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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-07-09 14:16
Memory by Lois McMaster Bujold
Memory (Vorkosigan Saga, #10) - Lois McMaster Bujold

If you choose an action, you choose the consequences of this action.

 ... and this novel is ripe with consequences.


First of all, Miles's cryorevival comes with a seizure-condition that rears its ugly head in the most inconvenient moment - moreover, Miles then lies about it in his mission report, and Illyan has little choice but to dismiss him from service.


And Miles now has to learn for himself who he is if he doesn't have ImpSec and through them the Dendarii Mercenaries to prop him up. Who is he on Barrayar? Just the little mutant who gained access to the Imperial service through nepotism? Can he be Lord Vorkosigan, and survive without the little admiral?


Add to that Gregor falling in love - and Illyan himself falling to pieces. And Miles's focus quickly shifts from personal anguish and depression to that which he does best: problem-solving.


I've reread Memory now 5 or 6 times from cover to cover with countless repetitions of the various most memorable scenes, like the confrontation with Illyan over lying, or all the meetings with Gregor... and I'm still as pulled into this story as if it's the first time. The Vor Game was Gregor's story, Mirror Dance Mark's - and this is finally Miles coming fully into his own, accepting and embracing who he is (and not only what he created for himself). He's wrestling with temptation: go down the easy route, or do it right; the realization that despite all insecurities and yearnings there are lines that he won't cross; and the moment calm finally settles his mind, and clarity focuses it - that's still immensely satisfying to read.


Some prices are just too high, no matter how much you may want the prize. The one thing you can't trade for your heart's desire is your heart.


It doesn't come as much of a surprise that I especially love the Barrayar-set novels within this series. First of all, Bujold's talent to create characters is fantastic, and it's one thing to see Miles in all his glory among the Dendarii (as head of the chain of command), but it's a wholly different experience to see him in a more socially complex setting. Remember, on Barrayar children like him were killed not so long ago (and boy is it an intense scene when he seeks out Raina and Harra Csurik to ask for forgiveness!), even his own grandfather tried to kill him. He's had to fight his whole life to make a place for himself, and most people still think that nepotism is all that got him into service. And that most of his service was in covert ops doesn't help with his self-esteem issues. So, coming from the top of the food chain, he's suddenly the odd one out, having to find his way against prejudice, suspicion and jealousy.


Seeing him interact with Gregor, his foster-brother, friend and ultimate liege-commander is always a joy because of the various, sometimes contradicting layers of their relationship. Love Gregor, pure and simple, and seeing him find love and joy is one of the many highly enjoyable facets of this novel (as is his courtship told from Miles's PoV - the horse, groomed to within an inch of its life!!!). The same goes for Illyan who was a confidant of Miles's father, always the protector... but who couldn't protect Miles from himself. Again, so many layers of loyalty, familial and personal, not to mention the chain of command make for a complex and differentiated relationship. Add to that Ivan and Galeni whose lives are inextricably bound to Miles's through various reasons, and the story unfolds. Loyalty, friendship, trust, all these build the foundation and, paired with Miles's (and Gregor's) inimitable judgement of character and indomitable drive, make for a fascinating study of loss, betrayal and overcoming adversity.


Yes, Memory isn't an action-packed, fun romp through the galaxy. It's introspective, it's sometimes painful, but, again, oh so rewarding. Chicken always come home to roost. My favourite of the entire saga.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-04-05 22:22
Mirror Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold
Mirror Dance - Lois McMaster Bujold

This is a novel that grows on you. When I first read it back in 2005, I reasonably liked it. Except for Cordelia's Honor it was the best part of the saga up till that point in the narrative, but I didn't love it. So I only reread parts of it, but never in its entirety - until now. And boy, this time I absolutely fell in love with it. It has a bit of a slow start (which costs it the half star-reduction), but once the shit hits the fan it's one tour de force of psychology and emotion that keeps you biting your finger nails.


After 2 years, Mark turns up and basically kidnaps the Dendarii posing as Miles for a raid of House Baraputhra's cloning facilities on Jackson's Whole (where he was created as well). Miles races after him and arrives just as the mission fails spectacularly. He ends up shot in the chest and put in a cryotube which then gets lost in the following chaotic retreat. Mark and Elena have the unenviable task of relaying the news to the Vorkosigan parents which means for Elena a return to a difficult past - and for Mark a step into an uncertain future. But the race to recover Miles (dead or alive) isn't over, and Mark won't stop until there's certainty of his clone-brother's fate.


This is Mark's story, who he was, who he is and who he ends up to be. The various roles he has to or chooses to play showcase this, from impersonation, to reluctant and unsure son, to brother and business man - dealing with doubt, guilt, and all the aftereffects that his upbringing with Galen (which is elaborated on here) left him with. Add to that the torture he's put through here, and you get a young man who's somehow toeing the line towards insanity, but nevertheless has never felt more sane and true to himself. It's a veritable tour de force to come to that point, and some chapters are incredibly difficult to read (the black gang's emergence) and make no mistake, Bujold doesn't pull any punches here. This might be the most explicit book in terms of violence and torture against one of her main characters in this saga so far (and overall), and even immoral acts perpetrated by a main character, but it's so rewarding nonethess. Honestly, up till now I've never liked Mark, but in a way Bujold managed to bring him to life in just one (albeit very long) book just as much as she did with Miles. And the Vorkosigan-universe is richer for it.


Miles himself takes the backseat here, but of course he gains a new perspective in life - having an brother, not just a clone, for once not being in the heart of things... and a glimpse of mortality. But his resurrection doesn't come without a price as we'll see. Among all the psychology and character-drama the plot surrounding the Duronas and the despicable machinations on Jackson's Whole get a bit sidelined. But I guess we'll revisit both. Overall, I love the image of reciprocity in this novel: every action has a reaction, just like in the Mirror Dance, a popular dance on Barrayar, and that's transferred to practically everything that's going on here.


Other than Mark himself, the parts that most fascinated me (and the ones that I kept coming back to) are set on Barrayar: the effects Miles' not-quite death has on the Vorkosigans, Mark's introduction into this family, Aral's health crisis which suddenly turns an academic question of succession into a very real one, Cordelia going toe to toe with Simon Illyan, even the small glimpses and huge nudges of Gregor and Kareen Koudelka who both accept Mark for who he is from the start - not just as Miles's clone, but as an individual.


Overall, a stunning novel.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2016-11-19 10:27
Brothers in Arms by Lois McMaster Bujold
Brothers in Arms - Lois McMaster Bujold

The Dendarii reach Earth for supplies, medical aide and monetary compensation, and while Miles tries to sort all this out, he gets to know Duv Galeni, essentially his superior in Barrayar's Embassy on Earth, a Komarran who lost his family during the Komarran occupation and now serves as some kind of poster boy for the integration of Komarrans into the Imperial service. And Miles has to juggle his various identities, coming up on the spot with a clone theory when his cover as Admiral Naismith is threatened to be blown. Little does he know at that moment that there's more truth to his invention than he's dreamed possible.


"Brothers in Arms" introduces two major players within the saga: There's Duv Galeni who's going to become one of Miles's closest allies within the service (of course, while grumbling about it), and then there's Miles's clone brother Mark, created by Galeni's father to replace Miles, take over the Empire and usher in a revolution from within against the Vorkosigans and from without in the form of another Cetagandan invasion... at least that's the plan.


Duv Galeni's quite a complex character. As Komarran he's always under suspicion, yet he was admitted into the Imperial Service thanks to Aral. As a history scholar he knows to question what he's been told about the Barrayaran annexion of Komarr, and he knows that sometimes you have to leave the past behind to embrace the future. His confrontation with his father, whom he thought dead, puts all that he's worked for in danger. I absolutely appreciate Galeni, he's complex, he's honest and honorable, and he thinks before acting (something Miles has troubles with at times). And I love the fact that Aral's hunches about people pay off here again, a skill Miles has inherited from his father, to gather people around himself who are not afraid to speak their mind, who are loyal and worthy of Miles (and Aral)'s high regard and loyalty in return.


Speaking of Miles: He's got to convince his adolescent clone who's come to hate him - who wouldn't after having had to endure countless surgeries to physically resemble Miles, endless conditioning to resemble him in his manners and be able to pass off for him (even fooling Ivan who arguably knows Miles best) -, who's come to hate everything Barrayaran that actually there might be a real place for him within Miles's family, within the Barrayaran Empire. The confrontations between those two were definitely the highlight of this novel - and again show off Miles's people skills, his awareness of his unique origin, his loneliness as an only child (and the reasons for that)... and Mark's own yearning for a family and home even though he's not yet ready to act on that and face Barrayar as his own man, not a puppet of a fanatic.


On a sidenote, especially in the light of "Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen", I paid particular attention to Miles saying that, although Aral and Cordelia could have had more children due to advances in medical science especially on Beta, they didn't even consider going down that route due to Miles's ambiguous standing in Barrayaran society.


Things are about to come to a head soon: Is Miles ready to face life on Barrayar? Or are the strings attaching him to the Dendarii, his position at the head of command, not being weighed down by his physical impediments and common prejudice, and Elli who's not willing to settle down on backward Barrayar, too strong? Are Admiral Naismith's days counted anyway now that the Cetagandan might have discovered Miles undercover role? And Mark? Where's he going to pop up next? Great setup for the next stage in the Vorkosigan-saga.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2016-09-03 12:40
Cetaganda by Lois McMaster Bujold
Cetaganda - Lois McMaster Bujold

This is my second time reading this novel - and let's just say: Bujold's books are eminently re-readable. No matter whether you've read them once already (like this one 12 or so years ago) or multiple times (like Cordelia's Honor, Memory, A Civil Campaign)... love her writing style, her Miles-voice, her way of establishing different cultures. That alone makes for quite a high rating. But let's focus on "Cetaganda".


Miles and Ivan are on their way to the Cetagandan homeworld to attend the funeral of the late Empress when their flight is rerouted and they are attacked. During the fight they get ahold of a strange device whose origin, they later learn, is the Imperial Star Crèche, where all Cetagandan genetic information is stored. During an official funeral procession, Miles discovers their attacker dead at the late Empress's feet, an apparent death by suicide, and he learns from Rian, the handmaiden of the Star Crèche, that the device, the Great Key, is essential to the future of the Cetagandan Empire. Miles realizes that he's stepped into a far more dangerous mystery than he originally thought: one that could destroy the Cetgandan Empire from the inside... and put the blame squarely on the shoulders of Barrayar.


"Cetaganda" offers an intriguing glimpse into Cetagandan society with their genetic engineering, and the question of who controls whom - but it also shows that Miles still isn't able to trust his superiors, or rather that he's a teamplayer but only when and if he's the one calling the shots. And additionally there's his inherent inferiority complex due to his physical impairments to consider which practically forces him to try and prove himself  through his wits at every turn... especially since no one may know of his real role within ImpSec, and everyone believes he has his job through nepotism (a thought on which he at times reluctantly relies to throw people off his scent). All this turns him into a very complex character with distinct flaws - but honestly, I just love him, his internal voice is so precious and his struggles within the system (i.e. his conversations with Vorreedi, his de facto boss on Cetaganda) are an absolute joy to read, as are the mutal interrogations with Benin. I admit I have a thing for intelligence, for smart people and how they act around each other - and this is one of the Vorkosigan-series's strengths.


And there's also Ivan who stumbles from one blunder to the next, who's presented as the ideal subordinate who likes to have orders and doesn't much think about them - and who also likes to transfer any problems to his superiors to mull about, leaving him without worries. At least, that's the picture he likes to project. But then there's the Ivan who's loyal to a fault to Miles (and vice versa I guess, despite any teasing) - and who actually comes up with the solution. Well, he does come from a very similar gene-pool as Miles, just that he's learned that sometimes it's opportune to remain in the background, to set up smoke-screens in order to defer attention from yourself. Quite the contrast to Miles.


I won't really get into Cetagandan internal affairs here, because you actually need to read those 300 pages to get some inkling of understanding. It's just a really interesting society, with the haut lords practically running the place, and the ghem-lords securing power for them. Not to mention the role of the haut ladies who essentially rule over the genetic legacy, whose genome is worthy continuing on, whose family is going to die out - and all this information is centralized in one location which starts the whole affair. So despite the differences, the whole genetic engineering issues, is the Cetagandan system of haut rule so different compared with the Barrayaran with their Vor (except for the female role which on Cetaganda is more advanced than on Barrayar)?


But the genetic engineering serves for quite a few curiosities as well, such as the kitten-tree... or the ethereal beauty of the haut ladies... who knows, perhaps Miles is so intoxicated by Rian's beauty and that's the reason why he won't report to his superiors. Well, at least that would be a simpler explanation than his inherent issues.


In the end, the Cetagandan system survives because of Miles's actions - and he's rewarded, even if this reward by the Cetagandan Emperor comes with the effect of raising suspicions within the Barrayarans. So for once, he gets recognized for his actions but he won't actually be able to show his medal back on Barrayar. Quite the move by the Cetagandan Emperor, ensuring the whole affair remains secret. The only thing that remains a bit unexplained is the concrete motivation of the culprit in the first 2 attacks against Miles and Ivan. For one thing Miles is a scapegoat, that's not the problem. But why target his infirmities with the fountain (which, like an MRT-device, heats up all metal and therefore burns Miles''s feet in their braces) or Ivan's by the pheromones? Just to ridicule them? To throw them off? Or was this left to the personal touch and revenge of the Cetagandan artist whose grandfather fought in the Barrayaran invasion?


Overall, this is an intriguing novel which, for once, puts Miles just in the role of Lord Vorkosigan representing Barrayar in the state funeral (he's 2rd in line for the throne after his father, after all), no Dendarii Mercenaries, no political intrigue on Barrayar, no depressed Gregor - and still he manages to stumble into a major plot. I'm looking forward to revisit Cetaganda in later books because Dag Benin, haut Pel and, of course, haut Rian left a very positive and interesting impression.


Still, despite the positive things I've said, I prefer Miles interacting with Barrayarans, dealing with troubles at (or closer to) home, forcing him to face his physical and mental issues as well as the prejudice on his homeworld, which is why "Cetaganda", despite being enjoyable, doesn't quite have the same impact on me as previous (and later) novels within the series.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2016-01-23 22:49
The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold
The Curse of Chalion - Lois McMaster Bujold

"The Curse of Chalion"'s protagonist, Cazaril, finds himself unexpectedly in the role of secretary to the fiercely independent royesse Iselle of Chalion. While his work mainly consists of managing her household and teaching her at rural Valenda, things take a turn for the worse when her elder brother Orico calls her and their younger brother Teidez back to the capital Cardegoss to name Teidez his rightful heir to the throne. Cazaril and Iselle find themselves wrapped tightly in a net of intrigue - with a deadly curse looming ever threatening above the royal family.


"Curse of Chalion" is a very interesting story, set in a medieval world where just as much attention is paid to the daily routine than to the 5 gods that seem to influence everything. However, this novel didn't quite manage to captivate me, it didn't have me on the edge of my seat, yearning for the next chapter and biting my nails if I didn't get to reading it at once. Quite frankly, the first 100 to 150 pages even drag out a bit until Cazaril returns to Cardegoss and the final 150 pages don't quite make up for that unfortunately.


Cazaril is the typical anti-hero, world-weary, handicapped by a torturous imprisonment, who just hoped to find some peaceful work when he returns to Valenda only to be appointed Iselle's secretary and thus be thrown into the middle of unsolved issues from his past along with new problems. Of course, it seems to be Bujold's favourite theme to turn physically incapacitated people into heroes - not by denying their physical frailties but by showing that heroes are made of far more than physical strength. Equally, Iselle is stepping out of the boundaries set for women by society by taking her fate into her own hands, thus giving Cazaril the incentive to gather up his own courage and fight for what is right.


To be honest, I can't really pinpoint why this book doesn't have me yearning for more. The characterization is at Bujold's usual high level, the story is interesting enough... but, unfortunately, it didn't quite manage to get me involved on a more emotional level.




review originally written in 2005.


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