When I read my first Bujold I was swept away by the phrasing, the characters, the world she built, and especially the sly, dry humor. Miles Vorkosigan is one of the best characters ever created in science fiction. I especially liked Brothers in Arms because it has Ivan too. Not as fond of her other more fantasy series though. This one should probably not be read until you have read all the others in the series because the entire book is peppered with references to past anecdotes that were full stories but do not carry the same punch as it would if you knew the characters involved.
p. 128 Like an army in the Time of Isolation, this reduced them to scavenging for provisions from the nearby civilian population.”
This is a highly amusing and appropriate way to describe how Cordelia and Jole, after a night in a cabin, go to the neighboring cottage that let them borrow the cabin to stay overnight. What a colorful and charming way to say “They went and got some breakfast at the landlords,”
p. 135 He laid out the plates and her tea with his usual military precision and then stood back and cleared his throat in the time-honored signal meaning, I am about to tell you something you don’t want to hear.”
Isn’t that a great description! nothing routine in the description of a routine. Serving food with “military precision” and instead of having Ryk simply say, “I have something to tell you” by coming at it from Cordelia’s perspective we get to know her character better, the dry humor, and the unspoken understanding between long time comrades.
Ghem Soren’s face pinched, trying to decode this; Kaya, sighing, translated, “That means no, Mikos.” Jole thought she knew very well it meant, Over my dead body, but the lieutenant wouldn’t have been sent to him if she’d been as lacking in nous as some of the rank-and-file.”
Isn’t that great prose! We learn that there are cultural differences that need requiring, diplomatically, and that Kaya has the respect and appreciation of her ability to grasp nuance. Plus the humor of the common but not truly serious phrase, over my dead body to most accurately establish his true opposition.
And the whole book is peppered with these types of character insights as if it were easy to come up with creative ways of describing feelings and thoughts while conveying complex characters consistent with a created world, and without boring descriptions. Fabulous writing, unfortunately this one leaves you dying for the arrival of Miles and he doesn’t show up until around page 182. Her previous books have you conditioned for some major disaster or invasion or rampage or something, but none of these things happen. So in the end it is a disappointing read more akin to silly romance stories with numerous bedroom situations dragged out unnecessarily slowly with too much hemming and hawing. But even though that is a bit tedious, she still comes up with phrases that amuse. For example, describing Cordelia and Oliver Jole who move from kissing to the bed, she says “Before they abandoned the vertical for a better axis. . . ” A much more inventive and world appropriate way of saying they laid down on the bed. Similarly, earlier when they move from a chair to the bed, the phrasing is pure Bujold: “The personnel transfer between vessels was accomplished without mishap, as Cordelia would have expected under Oliver’s command.”
A slow and tedious read broken by these moments of delightful phrasing to sum it up. But absolutely unreadable if you haven’t read the other books first because there are too many side references to them and the various factions and incidents that went before. This jumps us quite a bit into the future with Miles having toddler and even a bit older kids already.
Well, maybe she will give us another Ivan and Miles adventure for the next book. More action and less head games about life and love.