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Lois McMaster Bujold – Cetaganda

April 7, 2011

25. Cetaganda by Lois McMaster Bujold (1996)
Vorkosigan Saga, Book 6

Read my review of book:
1. Falling Free*
2. Shards of Honor*
3. Barrayar
4. The Warrior’s Apprentice*
5. The Vor Game
7. Ethan of Athos*
8. Brothers in Arms
(stars indicate stand-alones/starting points)

Read By: Grover Gardner
Length: 9h 18m (352 pages)

Genre: Science Fiction

Started: 06 February 2011
Finished: 15 February 2011

Where did it come from? From Blackstone Audio for review.
Why do I have it? Vorkosigan novels, yay!

Miles can’t even go
to a funeral without
getting in trouble.

Summary: The Cetagandan Empire may be Barrayar’s main military rival, but when the Cetagandan Empress dies, political niceties must still be maintained. In this case, the young officer Miles Vorkosigan, son of the Barrayaran Prime Minister, and his cousin Ivan are sent to Cetaganda to attend the galactic funeral proceedings. However, they’ve barely made it off their spaceship — and haven’t, to their knowledge, offended anyone yet — when they’re attacked by a servant of the late empress… The same servant who is later found in the middle of the mourning procession with his throat cut.

Miles and Ivan are torn about how to report this incident, and to whom, and puzzled as to how they’ve acquired such obviously powerful enemies so quickly. Also puzzling is the mysterious object left behind: a seemingly inert rod bearing the seal of the Star Crèche — the elite genetic repository for the Cetagandan upper class. The Cetagandan aristocracy is rigidly stratified, with the Ghem Lords in charge of the military, and the Haut Lords ruling the Ghem. The Haut exist in such luxury and seclusion that Haut Ladies travel everywhere inside opaque force-field bubbles, seen in the flesh by no one outside the Haut.

With that social system in mind, Miles is shocked when a Haut Lady corners him to demand the return of the missing object. But given that he still doesn’t know why he and Ivan were attacked in the first place, Miles is unsure whom to trust, even as he uncovers a plot that could shatter the very foundations of the Cetagandan Empire.

Review: The more I listen, the more I realize that the Vorkosigan Saga books come in several distinct types, and Cetaganda has confirmed that I prefer the books that are centered around a mystery more than the books that focus heavily on military strategy. Sleuthing beats spacefights, at least on my own personal scale. Cetaganda takes place almost entirely planet-side, and it’s got a good and delicious mystery at its core. It’s well paced, with each fresh revelation only leading to a deeper mystery, so that you’re left feeling satisfied yet intrigued throughout. Clues are sprinkled around, although some of the more important ones are subtle enough that they can zip right past and be gone if you’re not listening closely.

While Lois McMaster Bujold’s familiar themes of identity and what makes a person who they are continue to be developed throughout the book, what I found the most interesting thematically was the development of the Cetagandan caste system and the relative role of gender. Bujold has built a society that takes traditional gender roles and power structures and gives them a new twist, taking them to their extremes in a way I’ve not seen before. The world of the unapproachable Haut Ladies actually makes a very interesting counterpoint to the all-male society of Ethan of Athos, which is the next book in the series’ internal chronology.

This book also had a very interesting play on the political boundaries of the Barrayaran Empire. Barrayar and Cetaganda, while not (currently) active enemies, are tense rivals at best, and Miles finds himself in a position where he can choose to save the Cetagandan power base from falling into disarray. The ending of the book hints at the broader political implications of his choices, but I thought they could have been expanded upon more than they were.

The audio production was seamlessly enjoyable; Gardner’s slightly sarcastic voice is a great fit both for Miles’s character and for Bujold’s dry wit. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Miles’s background is less important to Cetaganda than it is to some of the other mid-series Vorkosigan novels, so it could ostensibly be read on its own. However, it’s a lot richer for knowing more about the rest of the Galactic worlds, to better bring Cetagandan society into contrast.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Fantasy Cafe, Flight Into Fantasy
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: “Now is it, ‘Diplomacy is the art of war pursued by other men,'” asked Ivan, or was it the other way around? ‘War is diplo–‘”

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. April 9, 2011 2:37 pm

    I feel I missed a lot of the subtleties in ‘Diplomatic Immunity’ by not having read ‘Cetaganda’ beforehand. It sounds like a really interesting read.

    • April 11, 2011 10:47 am

      Ela – I haven’t gotten to Diplomatic Immunity yet, but it’s nice to know that some of the plot points will come back around… thus far, it’s seemed pretty separate from the plot of subsequent books.

      • Bill Woods permalink
        April 19, 2011 1:35 pm

        Pretty separate, but did you notice the bit that sets up Ethan? … Which was written a decade earlier.

      • April 22, 2011 8:10 am

        I did! I’m listening to these books more-or-less according to the internal chronology of the series, but I’m always impressed at how well they flow together!

  2. April 9, 2011 2:45 pm

    I’ve never listened to a Vorkosigan audio book – I really need to do that! I’ve read all of them, but audio would be a great revisit. I’m glad to hear you like the narrator. Does he always do them? Or are there others?

    • April 11, 2011 10:50 am

      Jill – I’m 98% sure that Grover Gardner does all of them. I thought it was a little strange that he read the Cordelia books as well, since they’re from a female POV, but even there, he does a really nice job.

  3. HeatherF permalink
    April 20, 2011 2:57 pm

    When I think of this book, two words come to mind – “kitten tree”! That part was hilarious and disturbing at the same time. Looking forward to your review of Mirror Dance!

    • April 22, 2011 8:11 am

      Heather – Oh, man, that part still makes me shudder. Adorable and gross all at the same time!

  4. September 29, 2011 8:33 pm

    Did you ever review Diplomatic Immunity? It seems like you ought to have, but I can’t find it!

    • September 29, 2011 8:42 pm

      Bookwyrme – I’ve read it, but my review hasn’t gone up yet… give it a few weeks! All my posted Vorkosigan Saga reviews are here: https://fyreflybooks.wordpress.com/tag/vorkosigan-saga/

      Short version: I enjoyed it (of course), really liked seeing Bel and the quaddies again, thought the mystery was well-done, but was disappointed that Ekaterin was sidelined for so much of the book.

      • September 30, 2011 1:03 pm

        Ah good. I look forward to the review.

        I’m making my own way back through them, though in a zig-zaggy, out of order way that began when I read Cryoburn and then thought I’d go back to reread Diplomatic Immunity, which was packaged with Falling Free. Similar “Oh, why not?” have been leading me astray since.

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