Komarr, by Lois McMaster Bujold

>> Monday, April 27, 2015

TITLE: Komarr
AUTHOR: Lois McMaster Bujold

PAGES: 384

SETTING: Futuristic
TYPE: Sci-fi
SERIES: 8th full-length title in the Vorkosigan series

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!



Jorrie Spencer 27 April 2015 at 15:00  

Komarr was my first Bujold book, and it was an excellent entry into the series actually (if, you know, you don’t start at the beginning). I think it was recent release (at the time), and I didn’t understand just how series oriented the books were. I can see it would have been a shift from previous books in the series, though.

Fernande,  27 April 2015 at 17:09  

Hi Rosario, I've been following your reviews of this series with great interest, since they're such a favourite of mine and it's great to see you enjoying them. And you quite often provide me with new insights and perspectives on Miles and his milieu. I have to confess I'm a little anxious about what you're going to think of A Civil Campaign, since I love it so much and worry that you might not, but I'll eagerly wait and see.

BTW, I loved We Were All Completely Beside Ourselves, so thanks for that review, and also for the Station Eleven review which I liked very much also.

Rosario 28 April 2015 at 06:32  

Jorrie: Interesting! Yes, I guess it would be a good place to start, just as the first Harriet Vane novel would be a good point to start with Sayers. You don't get all the history of the main character, but at least you get the whole romance arc!

Fernande: I'm glad you're enjoying the reviews! And -don't want to give any spoilers, but I've finished A Civil Campaign, and there's really no need to worry :-D

Those two books are my favourite kind of literary fiction. I hope I discover more this year!

Victoria Janssen 28 April 2015 at 19:43  

I really like the Ekaterin POV in this one, in particular.

CD,  29 April 2015 at 19:06  

I love KOMARR - it's definitely a quieter book but I had no problem with that as I felt that it was less about Miles and more about Ekaterin. I really loved the way that Bujold showed how a woman (or even just a person) can be strong without needing to wave guns around.

Like you, I appreciated the fact that while Ekaterin's marriage was an everyday sort of hell, it was portrayed as no less damaging for that. And it was really great to see Miles from a woman's point of view, even if all the engineering stuff went over my head...

Rosario 9 May 2015 at 12:05  

Sorry for answering so late, have been on holiday!

Victoria: Yes, although I have now read A Civil Campaign, and I like it there just as much!

CD: That's very true, actually. I think we might get even more of Ekaterin's POV than Miles'. The issue of how Ekaterin´s strength is characterised is so interesting. In the previous books, I kind of got the feeling that Bujold was setting up a contrast between galactic women, liberated and strong in exactly the same way as the men, and Vor ladies, happy to stay at home and support their lords and masters (which is why I always assumed Miles would have his HEA with a galactic woman). But here she shows us that even someone who is a Vor lady and, in essence, continues to be that till the end, can also be strong. It's really well done.

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