My rating system is explained here.
The Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold was absolutely delicious. It was long, character-driven, and has awesome worldbuilding. Also, it was easy to read. Easy, that is, as in compelling. I wanted to do nothing but read those books. I was deliriously happy to learn that one of the library systems I belong to has almost the entire series on e-audiobook (because otherwise the bathroom would not have been cleaned, nor dinner cooked, for a solid three weeks).
Needless to say, I wanted more like it. And oh, how my wish was granted. I stumbled into the Liaden Universe books by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, and I was sucked in despite the roughness of Agent of Change.
Caveats: I like all sorts of books. I like bizarre, funny books. I like dark, gritty books. I like a touch of horror, or a bloom of romance. I like books where the characters are all scheming assholes, and there is no such thing as a happy ending because why the hell would I want these people to be happy? And I like comfortable books where I know that, no matter what happens, the characters will overcome all adversity and none of them will be…damaged…beyond repair. Books with hard science, or soft science, or magic. So, the Liaden books fill a certain niche in my bookcase. Many of them have romances, and they are invariably the happily ever after type. One Amazon reviewer notes of Conflict of Honors “[…]the situations are almost too easy. I didn’t really get the sense of jeopardy from them, and they seemed too easily dealt with.” This is true for all of the books. However, for me that means that these books are comforting to read. I don’t want ill to befall these characters, and I’m happy to know they will prevail no matter what.
The biggest problem with this series was figuring out the frelling reading order. I will lay the novels out in internal chronological order, for the edification of the public. Then I will pontificate about the reading order which I, in my infinite wisdom, wish that someone else would have laid out for me before I started in. Finally, I’ll summarize the short stories of the Liaden Universe which I’ve read so far.
–Crystal Soldier/Crystal Dragon. ☼☼☼☼☼. This is the Great Migration Duology. Although I am decidedly on the internal chronology side of the Reading Order Spectrum, I’d recommend reading these dead last. They deal with Jela, Cantra, and the tree, in the most part, but they also contain a dizzying array of cameos which will only be recognizable if you’ve read the rest of the books first. Also, (and this is a big also), I feel like it’s better to be thoroughly introduced to the Liaden Universe’s current politics, social tensions, and other stuff, in order to appreciate how much different things looked a couple millennia ago.
Quibble: The Clutch do not make an appearance. I was really hoping for some background on them. Oh well.
–Balance of Trade. ☼☼☼☼. This book has information (and minor characters) which make events in Saltation (and subsequent books) clearer. It is a good introduction to both Uncle and old tech. It has nothing to do with clan Korval. Read sometime before Saltation. (It felt like the focus of the book was more on the setting and old tech and less on character development. I thought it was an interesting change of pace.)
–Local Custom. ☼☼☼☼. How Er Thom and Anne Davis end up together. They are the parents of Shan, Nova, and Anthora. Er Thom is brother/cousin to Daav. This will serve as an introduction to the characters, as well as to the customs of the Liaden and clan Korval (which Er Thom and many of the subsequent main characters belong to). It does not, really, set up any future events in the series, and can be read later if one wishes. (The cultural misunderstandings were painful to watch, and I think the conflicts were resolved much too quickly with respect to the angst they generated.)
–Scout’s Progress. ☼☼☼☼☼. How Daav and Aelliana meet. They are the parents of Val Con. This directly sets up events in Mouse and Dragon, and should not be skipped.
–Mouse and Dragon. ☼☼☼☼☼. More Aelliana and Daav. Knowledge of events in this book will make Plan B and subsequent books clearer. (I was deliriously glad when Aelli saved herself, despite my burning desire to sweep in and save her myself. Also, I don’t think I’ve ever cried so hard while reading a book as I did this one.)
–Conflict of Honors. ☼☼☼☼. How Pricilla and Shan meet. This serves as an introduction to both characters, as well as the crew of the Dutiful Passage. They will appear in later books as supporting and main characters, so it is good to read it now. However, the events in this book do not directly impact later books. (The antagonists are needlessly evil, which annoyed me a bit).
–Agent of Change. ☼☼☼. How Val Con and Miri meet. Directly sets up events in Carpe Diem.
(This is the first book actually published, and you’ll probably notice a dip in quality. Occasionally I found the narrative to be difficult to follow, or confusing. There are some terms used, such as “geek” for non-Terrans, which sound so very 80’s to me. Don’t fret; it failed to appear in any of the other books.
Also, in my befuddled state, this was the first book I read. I wouldn’t recommend it; there were certain things done to Val Con which I only truly felt the horror of after I got to know and love his family. In my opinion, this really needs the perspective of the other books, even if events in them don’t directly set up the events in AoC.)
–Carpe Diem. ☼☼☼☼. More Val Con and Miri, though Shan, Pricilla, and a bunch of other characters make reappearances. Directly sets up Plan B. (Now it’s picking up! This was the second book I read, and I ended up having to reread it later because I’d skimmed every part that didn’t involve Val Con and Miri. Whoops.)
–Plan B. ☼☼☼☼☼. Pretty much all the characters from Carpe Diem, plus more. Directly sets up I Dare. (By this point, I couldn’t upload these books into my brain fast enough.)
–I Dare. ☼☼☼☼☼. Pretty much all the characters from Plan B, plus more. Directly sets up for Ghost Ship. (I’m a bit pissed that the book Shan picked up in the hall of weapons thing is never fully addressed. Pricilla seemed really worried about it. Then again, maybe that’s going to crop up again in the future. There’s certainly more books planned….)
There is a character who is introduced very, very late into I Dare. She, Theo, is the heroine of her own series:
–Fledgling. ☼☼☼☼. Can be read any time after Mouse and Dragon. The end of Mouse and Dragon sets this novel up fairly directly. Directly sets up Saltation. (The books was interesting, but not the best. One, Theo is still in school and that places certain constraints on the character and the plot that I find annoying. Also, that weird religious sect confused me more than anything else.)
–Saltation. ☼☼☼. Can be read any time after I Dare and Balance of Trade. The novel begins before the events of I Dare and ends neck-in-neck. Events from I Dare are mentioned in Saltation, and so it’s really more comprehensible this way. Information from Balance of Trade also helps. Directly sets up Ghost Ship. (Theo’s still in school. Blah.)
–Ghost Ship. ☼☼☼☼. Continues story threads from I Dare and Saltation. This was a bit fragmentary, as the main story threads tended to weave their own paths throughout the novel. By the end, there were three distinct ones, none of which gave me as much information as I wanted. Only consolation is that there must be a sequel in the works, or else Kamele’s story line would have been completely pointless. I just hope I don’t have to wait too long. (They wanted to cover too much in this book. Get all the characters together in the same place, publish separate books for separate characters’ story arcs, or pick the main ones, give them a book, and publish supplementary short stories. Do something to ensure the next books won’t be such a mess. Please?)
The Reading Order of Win:
Local Custom, Scout’s Progress, Mouse and Dragon, Conflict of Honors, Agent of Change, Carpe Diem, Plan B, I Dare, Balance of Trade, Fledgling, Saltation, Ghost Ship, Crystal Soldier, Crystal Dragon.
“To Cut an Edge”: How Val Con met Edger. Absolutely hilarious.
“A Day at the Races”: Shan, holding the title of First Speaker until Nova comes of age, is stuck on Liad. He takes up racing, and Kareen asks Val Con to intercede. It doesn’t go exactly as she’d planned….
“Changeling”: How Ren Zel became clanless.
“Veil of the Dancer”: How Inas Bhar met the Juntavas.
“Quiet Knives”: After Edger cancels his birth on Capt. Rolanni’s ship (in Carpe Diem), the captain falls into an adventure of her own. Dovetails with Edger’s journey.
“Lord of the Dance”: Set sometime after Ghost Ship. Audrey hosts a fete for the bosses and the Korvals, and Pat Rin is persuaded to dance.
“This House”: Set on Liad, this story involves three people I don’t know. A bit interesting, if only to show the great variety that dramliz come in.
“Prodigal Son”: Val Con returns to Vandar. Some bits were included in Ghost Ship. I don’t see why the whole lot wasn’t included, but maybe the editor didn’t want to include the people you’d have to have read Carpe Diem to know.
“Fighting Chance”: How Miri fell in with mercenaries.
“The Story of the Weatherman and What Became of Him”: The story of the nightmare Miri has near the end of Carpe Diem. Highly recommend.
“Intelligent Design”: Ever wonder how a battle robot (retired) became Trealla Fantrol’s butler? Now you know.
“Hidden Resources”: While Plan B is in effect, the children of clan Korval are hidden from the eyes of their enemies. Takes place during Ghost Ship.
“Moon on the Hills”: How Yulie Shaper acquired Jelaza Kazone as a neighbor. Takes place during the very beginning of Ghost Ship.
“Skyblaze”: What happened to one of the taxi drivers who transported the mercenaries in I Dare.
“Kin Ties”: The last remaining member of Clan Jabun seeks balance with Ren Zel.
“Guaranteed Delivery”: Concerns Daav and Aelli’s courier service.
There are a bunch of short stories set during the Great Migration Duology, and some more which focus on Lute and Moonhawk. However, I do not have the monies needed to buy them at this time. 😦