Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, by Lois McMaster Bujold
Ms. Bujold wrote a series of novels about the high-pressure life of Miles Vorkosigan, and his lazy side-kick ‘Ivan You Idiot.’ Ivan is actually pretty smart, but he is surrounded by brilliant over-achievers who leave him in the shadow. It brings to mind that horrible report card comment:
“Ivan is doing fairly well, but he could do even better if only he lived up to his potential.”
You’d think that rising to the rank of Captain in the army, aide to an Admiral, would be enough to stop Ivan’s high powered family from sighing over unfulfilled potential. In fact, Ivan is very happy to work at Headquarters, where – as his cousins tease him – Captains bring the coffee.
Ivan’s job moved him off planet, to a time zone with such short nights that he can spend the night partying or recovering, but not both, sigh from the dutiful Ivan. He’s barely over his jet lag when his least favorite cousin shows up, asking for a favor. There’s always a catch when By the Spy wants something, but what could go wrong with asking a pretty girl out for a date?
Lots, since Tej is on the run and suspicious of strangers. Ivan ends up spending the night tied to a chair in her flat, the only one awake when the real kidnappers break in through the window. Ivan shouts at them, loudly enough to wake Tej and her friend Rish, “Hey guys, the girl is gone, could you untie me?”
Tej and Rish are persuaded that Ivan is more help than threat, and let him convince them to move into his flat – besides, they’ve been on the run for so long that they’re broke. Ivan goes to work for his Admiral and runs into various bits of trouble, then returns home with plenty of food. By the Spy comes back, and information is traded: By is after fleet personnel who are smuggling ordinance on an official ship. Tej is running from the vile usurpers who took her parent’s Barony, some distance away in the galaxy. Her entire family is presumed dead, except one brother who left years ago to study medicine. Rish is her bodyguard, the only one left.
This little heart to heart is interrupted by banging on the door: Ivan, released those kidnapped women!
Tej and Rish: don’t let them get us! We’ll jump out the 20th floor window rather than be caught!
Ivan: Tej, marry me! Divorce is quick once you’re safe. By and Rish can be witnesses.
Tej: Are you crazy? I’m desperate, will this work?
As the sun comes up, they recite the marriage vows to each other, and presto! The kidnapping charges are called off, the various officials who banged down the door snarl ineffectively, and the day is saved. Ivan takes his wife and her friend to his friend at Headquarters who is familiar with their end of the galaxy for a friendly chat over plenty of food. This friend gently lets the women know that, far from a dispossessed princess marrying Captain Commoner, Ivan has been second in line to the Imperial Throne since he was born. Now that cousin Emperor Gregor is married with children, Ivan has been pushed further down the line of succession, but he’s still Very Important – even if Not Living Up To His Potential. This shocking revelation is followed by a lively round of Tej’s favorite childhood game, and when Ivan comes back everyone is having fun.
They travel back to Ivan’s home planet, meet some relatives, and arrange that the next fast ship to Tej’s brother’s new home will secretly have two female passengers. So get your divorce already, urges Tej’s friend Rish, when they’ve been married for a month without taking the first step in that direction.
Oh, yeah. Divorce. We’ve been planning to, eventually. Sooner or later.
The couple actually like each other, and Ivan’s relatives like her, and Tej’s relatives are mostly dead. She doesn’t have to marry a pre-approved political high-up for the good of the clan anymore.
Only, divorce isn’t as quick as they had expected, and Tej’s relatives show up, alive, as refugees. They look at her husband’s possibilities as an asset toward recovering the Barony, and decide that Tej is Not Living Up To Her Potential. They want to end the marriage, and if divorce is too slow there are faster methods. Besides, the family needs money to sponsor the recovery, and there is so much possibility if they just go behind Ivan’s family’s back…
How will these two laid back people manage amid their aggressively political, high energy families? Go along, or risk alienating everyone? With two political families heading in opposite directions, is getting along even possible? But first, Ivan and Tej have to decide if this marriage of convenience is something they want to keep…