Just imagine me giving a huge satisfied sigh right about now. That's what I was waiting for. More of that manic Miles energy. I've liked the couple of other Vorkosigan books I've read between The Warrior's Apprentice and A Civil Campaign, but they lacked a certain something that caught me about the first book. It's back in this one, and I couldn't be happier.
Bujold writes out-of-control exceptionally well, and it's such a pleasure to watch Miles working by the seat of his pants, improvising. You root for him, and wince when he falls. But know that in the end, he'll probably work it out. Now we're in the arena of love, and it's a real pleasure to watch him in this all-new opportunity to make a mess of things.
I regret not having read the book right before this one, as it sounds like it was a doozy. The aftermath is so intense I wished I'd been able to get my hands on it. But my library is extremely spotty about which Vorkosigan books they carry, and I have no money with which to buy books, and so I am stuck with what I can get.
In it, it seems Miles found his match, the beautiful and newly-widowed Ekaterina. Now back on Barrayar, he wants to court her, but know if he pushes his suit too soon, he'll lose her forever. But he's besotted, and so tries to scheme his way out of it anyway. It doesn't go as planned.
This works so well for two reasons. One, Ekaterina is a really wonderful character, well-rounded and interesting. Her struggles with who she is in the wake of her husband's death (and, in a related topic, who she was during her marriage,) are complex and compelling.
Two, Bujold doesn't rely on crossed signals to keep them apart. That could have gotten old, and strained credulity. But by the midpoint of the book, Miles and Ekaterina know that the other person returns their attraction. There are still pressing and real reasons that keep them apart, including a newly unveiled political plot to score points on Miles. Ekaterina's reactions to this delighted me. They were slightly unexpected, but entirely in keeping with who she was. And who doesn't enjoy a good smackdown of people who truly deserve it now and then?
The other love story going on is one involving Miles' clone, Mark. (I missed that book too, apparently! Grrrr.) Mark and a young Barrayaran woman, Karine, started a relationship on Beta, but find it strained under more strait-laced Barrayaran gender norms.
But their relationship is not only romantic and sexual. It's also business. The business of taking edible bug vomit and making it palatable to the general public. If you thought that was quite the task, you might have been understating the matter. Much of the (very funny) comedy in this book comes from the misadventures of having a bug butter laboratory in the basement of Vorkosigan House.
This mixture of romantic and political intrigue worked for me, big time. In a situation fraught with the issues of dynastic succession in hidebound Barrayar, one count faces losing his seat because of a rogue and recently discovered ancestor. Another goes to Beta to get a sex-change operation in order to stand as candidate for his recently deceased brother's seat. Miles gets embroiled in these conflicts, and that threatens Ekaterina's position and the custody of her son.
(Strangely, it was only in writing this review that I realized that a character I created for our recent playtest of a storygame my husband wrote borrowed much of Ekaterina's backstory.)
What else can I tell you about this book? If you've liked earlier Vorkosigan books, I'm quite sure you'll like this one. This brings back what I like best about Bujold's writing, that sheer manic enthusiasm, paired with urgent drama and action. It's political action this time, but no less pressing for all that.