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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! 2016-01-23 22:32
Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold
Shards of Honour - Lois McMaster Bujold

This is the first part of the opening duology of the Vorkosigan Saga. Although I read the omnibus-edition containing both this one and Barrayar, I decided to review the books separately after my 2nd read-through in 2013 - be aware that because this is the review of a second-read-through it already contains spoilers to later books within the Vorkosigan-series -, but actually got around only to this first part... leaving Barrayar's separate review (and, coincidentally, that of Warrior's Apprentice) for my next re-read...


I loved that novel (and its continuation "Barrayar" - see my earlier entry in this journal) when I first read it about 10 years ago, and I still love it today. But there are some points that, while not distracting from my enjoying it, still keep me thinking afterwards.


* I like Cordelia, I like her outsider's PoV on Barrayar and its politics. But I have the feeling that her own voice gets a bit lost during this novel. I can see where the psychiatrists on Escobar and Beta Colony are coming from (even if their techniques are questionable as hell), because she actually does sound a bit brainwashed after Escobar. And it's one thing to defend Aral as a person, it's another to defend a planet's political system or its people/soldiers in general.


Later on she is portrayed as a woman with strong beliefs that more often than not are the complete opposite of general beliefs on Barrayar. So this confusion about who she is as a person lifts at some point - I just sort of would have liked for it to not overshadow her decision to come to Barrayar.


Oh, I think I'm making a mess out of this because I can't properly explain what I mean. I love the emotion, I love that Aral and Cordelia just complement each other, they click on a spiritual level - yet, Aral tells her of murder, of senseless rages, and she just takes it, even in the early days on Sergyar. She can't or won't judge him, but that she isn't horrified considering that she comes from the supposedly highly civilized Beta Colony where there should be a judicial system? There's a bit too much complacency on her side especially even before she was faced with the depravities of the likes of Vorrutyer and Serg. And that's what's bothering me a bit.


* Aral, who we unfortunately see only through Cordelia's PoV, seems more authentic in his emotions and motivations, curiously. He doesn't apologize for who he is and for what he has done. Of course, he doubts himself, and orchestrating Serg's assassination by war and by consequence eliminating his power base on Barrayar is highly questionable considering the innocent victims. Serg's proclivities can't have come as a surprise. Did Ezar simply react too late - and could all this bloodshed have been prevented?


* I've read in journals that quite a few people criticize LMB for how fast Ekaterin married Miles after the disaster of her previous marriage and despite his manipulations. But isn't the same thing sort of happening here? I think if you criticize one whirlwind romance you'll have to criticize the other, too. Especially as Aral/Cordelia's is as full of clichés as Miles/Ekaterin's. Whether it's the captive that falls in love with her captor (and vice versa) or the poor wife/widow who falls in love with the troubled man who shows her some kindness (and displays his idiocy in the process *g*). And yes, I admit it: I love both despite the clichés because in both cases, the emotions ring true to me.


* Why did Piotr and Xav suggest to Ezar that he take the throne? Why didn't Xav himself?


* IMO the book should have ended when Cordelia arrived at Vorkosigan Surleau - the rest with Aral being appointed Regent felt a bit disjointed.


* There are quite a few beautiful wordplays that come back later in the series: "Tests are gifts...", "You pour honor like a fountain over those around you [...] There's nothing left for you" etc.


* Did anyone actually vote for Freddy? *g*


* Dubauer: I also was bothered by Cordelia's apology. LMB very much puts the emphasis on mind over body, Koudelka vs Dubauer... Miles himself... To a certain extent, even Bothari falls into this category as he's described as inferior, as something the cat dragged in, as some kind of lapdog. It doesn't justify what he's done, but he's mentally ill, not inferior. And I wonder how "Mountains of Mourning" would have played out if there had been a minor neurological defect instead of the lip cleft. Would Miles have been as motivated to get to the truth?


* Barrayar's political system: Granted, Barrayar's still quite away from having a constitution. It's a grown feudal system... that might not have changed from Shards to ACC and beyond. But I wouldn't say that it's remained the same, either. I think change must come from within, and society already has changed on Barrayar. It's more open to outside influence, a Komarran empress, a count with Cetagandan ancestors, Miles with his physical problems going from being an outcast to being a central player. Of course, it all depends on the key players - but so does a constitutional/democratic system as well. I don't think you can put the genie back into the bottle - and when the time comes, Barrayar will get its constitutional monarchy including free elections... After all they're still just one generation shy of the annexion of Komarr, the Escobar debacle etc. ACC could well have ended in a political uprising, but it didn't. And I think that's due to Aral's Regency and Gregor's wisdom in keeping out of the everyday political mess. In a sense the monarchy isn't as absolute any more as it was in Ezar's time.


These are just a few rambling thoughts - on to Barrayar. :)




review/comments originally written in 2013

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2016-01-23 22:23
Cordelia's Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold
Cordelia's Honor - Lois McMaster Bujold

I bought this book a year or so ago when the Miles Vorkosigan series of books was first recommended to me. I was reluctant to pick it up because usually I'm not that fond of SF-books (strange really considering I'm a dedicated fan of B5, ST and SW...) but once I did I couldn't put this volume down.

"Cordelia's Honor" is the omnibus edition of the 2 parter "Shards of Honor" and "Barrayar" which describe how Miles' parents, Cordelia Naismith and Aral Vorkosigan, met, fell in love, married and finally had him. Both books are written from Cordelia's point of view which shows extremely well how her feelings towards her erstwhile captor Aral subtly change throughout "Shards of Honor" and how she tries to adapt to life on the warrior planet Barrayar with its backward attitude towards women and anything that's not perfect. Granted, there are moments, especially in "Barrayar", where she comes across as some sort of super-woman who just has to come, see and conquer any trouble she encounters but Bujold nevertheless manages to keep her human with every failure and virtue attached to the word. I especially loved the way the romance between Cordelia and Aral remained quite understated, there are no overt declarations of love but nonetheless you as the reader know and understand that the 2 characters share a deep affection, love and respect for each other and the cultures they each come from (which couldn't be more different). I think that's the way such deep feelings have to be handled. It doesn't always need words for the reader to grasp the author's intention as long as the meaning and the actions speak a clear language.

There are 2 scenes in the book I especially would like to mention. First, of course, the fate of Sergeant Bothari which is only hinted at in "The Warrior's Apprentice" which I read prior to this book only to reread it again when I finished "Cordelia's Honor"... As despicable as his actions during the failed invasion of Escobar are I do feel sympathy - not for what he did but for how much he was damaged by what he was forced/drugged to do.

And the second instance is of course the "failed" assassination attempt on Aral which caused Miles' handicap. Again it's not so much the words Aral says but the description of his expression, tone of voice and actions that tells of his pain. And I won't even begin about Cordelia's fight to have Miles transfered into the uterine replicator...

The only regret I have about this book is that I've already finished reading it - but since I'm in the habit of reading my books twice or 3 times at least that's but a half-regret. *And* I still have quite a couple of books left in the Vorkosigan-saga.

If you wish to start with this series of books, be sure to pick up this one first. It sets the ground, introduces some of the key players on Barrayar (one of the reasons I reread "Warrior's Apprentice" after finishing this one) and is, plain simple, a wonderful book full of interesting characters that are allowed to retain their humanity with all its failures, and a romance that's handled beautifully in its subtlety.




review originally written in 2004


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review SPOILER ALERT! 2014-11-06 18:45
The Mountains of Mourning by Lois McMaster Bujold
The Mountains of Mourning (Vorkosigan Saga) - Lois McMaster Bujold

This novella takes place 3 years after "The Warrior's Apprentice", right after Miles graduates from the Military Academy.


What I absolutely love about the Vorkosigan-saga is the range of topics, the variety of genres - and ultimately the very human story it tells. In this case, Miles, 20 years old and feeling on top of the world after surviving the Academy with his bones (mostly) intact, is confronted with the backwater attitudes of the hillfolk in the Vorkosigans' own district. Not everywhere physical deformities are overlooked, and infanticide because of birth defects is still common place. And now Miles, the epitome of everything feared and frowned at, is called to sit judgment in the case of a baby's murder because of a cat's mouth.


"You've established the infanticide was murder."


That about sums up what attitude Miles faces while investigating the case. But it's not just a murder investigation, it's the conflict between old and new, between stagnation and progress, between parents and children that's at the bottom of this story, Barrayar's politics and the entire Vorkosigan saga.


Miles is just as much a child of his progressive parents as he's the grandchild of a man who attempted infanticide himself. So it's not just a step into another world, it's also a step into his very sensitive past. That's quite well illustrated by the time it takes to reach the mountain village of Silvy Vale, the location of the crime. It's a time to slow down, to adapt to the different pace of things and to get settled. Because as much as Miles sits in judgment over Raina's murderer, so does the backcountry, if not Barrayar as a whole, over him. And Miles' own ideals shift - he realizes what he's fighting for... all those who didn't have the same opportunities, who didn't survive beyond infancy, and also those who still live in that backcountry, without modern amenities such as education, he owes to them that they don't get lost during Barrayar's rush for progress.


Change is a very flexible word, with many nuances. Sometimes it is born out of death and mourning... and even reaches, at a slow, at times too slow pace, into the farthest regions. And with it comes hope for a better future.

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