A Civil Campaign

by Lois McMaster Bujold

Cover image

Series: Vorkosigan #11
Publisher: Baen
Copyright: 1999
Printing: August 2000
ISBN: 0-671-57885-5
Format: Mass market
Pages: 534

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This is the eleventh book of the Vorkosigan series, the ninth book about Miles Vorkosigan, and isn't the place to start in the series. It assumes a great deal of familiarity with the cast and events of previous books, particularly the excellent Komarr. Read the others first.

Gregor's wedding is imminent and the powers of Barrayar society are gathering in the capital. Miles is, of course, involved in the planning, but more urgently he's trying to plan the most reasonable and appropriate strategy for winning the heart of his new love, seriously complicated by the events of Komarr. To complicate life further, there are two suits before the Council of Counts regarding succession that Miles's friends and political allies are involved in, and Mark is back in town with his own romantic problems and a bizarre commercial venture. Complication builds on top of complication, this time without warfare and secret agent machinations but with a healthy helping of political intrigue, until Miles pulls the whole structure down on his head and has to be dug out with the help of his friends.

A Civil Campaign is a revealing title. It is a Miles campaign in the classic formula, complete with an early well-intentioned mistake leading to larger and larger mistakes, a huge explosion, and Miles's attempts to deal in his own hyperactive way. It's just a civil campaign rather than a military one, a wonderful reworking of the complex high-society romance using the characters of a cloak-and-dagger military space opera.

As in Komarr, Bujold mixes things up by shifting viewpoints between different sections. This time, Miles, Ekaterin, Mark, Kareen, and Ivan all share the spotlight. Miles and Mark have similar, often angstful mental voices, continuing their normal swings between mania and despair. Ekaterin's viewpoint is delightful as always, and as in Komarr, she's my favorite character of the book and the one I found easiest to identify with. Ivan and Kareen are an interesting new addition, Kareen serving as a counterpoint to Mark and Ivan poking his nose into corners of the story that Miles or Ekaterin wouldn't have access to. The multiple viewpoints, particularly showing both Miles's and Ekaterin's, adds a great deal to the book.

For a book with over 500 pages and none of the traditional action of military campaigns, espionage, or exploration of foreign cultures, A Civil Campaign does an admirable job of holding one's attention. The subplot centered around Mark's economic venture was the only part of the story I sighed and waded through when it came around (particularly during the climax, where it served as an unnecessary and annoying slapstick interlude far away from the interesting action). I didn't need the comedic touch; there was enough snarkiness, sarcasm, and dramatic explosions in the main plots to keep me quite entertained. Mark is not, however, a complete loss: his interactions with Kareen and Kareen's growth as a person are fascinating and well-written.

Bujold has an excellent touch with people, makes full use of the accumulated characterization over the course of this long series, and populates this book with vivid characters struggling with meaningful and complex issues of personal growth and desire. These aren't characters who immediately know what they want, who make the right decision the first time, or who seem pushed about by authorial fiat. Accurate portrayal of emotions and complications are vital to this sort of society novel and Bujold does an excellent job. The latter half of the book is particularly spectacular, featuring Cordelia in her role as strongest supporting character of the series and a roller-coaster ride of revelations, victories, resolutions, and dramatic climaxes more than worthy of the build-up of the novel. Bujold leaves you cheering without thinking that the resolution is a mite too convenient, which is quite a feat.

I'm not as much of a fan of the early Vorkosigan books as some, but the tail-end of the series features some exceptional novels. I recommend A Civil Campaign as highly as Komarr and for similar reasons, despite the radically different plot topics. Bujold's characters in general are excellent, but Ekaterin in particular makes these books, giving them a depth and a sympathetic voice that for me was lacking in the previous novels. I hope she plays as central of a role in the remaining book.

Followed by Diplomatic Immunity.

Rating: 9 out of 10

Reviewed: 2007-10-22

Last modified and spun 2014-12-21