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?