by Lois McMaster Bujold

Cover image

Series: Vorkosigan #10
Publisher: Baen
Copyright: 1998
Printing: April 1999
ISBN: 0-671-57808-1
Format: Mass market
Pages: 366

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This is the tenth book in the main Vorkosigan series, the eighth featuring Miles, and it's best to have read the whole series to know the background, characters, and backstory references. However, if you do want to jump into the late part of this series, this isn't a horrible spot. The previous books don't matter as much to the plot, the series seems to be going in a slightly different direction, and Komarr is significantly better than Memory, the previous book.

In this series, Bujold has had some chapters from standpoints other than Miles's before, but Ekaterin, introduced here, is different. Her concerns are from the start primarily domestic, and while that's tied up with a typical Miles investigation and adventure, her parts of this story stay an exploration of love, honor, marriage, and culture with more depth than Miles's often flippant attitudes. She also comes from a far different life than most of those we've seen in the series so far. She's a wife and mother of a small boy, not a mercenary, not in the military, not part of the Barrayaran political structure.

This works surprisingly well. When writing a character who doesn't have Miles's manic depressiveness, Bujold has a deft touch with emotion. Ekaterin is reserved and tries very hard to maintain an even emotional stance, which is a good change of pace and contrast from Miles. We also see a more mature, more cautious Miles here, adjusting to his new role and responsibilities and avoiding the standard "Miles does something idiotic and then spends the book digging himself out of the hole" plot. Instead, the driving plot is a nicely twisty bit of political intrigue (I don't call it a mystery simply because we know too much about the other side and the main secret was easy to guess), with action and danger but without the extended angst of Memory.

This is also, as one might expect from Miles's current life and the introduction of a female viewpoint character, something of a romance. But while some standard romance patterns are followed, others aren't. Komarr is all the more enjoyable for being understated, slow, and told in a tight third person that shows some realistic reluctance. Bujold does a great job of showing how both Miles's personality quirks and his newfound maturity end up perfectly suiting the situation in which he finds himself.

Characterization is excellent all around. Not only is Miles shown with his usual depth and Ekaterin's viewpoint compelling, but even the villains and supporting characters have realistic motivations and complex character. The villains are particularly note-worthy, providing a conclusion that wasn't what I expected and a few notes of real moral ambiguity along the way. Bujold doesn't back away from the fact that, despite honorable goals, Miles essentially represents a secret police that people fear for legitimate reasons. I think she could have done more in that direction (and more would have been realistic), but there's enough to add some shades of grey to the world.

This is my favorite entry in the series so far. I think it hits just the right blend of characterization, emotional turmoil, and political intrigue. The emotional depth is still a bit superficial — it fades in memory after reading rather than lingering with me — but Bujold grabbed me more with the Ekaterin scenes than she has with anything in the series to date. I like Miles moderated by someone who puts more of an emphasis on self-control. Hopefully, this is a good sign for the rest of the series.

Followed by A Civil Campaign.

Rating: 9 out of 10

Reviewed: 2006-12-27

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