on with the comic.  But it’s not happening, and my immediate priorities have moved on to other things, and it’s time I admit that Pyrlogos is essentially dead at this point.

I’m not done with Pyrlogos, as a whole – but I’m not really convinced I’m capable of telling the story as a serial comic at this point.  I hope to pick up the project again some day, in some incarnation or another, and when I do I’ll be posting about it here.  But for now, well, I don’t have any plans to continue it in its current state.

Thanks for reading, and sorry for leaving things like this.

Life continues to get in the way…

Page 029 is mostly done, but between sleeping issues and trying to rework my schedule to accomodate the curling season starting, I haven’t quite been able to finish it.  It should be up by Wednesday at the latest.

In related news, Pyrlogos updates are going to be about this spotty for another few weeks, until I can get things to settle down again.  If you don’t want to have to check the site and see no new updates, we do have an RSS feed you can use…

No comic this week

I had a pretty rough week last week, for a few different reasons.  Long story short, page 029 will go up Monday, October 12th.  See you then!

Page 019 goes up July 20, 2009

I’m getting married this month, and after that will be on my honeymoon until early July.  As of July 20th, I hope to be able to resume a once-a-week schedule, but it may take me a bit of time to ramp up to that.  Further details on the 20th – see you then!

Page 018 delayed

Because there wasn’t enough going on, my tablet crapped out on me as I was starting the lineart for the comic.  I only got the new one (thanks for the loan, Gwynne!) set up and working this weekend; I expect I’ll have the comic up by next Monday.

Thanks for your patience.