Review: Cetaganda, by Lois McMaster Bujold

Publisher: Baen
Copyright: October 1996
ISBN: 0-671-87744-5
Pages: 302

This book is somewhat more independent of what's come before, since it doesn't involve the Dendarii Mercenaries. There are a few references to the previous books and the general patterns of Miles's life, but you could probably get away with reading this one without reading any of the previous books.

By now, to regular readers of the series, this tune is looking familiar. Miles is sent on a mission, this time diplomatic to the nearby empire of Cetaganda, under the command of another officer. He then stumbles across a situation that gets increasingly complex, decides that it's better to go his own way rather than handing it over to his superiors, and ends up saving the day single-handedly while dodging questions from his own side. You know, essentially the same as the previous two books.

50 pages into this book, I was expecting it to be mediocre. It's basically the same plot again, it's set in what looked like a pseudo-feudal empire complete with women in opaque force screens in public, and Miles falls hopelessly in love with a beautiful woman and wants to do anything for her. Nothing like a romantic sub-plot predicated on the main character acting stupid to drive me away from a book.

Surprisingly, though, Bujold pulled it out. The romantic sub-plot remained mostly stupid through the whole book, but it stayed unimportant. The society turned out to be much more complex than it first appeared, complex in ways that weren't horribly realistic but which were still intriguing. The female haut (the ruling class of the Cetagandans) aren't the stereotyped harem women at all, and there are two sides to the absolute privacy of force screens, which lets the political intrigue which drives the story get entertainingly twisty.

The best feature of Bujold's Vorkosigan books are the elaborate plots, featuring bits of guesswork, investigation, lots of intrigue, many factions, and lots of Miles thinking quickly on his feet. They're not that realistically complex, in that coincidences and authorial manipulation show through the plot from time to time and Miles is always a bit smarter than everyone around him. But they are satisfying, for fun, well-paced books in which something is always happening or about to happen. I was never bored.

This entry in the series has a weaker start but a more interesting world. Cetaganda is a nice bit of light world-building, and while (like the other books in this series), Cetaganda is almost a young-adult novel in terms of characterization complexity, I still recommend this one as undemanding political space opera.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Posted: 2005-08-20 22:23 — Why no comments?

I notice you're reading Bujold's Miles books in series-chronological order.

I personally feel that publication order works better...for a while she was alternating between the story-arc parts (which more or less start with "Brothers in Arms") and the backfill parts.

Posted by Jon Lennox at 2005-08-22 07:48

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