Shards of Honor – Lois McMaster Bujold (1986)
Captain Naismith and her team are part of scientific expedition studying the ecology of an alien world. Her and her companion Dubauer return to the camp to find the team massacred and the camp destroyed. Dubauer is then hit by a neuroweapon and they are later captured by the leader of the Barrayaran invaders, Aral Vorkosigan, the so-called Butcher of Komarr.
Things are not what they might seem, however, since Vorkosigan himself is the victim of a plot to kill him on the planet’s surface by elements within the Barrayaran government.
Aral and Naismith have to rely on each other to survive as they transport Dubauer through a hostile ecosystem to reach a Barrayaran supply base. Inevitably, her feelings toward him begin to change as she learns the true details of his life.
Aral is a man of honour, trapped in a web of politics, spies, feudal government systems and military law.
Naismith eventually escapes, managing to help Vorkosigan defeat one of his enemies in the process, but is later captured by the Barrayarans while she is helping to defend a system they intend to invade
She is saved from the depredations of a sadistic admiral by when he is killed by Vorkosigan’s Lieutenant Bothari and is eventually returned to earth, but finds it hard to hold on to her sanity when is first hailed as a hero who killed Vortultyer and then suspected of being brainwashed into being a Barrayar agent.
Thus, she escapes again and returns to Aral, to become Lady Vorkosigan.
On one level it’s a military action novel with a romance laced through it but it’s much more than that. Bujold has created marvellous characters in Aral and Naismith. Bothari is also a fascinating concept being a psychotic soldier with a mind held together by regulations and loyalty and later twisted to the breaking point by the sadistic Vortultyer.
It’s a bit of a shame that there isn’t just one figure opposing Vorkosigan who runs through the narrative. Aral seems to dispose of rivals as soon as they start causing trouble, which is good for him, but it weakens the element of tension.