Lois McMaster Bujold
barrayar and beyond
Bujold currently writes the best space opera around. Most of her books involve the Barrayaran Empire, and a particular fellow named Miles Vorkosigan. Miles is the son of Count Aral Vorkosigan, arguably the most powerful man in the empire after the emperor himself; for a good bit of the series, in fact, the emperor is underage, and Aral is the Regent. Aral is also an extremely competent admiral in the Barrayaran space navy; Miles' grandfather, Piotr, was just as a good a general. (Military prowess is an important part of life on Barrayar). Now, due to a gas attack on Mile's parents while he was in utero, Miles is small; fragile; somewhat misshapen. An easy fall can easily break one or more of his bones. But he is also ambitious, honorable, brilliant, quick-thinking (though not always far-seeing), and refuses to let his handicaps slow him down.
In the first book about Miles, The Warrior's Apprentice, he washes out of the Barrayaran navy, and is sent to his mother's home planet of Beta Colony to go to school. Instead, in one of the funniest rollercoaster rides I've ever read, step-by-logical-step, he ends up admiral of an entire mercenary fleet. Other books about Miles include (in no particular order) The Vor Game, Brothers in Arms, Cetaganda, The Borders of Infinity, Mirror Dance, and Memory. Bujold has also written two books about Mile's parents, entitled Shards of Honor and Barrayar; these have recently been republished in a single volume entitled Cordelia's Honor.
I've read many of these books aloud to Jane with great delight. While not overly graphic, I wouldn't recommend them for children.
Vorkosigan Novels (in approximate series order)
This is a fantasy series which takes place in a fantasy world somewhat reminiscent of Spain on the eve of the Reconquista. One could also think of it as theological science fiction.
Links of Interest