In Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, Ivan finds himself in the middle of a zany romantic comedy when Byerly turns up at his doorstep in need of help. It turns out that there is a mysterious young woman who is not who she says she is, who may be in need of help. Ivan is persuaded to make contact with this young lady, but the lady in question is understandably wary; she is in fact in danger. Somehow, this ends with Ivan getting married to the young woman, who turns out to be the youngest daughter of a Jackson’s Whole House which has recently suffered an extremely hostile takeover. (The marriage was to prevent Tej’s enemies from having her deported and then kidnapped.)
Our Heroines are Tej, short for “Akuti Tejaswini Jyoti ghem Estif Arqua,” and her friend and half-sister Rish. (Rish is part of a set of genetically engineered humans designed by Tej’s ghem mother. The fact that Rish and her siblings were created to be performance art escapes creepiness only because Tej’s father used to do the “call all the kids by name until I can yell at the kid I am actually annoyed with,” thing on both his own kids and his wife’s bioengineered art project.) Tej is at first not quite sure what to make of Ivan, but she quickly gains a great deal of sympathy for him since they have a great deal in common despite coming from wildly different backgrounds. (For example, they are both not-very-outstanding-in-comparison individuals with relatives who are aggressive competent, and they both prefer to avoid being in situations where they might not live up to their family’s extreme expectations.)
Of course, we end up having the usual zany romantic comedy shenanigans as Tej is introduced to Ivan’s family, who all seem to be playing “Ivan don’t you dare let her get away!” (To the point where Count Vorpatril refuses to allow them to end their marriage of convenience because, they technically have no grounds for divorce.) Then it turns out that Tej’s family managed to avoid being liquidated by the hostile takeover and have arrived on Barrayar to retrieve a treasure that might have been left in a secret bunker during the Cetagandan invasion of Barrayar. This leads to more shenanigans and some unhappy disputes between Ivan and Tej who is being drawn into her family’s efforts to get together enough money to get revenge on the rival House and rebuild their organization. (In addition, Tej’s family Have No Idea What She Even Sees In Ivan.)
There were a lot of fun interactions in this novel, which is comparable in a lot of ways with A Civil Campaign. (That is to say, light humorous tone to what might have been an otherwise very serious situation and a strong romantic storyline.) There are lots of funny, awkward moments and everyone being fondly exasperated at Ivan, who stumbles along but always manages to keep his feet. Tej turns out to be a really good foil for Ivan, her outsider’s perspective and occasional bemusement concerning Ivan and his family provides a great deal of the humor in the novel. This was a much stronger novel than either Cryoburn or Diplomatic Immunity, and I enjoyed it a great deal.