>> Monday, April 27, 2015
Accident or Treachery? Komarr could be a garden-with a thousand more years work. or an uninhabitable wasteland, if the terraforming fails. Now the solar mirror vital to the terraforming of the conquered planet has been shattered by a ship hurtling off course. The Emperor of Barrayar sends his newest Imperial Auditor, Lord Miles Vorkosigan, to find out why.
The choice is not a popular one on Komarr, where a betrayal a generation before drenched the name of Vorkosigan in blood. In the political and physical claustrophobia of the domed cities, are the Komarrans surrounding Miles loyal subjects, potential hostages, innocent victims, or rebels bidding for revenge? Lies within lies, treachery within treachery-Miles is caught in a race against time to stop a plot that could exile him from Barrayar forever. His burning hope lies in an unexpected ally, one with wounds as deep and honor as beleaguered as his own.
I feel like a bit of a broken record, but best include the warning anyway: spoilers below for earlier books in the series! So if you haven't read those, just go and do so. Please, you won't regret it!
In Komarr, we see Miles in his new life. His supposedly temporary appointment as Imperial Auditor was made a permanent one at the end of Memory, and he's been assigned his first proper case. A ship has crashed into the Soletta Array, a system of solar mirrors that is crucial for the planet of Komarr to get enough sunlight for terraforming to take. It was a bit of an inexplicable accident, and given Komarr's history of rebellion against their Barrayarran Imperial masters, ImpSec want to be sure they can rule out sabotage. Thus, Miles is dispatched to investigate, together with a fellow and more experienced Imperial Auditor, Professor Vorthys.
But things get more complicated than expected. The Soletta incident has some bizarre characteristics, and there's also clearly something amiss in the terraforming project. Not to mention the personal entanglements. Professor Vorthys has family in Komarr, a niece who is married to one of the Barrayarran administrators. He and Miles stay with them, and the better Miles comes to know Ekaterin Vorsoisson, the more he likes her.
I enjoyed every minute I was reading Komarr. The investigation is twisty and really well done (Miles does NOT get involved in easy cases), and I was riveted by the embryonic romance. First of all, it was interesting to see Miles, right from the beginning, from a woman's point of view (the POV switches from Ekaterin and Miles). And Ekaterin herself was... unexpected. I, like most of his family, expected Miles would end up falling in love properly with some sort of exciting galactic lover, like the imposing women he's so often got involved with. Ekaterin is not that. She is, to all appearances, the perfect proper Vor lady. She married young and had a child and her life is subsumed in supporting her Vor husband. She's serene and demure. But her life hasn't been easy, and it becomes clear that her imperturbable serenity is more a defense mechanism than a part of her personality. It was particularly interesting to see her marriage in real time at the beginning of the book, rather than in some sort of flashback. It wasn't an over-the-top abusive marriage, but it was quite clear how her husband's emotional manipulation ground her down. It was sad and frustrating and oppressive, rather than scary. And by the end of the book, we see that Ekaterin is just as impressive as Miles' previous girlfriends, just in her own way.
I also loved the secondary characters: Ekaterin's Uncle and Aunt Vorthys and her son, Nicky (who's not some perfect plot moppet). Even Ekaterin's husband was well done, and felt completely real. Not to mention the setting, which gives us the opportunity to see more about how Barrayar is seen from the outside.
The thing is, Komarr didn't feel quite as satisfying as the previous few books have. I think that might be because it felt like Miles was having it too easy. Bujold has got me used to a certain approach, which is basically her putting her characters through the wringer and facing them with the very things they fear. This doesn't happen here. Miles' professional situation is stable and assured. He's in a job that's perfectly suited to his intellectual talents, but where there isn't (or rather, shouldn't be) very much risk, physical or careerwise. His status ensures that all those around him defer to him and scramble to do his bidding. He enjoys the respect of his peers, whom he respects just as well. I thought at the beginning that the angst was going to come from the fact that the woman to attract his attention is married. But even that obstacle disappears quite easily, and then the only thing between him and his objective is that Ekaterin has had a bad marriage and is now understandably skittish.
What it comes down to, I think, is that Miles is in an unusual position of power all through this book, where he can even dictate to ImpSec. For all his extremely privileged upbringing and background, circumstances conspire in all the previous books to put him at a disadvantage and having to struggle to overcome this. In previous books, I've always been afraid for him. I wasn't here. It makes the book very pleasurable to read, and I loved it, but it didn't punch me in the gut, like pretty much all the previous ones have.
On to A Civil Campaign!
MY GRADE: A B+.