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Lois McMaster Bujold – Komarr

July 18, 2011

66. Komarr by Lois McMaster Bujold (1998)
Vorkosigan Saga, Book 12

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

Read By: Grover Gardner
Length: 12h 44m (368 pages)

Genre: Science Fiction

Started: 07 May 2011
Finished: 15 May 2011

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

Miles finds someone he
can love; the problem is, she’s
already married.

Summary: For Miles’s first assignment as an official Imperial Auditor, he is sent to investigate the crash of a space freighter into the Komarran Soletta Array — a giant mirrored satellite that provides much of the light and heat needed to make Komarr habitable. Not to investigate the mechanics of the crash itself — that much falls to Lord Auditor Vorthys, an engineering specialist — but to probe the political currents that eddy around the incident. Miles is normally right at home in the waters of politics and intrigue, but Komarr has only been under Barrayaran rule for a generation and many of its residents still think of Miles’s father as “The Butcher of Komarr.”

While they are planetside, Miles and Lord Vorthys are staying with his niece, Ekaterin Vorsoisson, whose husband, Etienne, works in Komarr’s terraforming department. Etienne is volatile and often aggressively hostile, and Ekaterin is deeply unhappy in her marriage. She is also afraid for the health of their son, who may be carrying the same genetic disease that his father has gone to such great lengths to hide. Miles immediately falls for his beautiful if reserved hostess, despite knowing that she’s thoroughly unavailable. But the more he investigates, the more he finds that Etienne is mixed up in some shady business, and the more he begins to suspect that what happened to the Soletta Array wasn’t an accident at all.

Review: Lois McMaster Bujold does a lot of things well. She writes convincing mysteries, witty yet believable dialogue, stories that nicely incorporate sci-fi elements without ever forgetting the basic human drama at their core. But if I had to pick one thing that I think Bujold is best at, it’s the development of complex, sympathetic, realistic, and memorable characters, even in very short spaces. Therefore, the main highlight of Komarr is being introduced to another one of these wonderful characters: Ekaterin Vorsoisson.

Ekaterin is obviously bound to play an important role in the series — no non-Vorkosigan would get so many chapters from their perspective otherwise. But even in her first appearance, she won my allegiance. Bujold’s depiction of the Vorsoissons’ troubled and emotionally abusive marriage is nothing short of harrowing. This device, of a woman stuck in a horrible marriage, could have gone badly wrong; I have a fairly low tolerance for victimhood in my heroines, and characters who complain about how terrible their lives or relationships are without doing anything about it lose my sympathy very quickly. But although Ekaterin’s marriage is terrible, she has reasons for staying with Etienne other than inertia, and those reasons are not only believable, but also contribute to Ekaterin’s overall characterization and likability. Plus, she finds her backbone partway through the story, and after that, she becomes progressively more awesome, to the point that her contribution to the climax of the story actually elicited cheers.

As much as I enjoyed meeting Ekaterin, I also enjoyed watching Miles continue to mature. While I wouldn’t go so far to say that Miles’s life up to this point has been easy, many of the problems he’s faced thus far have yielded to his particular blend of intelligence, strategic thinking, and charm. As a result, it’s fascinating to watch him struggle with a problem — in this case, his growing attraction to Ekaterin — where his normal approach is useless. Galactic politics and spaceship battles, Miles can handle with no problem, but he’s not particularly adept at interpersonal relationships, especially among the Vor. Watching Miles tackle something he’s not good at makes for an interesting change of pace.

The mystery aspect to the story was well done enough to hold my attention, even when my primary focus was on Miles and Ekaterin. The chapter split between Miles’s and Ekaterin’s points-of-view lets us see the solution to the mystery unfold from multiple angles, and I enjoyed watching the various storylines converge on the solution. There were a large number of newly-introduced tertiary characters, mostly Komarran scientists and officials, and I occasionally had trouble keeping a few of them straight, but for the most part I was able to follow along without a problem.

Grover Gardner’s narration of the audiobook was once again wonderful. Despite my complaints when I first listened to Shards of Honor, I found that by this point, I didn’t mind his narration of the chapters from a female POV — he manages to modulate his voice and his reading enough so that it was noticeably different from Miles’s sections, but without ever sounding breathy, girly, or fake. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Overall, if Memory was a transitional novel, Komarr is very clearly the start of a new chapter in Miles’s life, and if this book is any indication of what’s to come, it’s a chapter in which I’ll be very interested indeed.

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

Other Reviews: Ela’s Book Blog, Mama Librarian, Mervi’s Book Reviews
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: The last gleaming sliver of Komarr’s true-sun melted out of sight beyond the low hills on the western horizon.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. July 18, 2011 1:10 pm

    I really want to start this series, but I haven’t got around to it yet.

    • July 19, 2011 2:21 pm

      You should! It’s so good! (In case that didn’t come across clearly enough in my many, many fangirlish gushing posts.)

  2. July 19, 2011 7:29 pm

    This is one of my favourite Miles novels (though A Civil Campaign is hilarious). The problem is that I invested so much in Ekaterin that when she faded out in Diplomatic Immunity and is hardly mentioned in CryoBurn I felt rather sad, and let down somehow.

    • August 1, 2011 9:12 am

      Ela – I just finished Diplomatic Immunity, and I totally agree! That story could have been told in such a way that Ekaterin had a much more active role… especially since we know from Komarr she can handle herself under pressure.

  3. Lyssa permalink
    July 27, 2011 2:12 am

    As a long time reader of Bujold, I can only add that Miles’ story is one of the most well plotted as a whole. What always draws me to Bujold’s writing is her understanding of theme. Like a classical composer, she sets each book to explore one central theme, and then through each character she does so. Just as she explored the understanding of ‘Military’, War, and Death in The Warriors apprentice, with Komarr she seems to be examining what it means to have national pride (be it Komarran, or Vor). The protagonists in this story seem to reflect how an individual’s view of their place in society can be very different. With Ecaterina and Miles we see a very ‘nobel’ view of the Vor class, while with her husband we see the darker side of Barrayar culture, (namely the fear of mutation, and the sexist structure). They all came from the same culture (well mainly, we have to accept that Miles did have Cordelia’s leveling influence). I can only hope that you enjoy the rest of the series as much, (and look forward to reading your reviews of the novels).

  4. January 9, 2013 6:04 pm

    Another review that says nothing about the science in the story. We have a dead scientist who apparently started this entire sequence. We have an engineer in the conspiracy and a mathematician and physicist who solves the problem and an Imperial Auditor engineer who is there to solve what everyone thought was the original problem.

    But none of that matters, the story is about a bad marriage. Yeah right!

    This story has elements of The Cold Equations by Tom Godwin. The Laws of Physics don’t care if they destroy the entire human race. They are incapable of caring. So if a scientist makes a mistake in the process of making a new discovery, BANG! So what, the physics doesn’t care.

    That is a lesson from this story regardless of how good the characters are. Curiously Bujold’s father and brother are engineers. Any chance that rubbed off on her thinking and therefore writing?

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