Miles in luuuuurve

 Tehani and I continue our voyage into Lois McMaster Bujold’s Miles-land, in a conversational review utterly replete with spoilers. Other reviews can be found here

TEHANI: 

It seemed logical to do the whole omnibus at once this time. We had both raced ahead of ourselves, more interested in reading the books than reporting on them, and before we knew it, Komarr, A Civil Campaign and “Winterfair Gifts” were all done! These three works are very strongly tied though, with the arc of the love story between Miles and Ekaterin, so it makes sense to talk about them as a whole.

 ALEX:

Yes, absolutely. Reading them in the omnibus, I just… kept right on reading…

Komarr

TEHANI:

Now an official Imperial Auditor, Miles tags along with Imperial Auditor Vorthys to investigate an incident on the Barrayaran colony world Komarr, and finds himself imposing on the hospitality of Vorthys’ niece, Ekaterin Vorsoisson, and her husband and young son. The Vorsoisson household is not a happy one, with Ekaterin’s husband Tien hiding a secret. Miles finds himself drawn to Ekaterin, although his honour forbids him ever to act upon this, and Ekaterin, miserably trapped in a marriage she long grew out of, can only dream of a happier life. Despite his change in status, trouble still follows Miles wherever he goes, and the Komarr situation is no different. Balancing a diplomatic disaster in the making with the mystery of the solar mirror accidents, Miles, as always, finds more problems than he bargained for.

 ALEX:

And it’s not like Miles doesn’t half COURT danger, let’s be honest. Nosey little git is a NICE way to describe him, most of the time! Anyway, there are indeed two narratives going on her. First, the detective business that the Auditors essentially find themselves in and bring them to Komarr, figuring out what happened to the soletta – deliberate or accidental damage? – which in turn leads to a much bigger issue: someone trying to close Barrayar’s wormhole permanently. I really enjoyed the investigative aspects of the story, and the way in which Miles used and explored his new Auditor powers. Pairing him with Vorthys, much older and much wiser, with different skills and a more relaxed take on life, was clever from the Emperor and from Bujold – it sets Miles up nicely to work the way he works best, as well to continue growing as a character. And I really really liked that the issues at stake got so much bigger from something quite small; it developed over the course of the novel very smoothly. 

The second narrative, of course, if Miles falling in luuuurve with Ekaterin – already married, and then widowed, partly through Miles’ own negligence. And doesn’t that play on his conscience…

TEHANI:

One very interesting aspect of this book is that it’s the first time we get another point of view character for a big chunk of a Miles story. And this in itself is a dead giveaway as to Ekaterin’s importance to the world. Elli Quinn and Elena Bothari-Jesek were never given the narrative. Obviously things were a bit different in Mirror Dance, when Miles was dead or missing for much of the book, but in this case, it is as much Ekaterin’s story as it is Miles’, if not more, and this is very telling. 

ALEX:

I loved that we got Ekaterin’s perspective! I’ll admit that I had accidentally looked over a chronology of Miles’ life and saw “Miles and Ekaterin on honeymoon”, so there was no surprise for me in their relationship developing – although I did wonder what we were going to do with Tien! – which I was a bit cranky about. As you say, that she gets so much personal airtime in the book is indeed a giveaway. The insight into the more domestic side of things, and how Miles impacts on people, was a fascinating one. 

TEHANI:

I didn’t feel like Komarr was the most engaging of the newer books, but really, that’s a comparative issue – when the two books that precede it are Memory and Mirror Dance, it’s a challenge to stand up and be equal or better! It’s still absolutely solid storytelling, giving us action, drama and mystery, with a little glimpse of love thrown in.

ALEX:

I really enjoyed it! It’s a very different book from either Mirror Dance or Memory, and it benefited from that. There’s a bit less introspection from Miles, and a bit more action, which helps to distance it from Memory in particular. It’s a nice change of pace, given we still get to keep Miles being Miles.

TEHANI:

I’m really glad Bujold didn’t leave poor Miles in the lurch again here. It’s really been so unfair that all the women in his life are not interested in being Barrayaran wives, and while of course, happy ever after is not where we leave the book, at least we know the possibility is now open.

Ekaterin herself plays an important role in Komarr. She’s not there to be Miles’ love interest or complication, although there is that aspect. She plays a big part in the plot as well, but I think the most interesting aspect is her insight into what it means to be a Vor woman. We’ve seen a bit of this with Ivan’s mother and some others, but here, Ekaterin is in the spotlight and she is true Vor. Miles has been our benchmark of Vor, supplemented by Ivan, Aral and many other MEN. now we get the other perspective, one that Cordelia, being Betan, could never offer – that of what it’s like to grow up, and live, as a Vor woman.

ALEX:

The insight into being a Vor woman was utterly captivating – as you say, Cordelia is so totally off the map for Barrayar that she can’t offer this sort of perspective. My heart ached to see Ekaterin’s personal life… and realise that actually Bujold is talking about the experiences of many women today. Her relationship with her son Nikki was interesting too, for being (it seems to me) very real. I was so pleased that she got an action part to play, too – although I will admit that when she and her aunt got nabbed at the station, I had to put the book down and walk away for a little while, because Bujold just KEEPS DOING NASTY THINGS TO HER CHARACTERS. I was fairly sure she’s be ok, but the stress was no good for me. And then Ekaterin destroyed the weapon and it was all ok. Thankfully. Also, I really really liked Aunt and Uncle Vorthys and their relationship – which is developed much more in the next book – that they both have successful, professional careers and have a good marriage says that the Vor aren’t completely and totally useless.

 

A Civil Campaign 

TEHANI:

THIS BOOK IS SO. MUCH. FUN!

ALEX:

Hell yes!!

TEHANI:

I adore this from beginning to end. Bujold once again demonstrates her incredible ability to cross genres, writing a marvellous romantic comedy with intrigue and gender bending and politics and Miles bumbling about! There’s a name for that, right? 

ALEX:

Awesome?

TEHANI:

There are lots of plot threads crisscrossing this book. Underpinning it all is Miles’s attempts to woo Ekaterin, now living back on Barrayar with her aunt and uncle Vorthys (side note: I ADORE Ekaterin’s aunt – she’s up there with Cordelia for awesome) and Nikki, her young son. We know how well Miles does in the romance stakes, so his concerted efforts go rather awry – he really must get used to the fact that his vision is not always the same as the vision of those around him!

ALEX:

Oh heck, that dinner party!! That was another moment when I just wanted to crawl under the carpet on behalf of Miles and his shame. But honestly, why the hell did he go around talking about her?? I guess I understood, a bit – hard to keep your trap shut about being in love – but at the same time, he was telling himself so firmly that he had to WAIT… and then it got out of hand… and then it all came good! Hurrah! I think this is one reason why I don’t tend to read or watch romantic comedies, actually; I do not enjoy other people’s embarrassment; I feel it too keenly myself.

Once again I enjoyed Ekaterin’s perspective – that she is coming to understand herself so much more, in particular with how she treats her would-be suitors and her relatives. That she is still trapped to an extent in Barrayar legalities and expectations is excruciating. I also really enjoyed her love of gardening – it’s nice to have at least one person expressing an appreciation of the native flora, rather than just wanting to totally terraform the place. On the Miles front, being privy to her turmoil in thinking about him was very cleverly done. Also, it ends up giving us a whole new insight into Miles himself – and finally a proper tour of Vorkosigan House!

TEHANI:

But the side plots are such fun. The butter bugs, brought to Vorkosigan house by Mark, under the erstwhile care of the mad professor (that’s totally what he was, right?), and Mark’s own love affair with the wonderful Kareen Koudelka gives us a madcap zaniness, which while often under the surface in the Vorkosigan saga, is rarely so overt. And seeing Mark really becoming a person, with a girlfriend and a business, is just lovely. Lady Alys is still organising that darn imperial wedding, keeping everyone, particularly Ivan, hopping. And poor Ivan, now left on the shelf, thinking he might have a chance with a three-time widow who goes and has a sex change in order to take legitimate success of a District … well, that’s just typical for Ivan, isn’t it? I do love that Ivan gets a chance to be a hero here though – without him, the outcome of the meeting of the counts would have been rather different. And you know I’ve always had a soft spot for Ivan 🙂 

ALEX:

BUTTER BUGS!! So gross. And Mark turns up, hurrah! I like Mark – the sub-plot with him and Kareen was also a very interesting one, with Kareen paralleling Ekaterin in some ways, with her trying to figure out how to be herself with her parents as well as with Mark. I love Mark for his love of her – and I really love the way Cordelia deals with Kou and Drou, dragging that couch out of the attic!! Ivan… see, Ivan lost some of my goodwill, for trying to be nasty to Miles in upsetting the Ekaterin applecart somewhat. Grrr.

TEHANI:

This book shows Barrayar itself growing up too. The count with the replicators, the one who finds he has Cetagandan heritage, and the Donna/Dono subplots demonstrate ways in which Barrayar is becoming more galactic, and how well her people are, or are not, dealing with this change. I think it’s a very important change Bujold is making here, because while Barrayar has been so set in its cultural ways for many generations, things HAD to change (and it’s a nice tip of the hat to Aral and Cordelia’s own efforts to bring about change). 

ALEX:

The Donna/Dono plot was AWESOME. I had so not expected that, and it was a marvellous challenge to the stuffy Counts! I did get a giggle out of the fact that they were, in the end, more scandalised that one of their own could attempt an assault – and worse, fail – than by the sex-change. Additionally, Gregor and Laisa finally get married (with almost no problems!), which provides a nice bit of development/improvement for Barrayar as a planet too; ties to a colonial possession at a very personal level certainly help.

TEHANI:

This book is full of misunderstandings, miscommunications, missed opportunities and mischance. It’s surprisingly long, but is the most amazingly quick read. The characters are so dryly funny, even in their utter despair, and the story absolutely belts along in pace, weaving the myriad plot threads into a gorgeously fun tapestry of a book. I think this has to be my favourite book, for the sheer fun of it (with its underlying serious elements), despite my adoration of Memory and Mirror Dance. I can’t imagine being like Tansy and STARTING with this book, because the back story adds so much more depth, but I can see how it would provide a brilliant introduction to the madness of Miles! 

ALEX:

The idea of starting with this book makes my head HURT. This is indeed a whole lot of fun, but it can’t rate as my favourite, I’m afraid; there were too many cringe-moments!

 

“Winterfair Gifts” 

TEHANI:

While not next in the publishing schedule, “Winterfair Gifts” is a neat little tie up of the events of A Civil Campaign. Miles and Ekaterin are finally getting married, and this sweet little tale tells that story. Again we switch point of view, this time to the young armsman Roic, who gives us a fresh perspective into what being around the Vorkosigans is like. Naturally, nothing is easy on Barrayar. Sergeant Taura comes to the wedding, shocking Barrayar with her fearsome appearance (but the Lady Alys handily takes her under her wing and helps Taura understand her own beauty) and uncovering a nasty plot that would destroy not only the wedding, but Miles himself, by killing Ekaterin. In a fairly short piece, all is resolved and tied up in a bow of the beautiful winter wedding.

ALEX:

It was nice to have this next in the omnibus – although I did wonder at Ekaterin’s nerves and whether Bujold was going to actually make Miles WORK in this one! It was awesome to get Roic’s point of view, this time – his discomfort at not being from the military was sweet, and his reaction to Taura was awesome – as was Taura’s reaction to Lady Alys! But, a winter wedding in the garden? The man is crazy.

TEHANI:

If I have one disappointment it was that we didn’t see any more than a brief glimpse of Elena and Baz and their baby, and more of Ekaterin than as a plot device here. That said, Taura and Roic were lovely, if sad, and I liked that it showed the backwater boy learning to understand a bit more that looking different doesn’t mean being different. I don’t know that we had to have “Winterfair Gifts” to complete the Miles/Ekaterin love story, but it’s a nice touch.

ALEX:

True. I was a bit sad Quinn wasn’t there, but I guess having one old flame and one old lover in the place for the wedding was enough for Miles’ potential discomfort…

TEHANI:

Onwards, to Diplomatic Immunity where Ekaterin once again gets to demonstrate why she really is a great match for Miles and we run across some old friends!

 

 

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