Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen (Vorkosigan Saga, Chronological #16)
by Lois McMaster Bujold
First published in 2016
From Goodreads: Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan returns to the planet that changed her destiny.
Three years after her famous husband’s death, Cordelia Vorkosigan, widowed Vicereine of Sergyar, stands ready to spin her life in a new direction. Oliver Jole, Admiral, Sergyar Fleet, finds himself caught up in her web of plans in ways he’d never imagined, bringing him to an unexpected crossroads in his life.
Meanwhile, Miles Vorkosigan, one of Emperor Gregor’s key investigators, this time dispatches himself on a mission of inquiry, into a mystery he never anticipated; his own mother.
Plans, wills, and expectations collide in this sparkling science-fiction social comedy, as the impact of galactic technology on the range of the possible changes all the old rules, and Miles learns that not only is the future not what he expects, neither is the past.
Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen is likely the last book of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga. I don’t know that for sure, as Bujold is still publishing books and stories, but it feels like the story has been wrapped up for all the characters, and this volume circles back to the planet where the whole thing began.
Nearly forty-five years earlier, Captain Cordelia Naismith of the Betan Expeditionary Force stumbled across a Barrayaran military team on a previously unknown planet. She was taken prisoner by a man named Aral Vorkosigan, and they endured a march across dangerous terrain, dealt with a mutiny against his command, survived a war in space, and ended up falling in love. They married, had a child together, and made it through years of political intrigue before being named Viceroy and Vicereine of Sergyar, the now-colonized planet where they’d met years earlier.
Now, three years after the death of her beloved husband, Cordelia returns from a trip to Barrayar with the intention to resign as Vicereine of Sergyar and begin a new family. Thanks to her long lifespan (Betans can expect to live to be 150 or more) and advanced reproduction technology, Cordelia can use the genetic material she and Aral had preserved decades earlier to create the daughters she always wanted, but never could have thanks to Barrayaran customs and politics.
But she doesn’t have to stop there to continue Aral’s genetic legacy. Thanks to the sophisticated genetic engineering capabilities available to them, Cordelia is able to provide the genetic material so that Aral’s longtime partner, Admiral Oliver Jole, can create children from Aral’s line, too.
When Miles arrives to sort out his mother’s cryptic communication, family secrets start to come out.
That Aral Vorkosigan was bisexual is a fact that was addressed in both Shards of Honor and Barrayar. Thanks to her open-minded Betan upbringing, this was no issue for Cordelia, and neither was the quiet expansion of their marriage from two to three once Jole entered their lives. Because of politics and security requirements, this fact was kept so closely that Miles himself didn’t realize what part Jole played in his parents’ lives. So how does a son respond when he discovers there was more to his beloved father’s life than he ever knew? And when two major opportunities arrive for a man late in his career and he can only pick one, what does he choose to do?
Where the previous book in this series was something of a meditation on death, Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen is a conversation about life, its unexpected joys, and what we do when we discover we don’t know our own families as well as we think we do. I found it to be a delightful read and a welcome discussion about ideas of sexuality, marriage, and why parents fail to discuss family secrets with their children. Bujold has always been skilled at dealing with human frailties and desire, and she is at her peak in this final volume of The Vorkosigan Saga. Though there is no action or political intrigue in Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, I was fully engaged with the story from start to finish. And while I wish that at least some of it had been from Miles’s point of view, I was not disappointed to see things from Cordelia’s perspective once more. Her voice is as smart, sensible, and full of wit as it was when she made her debut in Shards of Honor all those years ago.