>> Monday, January 18, 2016
This is a comedy of terrors...
A rich Komarran merchant fleet has been impounded at Graf Station, in distant Quaddiespace, after a bloody incident on the station docks involving a security officer from the convoy's Barrayaran military escort. Lord Miles Vorkosigan of Barrayar and his wife, Lady Ekaterin, have other things on their minds, such as getting home in time to attend the long-awaited births of their first children. But when duty calls in the voice of Barrayar's Emperor Gregor, Miles, Gregor's youngest Imperial Auditor (a special high-level troubleshooter) has no choice but to answer.
Waiting on Graf Station are diplomatic snarls, tangled loyalties, old friends, new enemies, racial tensions, lies and deceptions, mysterious disappearances, and a lethal secret with wider consequences than even Miles anticipates: a race with time for life against death in horrifying new forms. The downside of being a troubleshooter comes when trouble starts shooting back.
After the emotional rollercoaster that was the amazing A Civil Campaign I took a little break from the Vorkosigan series, and the long trip back to Uruguay seemed like the perfect time to start the next one in audio.
Miles and Ekaterin are on their way back from the honeymoon, when a message from Gregor catches up with them. A Komarran merchant fleet, travelling under Barrayarran military protection, has been impounded in a distant part of the galaxy. Turns out Miles is relatively close, and could he head over and straighten things out? Oh, well, at least he and Ekaterin were on their way BACK from their honeymoon!
When I saw just where the Komarran fleet had been impounded, I cheered. Miles and Ekaterin are heading to Graf Station, in Quaddie-space. Yep, Graf as in Leo Graf, the engineer hero of Vorkosigan series prequel Falling Free. In that book, which took place a couple of centuries before the main books in the series, Graf was sent by his employers to a planet where they used genetically engineered slaves called quaddies. Quaddies were created with several genetic modifications, chief amongst them that they have 4 arms, 2 of them where legs would be in regular humans. They were basically designed for 0-gravity environments. Long story short, in Falling Free Graf helped the quaddies break free and establish their own home world. Centuries later, that’s where the action takes place.
Miles arrives in Graf Station to find a bit of a muddle. A Barrayarran military man has disappeared under mysterious circumstances, and in the aftermath, the aggressive Barrayarrans have let their instinctive disgust for what they see as mutants create a huge mess. Miles must negotiate with the quaddies to straighten things out, and do so quickly enough to get back to Barrayar in time for the birth of his and Ekaterin two children (uterine replicator, of course. Miles would absolutely not put Ekaterin through a barbaric body birth!). But of course, the relatively minor mess Miles was supposed to sort out turns out to be anything but, in true Miles style.
The plot here, which I kind of assumed at first would be a minor imbroglio designed to let us see Miles and Ekaterin interact as newlyweds, turned out to be fantastic. I loved the very gradual way in which the seriousness of what’s going on was revealed. What seemed an inoffensive mystery for Miles to investigate turns into nail-biting suspense, at times truly terrifying. The plot also gave us the chance to see Miles operate in his Imperial Auditor role almost as a diplomat, but with the ingenuity of Admiral Naismith shining through. I also particularly liked the cultural clashes between Quaddies and ‘downsiders’, as they call them, and the way Miles navigated them.
I also loved that we not only see what’s up with the Quaddies and what the world they’ve created is like, but we meet Bel Thorn again. We last saw Bel being dismissed after its actions in Mirror Dance, and it was great to see how its been doing. On the character front, in the end there was a lot less Miles/Ekaterin interaction than I expected. That was a bit of a shame, because I find Ekaterin to be a fantastic character, but Miles’ adventures more than compensated for the loss.
This was a really solid entry in the series. Now onto Ivan's story, so I can be all caught up with the series by the time the next one comes out in February!
MY GRADE: A B+.