To really appreciate this book, you need to have read some of the previous ones in the series. Miles, full-speed-ahead manic hero of the Vorkosigan saga, has fallen in love with the beautiful widow, Ekaterin Vorsoisson, whom he met in the previous book, Komarr. In typically Milesian fashion, he structures his courtship along the lines of a military campaign, complete with surprise attacks and secret missions.
While Miles’ destined-for-disaster courtship is centre-stage, other characters also get their time in the sun. Kareen Koudelka is coming back from a student year on progressive Beta Colony, where she’s been… something… with Miles’ clone-brother, Mark. How is she going to explain this to her very Barrayaran parents – or not?
Then there’s Enrique, the brilliant biochemist whom Mark met, and either bought, kidnapped, or jail-broke from Escobar – complete with his revolutionary research project which arrives at Vorkosigan House in crates with air-holes.
Then there’s the question of the succession of the Vorrutyers’ District. The previous Count is dead, and his voluptuous sister Donna lodged an unspecified impediment to the accession of her despised cousin then immediately skipped the planet to Beta Colony, that centre of science and technology. But why? Donna is due back on Barrayar, and Miles’ cousin Ivan (who is rather feeling the lack of female companionship) is looking forward to meeting her again. It’s not going to go according to plan. Not his plan, anyway.
Vorrutyer’s district isn’t the only countship up for grabs. Count Vorbretten has discovered a nasty surprise in his genes… But surely being one-eighth Cetagandan isn’t going to be a problem on the planet that had Count Midnight the Horse (who always voted “Neigh”)?
And how is Miles going to stop Count Vormuir’s nefarious plan with the fertility clinic and the thirty uterine replicators, which is morally reprehensible but doesn’t seem to be against the law (yet)?
And all before the Imperial Wedding….
Lois McMaster Bujold manages to juggle multiple plot strands effortlessly. For sheer hilarity, watch out for the dinner party scene, but there are gems throughout the book. This book is a comedy of manner and morals, rather than a military space opera or a detective story, and it succeeds brilliantly. You can read it simply as an excellent, and entertaining, sci-fi novel (preferably somewhere where laughing out loud will not be a problem), but you can also read a little deeper. Bujold manages to discuss:
- Gender (the meaning and mutability of)
- Societal gender roles (the construction and/or falsity of)
- Parenthood (the nature of, and the impact of IVF and ectogenesis on)
- Genetic engineering
- and more…
This is one of my all-time favourite books; it’s just as funny and clever reading it the twentieth time as it was the first time.