This book is a "fill in the gap", and shows it a little in its structure. Bujold wrote "Shards of Honor" and then went on to write "The Warrior's Apprentice" and other books, then later went back and wrote "Barrayar" to complete the 'arc' of Aral and Cordelia's romance with the birth of Miles.Cordelia Naismith, having many reservations about Barrayar's backward warrior culture, has come to the planet and married Aral Vorkosigan, a retired soldier with a chequered past planning a quiet life with children. That plan was probably never going to come off as quietly as hoped, given Aral's background, but leaps right over the cliff of not-going-to-happen when the dying Emperor appoints Aral Regent for his four-year-old grandson.The first half of this novel is Cordelia's slow settling in as 'modern' wife of planetary Regent. Formerly an astrogator, and now in a society which calls women "frills" when they're being impolite, Cordelia has little interest in being some kind of society hostess, yet few other occupations open to her except 'gestating' (which she gets down to right away, while her husband is off being very busy).There is some frustration in reading this opening half. Cordelia is very inactive, and while she encourages Aral to be Regent because it would be good for him psychologically, she doesn't seem to allow herself to understand or engage with what she's gotten herself into. The scene with her casual conversation with Vordarian, for instance, is an exercise in idiocy. She never seems to think of people as potential enemies unless they actually do something obviously negative.The other frustration for me was the Kou and Drou romance. While fine overall, Kou's confession/apology for "raping" Drou totally messes with enjoyment. It's a scene played for mild laughs, but I spent ages disengaged from their romance because, if taken at face value, damaged Kou finally gets an erection, and jumps on the nearest female without regard for her consent, because he was so overjoyed to have a boner and somewhere warm to put it. I eventually decided (for my own sanity's sake) that we are meant to understand that Kou didn't really think he'd raped her until their mutual avoidance afterwards led him to decide that she mustn' have wanted him to have sex with her after all. The 'rape confession', played on a lightly humorous note, should have been omitted.The second half the novel is a big redeeming factor to the first, when Cordelia finally has a large enough motive to slip her leash of being the Regent's wife and revert to being proactive.Barrayar is a messed-up place, and there are a lot of messed-up people (Bothari and Piotr being stand-outs), but though this book has its negatives, it thoroughly shows the huge task Aral and Cordelia, between them and in different ways, face in moving the planet away from the worst aspects of its past.