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Lois McMaster Bujold – Winterfair Gifts

October 3, 2011

85. Winterfair Gifts by Lois McMaster Bujold (2004)
Vorkosigan Saga, Book 13.5

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
12. Komarr
13. A Civil Campaign
(stars indicate stand-alones/starting points)

Read By: Grover Gardner
Length: 2h 32m (71 pages)

Genre: Science Fiction
Started / Finished: 29 June 2011

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

Weddings are hard on
everyone, but this one is
especially rough.

Summary: Winterfair Gifts is a novella, originally published in the anthology Irresistible Forces, and takes place a few months after the events of A Civil Campaign. It’s the Winterfair season, and Miles Vorkosigan is only a few days away from his wedding to Ekaterin Vorsoisson. Vorkosigan House is in an uproar with the preparations, only exacerbated by the arrival of a contingent of Galactic guests, including Miles’s former comrades from the Dendarii Free Mercenaries. For some, it’s a homecoming, but for others — most notably the genetically engineered eight-foot-tall super-soldier Sergeant Taura — it’s their first visit to a planet that is still in the grip of a fierce cultural prejudice against genetic mutations.

Miles details his most junior armsman, Roic, to be Taura’s guide around Vorbarr Sultana; Miles knows this may well be Taura’s last chance to see Barrayar, given the shortened lifespan that comes part and parcel with her engineered enhancements, and he wants the trip to be a pleasant one. Roic is a quintessential small-town boy, although his initial wariness of Taura begins to dissipate as he gets to know her. However, one casual remark about genetic engineering (in reference to the butterbugs of A Civil Campaign) shatters their growing connection. Meanwhile, it seems as though someone is plotting to stop Miles and Ekaterin’s wedding, and only Taura, with Roic’s help, will be able to save them.

Review and Recommendation: Unusually for the Vorkosigan Saga, Winterfair Gifts is narrated entirely from the point-of-view of a minor character — an extremely minor character, if truth be told. I don’t remember Armsman Roic having more than five lines in A Civil Campaign, but he’s thrust into the spotlight in Winterfair Gifts, and he acquits himself quite well.

What surprised me most about this story was how effective it was at breaking my heart on behalf of characters other than Miles. The Vorkosigans have been around for so many books that they feel like family, so it’s no surprise that my heart breaks on Miles’s behalf roughly once per novel. Taura’s had much less screen time, but Lois McMaster Bujold is so deft with her characterizations that there were several times in the two and a half hours of this book that I found myself going “Oh, please, no, don’t do that to her; hasn’t she been through enough?” It all wraps up to a satisfying conclusion, but Bujold manages to wring a lot of drama and a lot of emotion out of 71 pages of text.

While Winterfair Gifts was originally published in an anthology of fantasy and sci-fi love stories, I don’t know how well it fared with a reader unfamiliar with the Vorkosigan Saga. The basic plot is straightforward enough, but so many nuances and details would be lost without knowing these characters and their backgrounds. For example, while the general implications of Ellie Quinn’s wedding present of a cat blanket is explained within the confines of the story, I don’t think that someone who hadn’t read both Brothers in Arms and Memory would really grasp how sharply double-edged that present is.

Within the context of the broader series, however, it’s an engaging little story. I do wish the solution to the mystery had been developed a little more; as it is it feels almost like an afterthought. But even so, I really enjoyed listening to it — Grover Gardner does a wonderful job with the narration, as usual — and it made a nice cap to Miles’s and Ekaterin’s romance of the past two books. 4 out of 5 stars.

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

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

First Line: From Armsman Roic’s wrist com the gate guard’s voice reported laconically, “They’re in. Gate’s locked.”

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 3, 2011 10:40 pm

    I really need to get around to reading this series!

    • October 4, 2011 1:51 pm

      Kailana – Yes you do! I only have two more reviews’ worth to post, so you’d better get crackin’! :-D

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