Whilst there is one novel set earlier in the same time-line, this is a 2-in-1 volume of the novels Cordelia's Honour and Barrayar, which form a sort of prologue to the series that is commonly referred to as the Vorkosiverse and most people assume that this is due to the principle protaganist of the latter novels, Miles Vorkosigan. This is the story of his parents. I make this statement because I read Shards of Honour after novels such as the Warrior's Apprentice, the Vor Game, etc, and so this was more of a filling in of the back ground. I'm not sure what I would have made of it if I had read these first. The synopsis above is correct in the essential details although the first mission is actually the survey mission with the "throw-away" ship coming later Whilst quite dark in some places the series is full of wit and humour, as well as excellent writing, and these early novels are no exception. They are, perhaps, a little less polished than the latter ones, but Bujold not at her best is still a lot better than many other writers. These are either an essential read for those already hooked on the series, or a good starting place for those who wish to learn what good SF is all about.