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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-08-17 15:07
Diplomatic Immunity by Lois McMaster Bujold
Diplomatic Immunity - Lois McMaster Bujold

Once you catch the bug (again), you keep reading... so, still on my reading spree through the Vorkosigan series, and I fear once I run out of books I'll restart from the beginning. *sigh

 

On the return flight from their honeymoon, Miles is assigned to investigate a situation involving the military personnel accompanying a Komarran trade fleet. One officer seems to have gone missing, and another missed the call to duty, his retrieval causing a major incident and all of the involved being arrested on Graf Station in Quaddie space. And something seems to be happening in Cetagandan space.

 

This is my second run through this novel, and I have to say, the situation here is quite the opposite from Komarr. I had good memories of the latter novel, rather lackluster ones of this. But the reread turned the tides quite a bit.

 

First of all, the whole novel is from Miles's PoV, it includes sarcasm, irony and in-jokes (shopping anyone?), this inimitable drive forward, and makes for one coherent story, not bogged down by relationship-issues or angsting over said relationship-issues etc. Just a simple reminder of the Vorkosigan-stories of old, a good old mystery that needs to be solved, nothing more, nothing less. And his inner voice leaves me at times with tears of laughter, and at others with a pensive smile or even a lump down my throat. That's what I'm looking for in books, relatable characters, flawed characters, characters who don't take everything that's happening to them lying down. And how far has Miles come from his beginnings in Warrior's Apprentice to the final few pages of this novel? How far has Barrayar come?

 

Of course, it helps that Bel Thorne makes an appearance and that his character-arc gets some closure. And the deep irony surrounding their reacquaintance, all the changes the characters have undergone since the end of Mirror Dance ("So I've killed Admiral Naismith after all") are meaningful, yet understated.

 

Ekaterin takes a bit of a backseat here. All her contributions (which save Miles and Bel in the end) remain off-screen. But that's okay since we know she keeps her head in emergencies... and quite frankly, she's a supporting character and having her PoV would distract from the ongoing mystery. Armsman Roic again takes over the task of guarding Miles. His feelings of inferiority become a tad repetitive, though, but he's definitely showing some growth into his role by the end.

 

Generally speaking, it's the small things that make this a very enjoyable reading experience: shows of loyalty, things/opinions just expressed with a small gesture, Miles fighting for Bel's life, exasperation all around at Miles's shenanigans etc. It's not the grand stories, the mysteries why I enjoy this series so much. It's rather the connecting subplots (like here the shout back to Cetaganda), the worldbuilding, the 3-dimensional characterization, the slow moments of introspection and realization. The saga might be set 1000 years from now, but it's still dealing with the same basic issues we do every day. Which is what makes is so eminently re-readable (even the weaker parts).

 

So, overall a pretty straight-forward detective story, mixed with old and new friends, a helping of political messes at home and abroad... despite having already read the book before, I was still captivated and at the edge of my seat for the latter half. Pretty good sign, isn't it?

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-08-05 15:40
A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold
A Civil Campaign - Lois McMaster Bujold

Count Romeo Vorkosigan, the one-man strike team.

 

Oh, I've been looking forward to re-reading this novel, and it didn't disappoint.

 

Again with changing point of views, this novel is roughly told in 3 connected parts:

 

* Miles's courtship of Ekaterin - planned like a covert operation which blows up in his face spectacularly

 

* internal Barrayaran politics and

 

* Mark and Kareen's return to Barrayar, the subsequent cultural shock, and them starting a business operation.

 

I adore the first half of this book: Miles setting up his dinner party, hearing Mark's voice again, Kareen's struggle against the rules and regulations coming with her return home from liberal Beta Colony. And then there's Mark's bug butter enterprise with hapless (and clichéd/absentminded) scientist Enrique. There isn't a page that doesn't manage to bring a warm feeling to my heart, all the underlying shows of loyalty (Mark's Killer making an appearance when Mark perceives a threat to Miles's courtship), Ivan's good natured teasing - and of course, trying to make things difficult. The inner voices and humorous situations that don't fail to bring a smile to my face. All culminating in that absolutely hilarious failure of a dinner party because of a lack of communication and ignorance of social customs. I can't remember having laughed so hard reading a book as I did when the returning Vorkosigan parents come across Enrique trying to recover all the dispersed butter bugs.

 

A distracted-looking Enrique, his wiry hair half on-end, prowled into the great hall from the back entry. He had a jar in one hand, and what Miles could only dub Stink-on-a-Stick in the other: a wand with a wad of sickly-sweet scent-soaked fiber attached to its end, which he waved along the baseboards. "Here, buggy, buggy," he cooed plaintively. "Come to Papa, that's the good girls..." He paused, and peered worriedly under a side-table. "Buggy-buggy...?"

 

"Now... that cries out for an explanation," murmured the Count, watching him in arrested fascination.

 

It doesn't matter that the end is a foregone conclusion - that was obvious with the introduction of Ekaterin in Komarr. Too much time has been spent on her characterization and "voice" to have her fade back into the woodwork. So it's not the end that counts, but the road getting there. And perhaps Miles learned a lesson in humility... and also trust - in himself (because most of the spectacle stems from the disbelief that Ekaterin could ever choose him, a physically handicapped man) but also in others.

 

This is also a novel about growing up and stretching (social) boundaries. Cordelia's independence shouldn't pull wool over our eyes. On Barrayar women still are house-bound and don't play an overt role in society (with Lady Alys the obvious exception). Even with the invention of the uterine replicator which makes body births unnecessary, a real change towards equality hasn't occurred yet. Women are there to be married off, they don't have custody over their sons etc. A Civil Campaign addresses this issue in different ways:

 

We have Ekaterin and her custodial issues over Nikki (and her multiple husband-wanna-bes) where some estranged cousin of her late husband's wants to remove Nikki from her sphere of influence. Unfortunately, along with Miles's courtship this is solved by the traditional approach: In many instances she's a bit of a damsel in distress. Whenever something bad happens, a man is there to help her - be it Illyan, be it Gregor, be it her uncle, be it Miles. That Miles gains custody over Nikki in the end isn't mentionned any further. Well, to be honest, neither is the pressure on widow-Ekaterin to remarry. Granted, as said before, it's a foregone conclusion, but in the end she was pressured into her decisions. And as much as she might think otherwise - or that she might have made the same decision but granted more time for it -, the whole process, especially given her experiences with her late husband and the events of Komarr, leaves a bit of a sour taste.

 

Then there are Cordelia and Lady Donna who bulldoze their way through social boundaries. For Cordelia they don't even exist. Being Betan she isn't indoctrinated in Barrayaran customs but continues to view them as a kind of amusing anomaly... and fights for Mark and Kareen's right to lead their lives (and their relationship) the way they like. In a way Miles is Aral's responsibility (honor vs reputation) - and Mark's Cordelia's project.

 

Just a small point of criticism here: Cordelia's perhaps the one character that could use some more fleshing out, to be honest. She comes across as some kind of super-woman, all-knowing, omnipotent. Even Aral has his flaws - and he's had them from the start. And all that talk about her being Betan... it rankles a bit, her being the super-liberal, highly civilized woman for whom Barrayaran politics only serves as amusement. But that only renders her two-dimensional in the end.

 

And Donna? Well, in order to obtain the Vorrutyer Countship (which she de facto already held when her brother was still alive), she undergoes gene therapy on Beta and reinvents herself as Lord Dono. Interesting precedence?

 

I know I repeat myself, but it's this confrontation with tradition and regulation that make the novels set on Barrayar so interesting to me. Miles is a fascinating character, and I love him and his idiosyncracies. But put him back in this narrow-minded environment (albeit which already has changed and opened up so much within the whole series), and things get really interesting. Not to mention the fact that all the Barrayaran-based characters and their interaction are complex and vastly enjoyable in and of themselves. What would this series be without Aral & Cordelia, Ivan, Illyan, Alys, Pym or Gregor?

 

In a sense, this novel could have been the end of the series. Miles is settled in his private and professional life, he's accepted on Barrayar as heir to the Countship and important political figure himself. Mark's on the way to recovery. Gregor's married. And Cordelia and Aral enjoy their retirement on Sergyar. The rest of the series only puts on paper what's inferred here. But that's just a thought...

 

Anyway, an absolute highlight in the series.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-07-24 22:12
Komarr by Lois McMaster Bujold
Komarr - Lois McMaster Bujold

His first mission as Imperial Auditor leads Miles and his colleague Vorthys to Komarr to investigate the partial destruction of the Soletta array, a sort of mirror construction to strengthen the sunlight for terraforming the planet. Much more interesting than the investigation, however, turns out to be his hostess, Vorthys's niece Ekaterin.

 

This is my second complete run through this novel... and admittedly the first one that I found difficult at times. I think most of that is due to the divided point of view between Miles and Ekaterin, the rest comes from the not too complicated plot that clearly takes a backseat here. Ekaterin is married to the administrator of a terraforming business - a man who's ignored his genetic defect for years, and therefore puts their son at risk, which Ekaterin can't abide by. Additionally, there's no love and respect left in their marriage, she feels trapped with little light at the end of the tunnel.

 

I actually liked her point of view in my first reading this novel - her interest in Vorkosigan and his seeming to cope with his defects, the way he apparently doesn't stifle his (past) girlfriends but lets them spread their wings; her horror when she suddenly finds herself in the middle of his investigation.

 

But now I thought this passages dragged on a bit too much. Of course, the whole novel only serves one purpose, which is to introduce Ekaterin as an equal partner for Miles. In the end, though, she comes across as a bit too good a fit: she's quick to look beyond Miles's physical deficiencies (including his seizure condition) because she's used to deal with the fear of genetic imperfection. She's rational, calm in a crisis. She loves Barrayar... and she ends up being available for courtship (which is dealt with in the next novel).

 

Komarr isn't a bad or boring story. But it lacks the re-readability which I've so enjoyed so far. And granted, I love Miles's point of view, and that half of this novel is taken away with bad marriage-turmoil from "other than Miles" doesn't satisfy me at all. Therefore: Komarr's so far, the weakest part of the series.

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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! 2014-11-30 19:48
Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold
CryoBurn - Lois McMaster Bujold

I put off reading this book for 3 years now - simply because I always wanted to have some new Vorkosigan to read when it's likely that another novel won't come. So, was it worth the wait? Yes - and no. Pay special attention to spoilers at the end of this review!

 

As always, Miles swoops in, finds himself in some catastrophe of his own making or not, and has to find himself a way to solve everything, all at once.

 

"His mystery, it seemed, had just split in two. Mystery mitosis. It seemed a retrograde sort of progress."

His internal monologue, the reactions of people faced with his indomitable drive forwards and outlook on things, are exceptionally funny. It's pure joy to be able to laugh out loud at a passage.

 

"I thought the task of an Imperial Auditor was to uphold the law!" Miles-san's eyebrows flew up. "No, whatever gave you that idea? The task of an Imperial Auditor is to solve problems for Gregor."

 

Bujold's very good at introducing new characters, without diminishing the old ones. Usually, the Vorkosigan-saga is told from Miles' point of view - with the notable exceptions of Ivan and Mark in A Civil Campaign, Mark of course in Mirror Dance and Ekaterin in Komarr and A Civil Campaign. Lately, this change in point of view also included Armsman Roic - yes, the one who chased down some butter bug scheme stark naked in A Civil Campaign. This time Roic and the local boy Jin join in the story-telling. Jin came upon Miles when he stumbled out of the cryo-underworld after a botched attempt at kidnapping. What at first only seems to be runaway who happens to be recruited by Miles, turns out to be son of a major opposition leader who got frozen in order to shut her up. Thusly, not only a threat to the Barrayaran Empire has to be solved - in that a cryocorps is trying to expand to Komarr and get to the votes of people they cryofreeze there... a sort of slow planet conquest -, but also the plight of a little boy in limbo between hope and despair which rings a bit too close to home for Miles' comfort. While wary of people, Jin's attached to his animals... and any kind of positive attention by adults who take him seriously. Which is how Miles wins his allegiance. Not that Jin really understands all the intricacies of Barrayaran politics, or even the high status of his erstwhile guest.

 

"What is this Lord Unpronounceable you keep talking about, anyway?" asked Aunt Lorna. "What, or who?" said Raven-sensei. "Although I gather that for him, the two are nearly inextricable." "Either. Both." "He investigates insurance fraud for somebody," Jin supplied. "His boss is named Gregor. He talks about him a lot." Vorlynkin blinked; Raven-sensei laughed, and Jin twisted his toes in unease. "Isn't that right?" he asked.

 

Of course, there's also the hapless Consul Vorlynkin of the Barrayaran Consulate who gets roped in Miles' affairs. At first quite critical of Miles' modus operandi, he warms up to Jin and his sister who find sanctuary within the consulate (including all of Jin's zoo, of course), and finds himself drawn to their mother who they eventually manage to revive with the help of one of the Durona-clones, Raven, who helped back when Miles himself needed cryorevival.

 

"She looks like something out of a fairy tale." "What," said m'lord, swinging one heel to tap upon a stool leg, "Snow White with just one dwarf?" Vorlynkin reddened, an I-didn't-say-that look in his eyes. M'lord snickered at him. "Now all we need is a prince."

 

And the mystery on the planet unfurls... with a bit of Barrayaran help, including some investments by Mark as shareholder of the Durona group (including reminscences of other less successful attempts at attacking Jacksonian cloning methods which ended up quite in pain and tears, and, oh so cold). So, eventually, all the galactic keyplayers in the Vorkosigan saga, are reunited on the far-off world of Kibou-daini. And all the others, of course, get mentionned, even Taura who died on Escobar in the meantime, much to Miles' and Roic's regret, having refused being frozen.

 

This is also where this book suffers a bit. After a fabulous start in the cryocombs, meeting Jin and getting back to the consulate, Bujold spends pages on introducing Miles to the locals, recapturing old adventures, so much so that the middle of the book gets quite slow... and that's not Miles, who doesn't do slow even on bad days.

 

In the end, though, there are two are three issues very close to Miles which are sort of the red thread through all this mess:

 

First of all, of course, the remembrance of his own experience at being frozen and revived. Secondly, already mentioned above, Jin's being denied to properly grieve for his mother - she isn't dead, yet she's not alive, either. And thirdly, the fear for his aging father - and Mark's race to extend life.

 

Of course, too little, too late.

 

"Count Vorkosigan, sir?"

 

Or from Mark's point of view:

 

"Mark had once shot a man with a nerve disruptor; seen the surprised eyes go blank as the charge burned out the brain behind them. He didn't know why watching Miles take in the news of their father's death made that black memory surface. No buzz or crackle from a weapon here; just three quiet words. [...] As if harnessed in tandem to the Count-his-father, Lord Vorkosigan had died in that moment, too, old life draining away along with the color from his face."

 

So eager to get home to Ekaterin and their four children - interestingly, 3 girls, only 1 boy -, only to return to a whole new life. It's not as though he hadn't represented his father before in the political arena, but now it's a whole new ballgame. And Miles again has to reinvent himself for this new role.

 

This one moment that Vorkosigan-lovers have dreaded, has now finally arrived. Aral's no more - and it's dealt with in the epilogue of this book, curiously through a mix of short recounts by the keyplayers on Barrayar, Gregor, Ivan, Cordelia (who again apologizes for letting Ensign Dubauer live without higher brain functions which is a nice nod back to Shards of Honor), Mark and Miles himself. I have to admit, I especially loved the books on Barrayar which had Miles confront his parents, and his parents' actions - and I guess, with Miles himself and Gregor, Aral always had a special place in my heart. So this epilogue hit me just as thoroughly, even though I knew it would eventually happen.

 

But what does this mean for the Vorkosigan-saga? Granted, there's already been a book published afterwards (but set before Cryoburn, told from Ivan's PoV) with Captain Vorpatril's Alliance... but is that it? No witnessing Miles settle in this new role of his? And even if it could be argued that Miles' story has been told: his sturm und drang-time over, he himself accepted on Barrayar, no real threats at major conspiracies now that Gregor has children... I'd still love to have a last glimpse at the Barrayar Aral helped shape with his blood and honor, and which Miles continued to uphold and sometimes was threatened to be crushed by. And if not the future, what about the past? Shouldn't the Regency offer plenty of stories that were only hinted at before - perhaps an anthology?

 

I know I'm clutching at straws here.

 

Anyway, it's been a really good experience revisiting these much-beloved characters once more. Cryoburn might not have the emotional impact and depth of Memory or  A Civil Campaign (at least until the end), but it's a good read, even if the plot sometimes gets a bit too convoluted for my taste. Miles as always rushes ahead, leaving Roic to follow up and strive not to strangle the little git while he's at it. Just sit back and enjoy!

 

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