While I love Bujold’s Vorkosigan books in general, they vary a lot in quality. None of them are downright poor in my opinion, but the difference between the so-so ones and the great stuff (“Memory”, “A Civil Campaign”, etc) is vast. The two previous books in the loose series (“Diplomatic Immunity”, “Cryoburn”) have been in the so-so category – totally readable and competent, and good entertainment, but missing that something. I’m quite delighted to report that the latest book in the series, Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, is a return to the old form. It’s quite excellent, and it kept me up a few late nights when I really should have been sleeping.
It’s somewhat reminiscent of “A Civil Campaign”, in that it’s a mix of romantic comedy and deadly intrigue; however, the plot and locale is very different this time around, as is the cast. Miles is mostly off stage, the protagonist here is Miles’ cousin Captain Ivan Vorpatril. Ivan is very different from Miles. While not stupid, he’s not exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer either, especially when compared to his genius cousin. He’s quite comfortable in his life as military liaison, playing at being a ladies man and definitely not looking for the… “interesting” events which tend to happen around Miles. To his chagrin, those events come looking for him, this time around.
Things kick off when Byerly Vorrutyer, in the role of an undercover agent for Imperial Security, comes knocking and asks for a “small favor”. Ignoring the warning bells, partly because involved in this favor is a very beautiful young woman, apparently on the run from someone and in trouble, Ivan reluctantly agrees to look into the matter – and immediately gets more than he bargained for. Needless to say, things are not quite what they seem. After a flash decision at a key moment, Ivan’s life becomes extremely… interesting. Perhaps permanently.
I very much enjoyed this romp. The plot twists and turns, and I get the feeling that Bujold got some kicks out of using Ivan this time around, instead of the hyper-competent Miles. Many of the staple characters in the series make their appearance, but many normally center-stage people are kept in the sidelines here. There’s romance, action, diplomatic shenanigans, covert excavation work, ancient genetic research, and tons and tons of mud. Warmly recommended, though not necessarily to newcomers to the series – they should start with the Miles Vorkosigan books.
In case someone is wondering how I read this before the book is even released: no, I didn’t pirate a copy. I bought an ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) ebook copy from Baen, which is essentially a copy of the book before the final proofread stage. I only spotted a few typos, so I’m confident that what I read is almost exactly the final product.
Cryoburn is the latest book in Bujold’s “Miles Vorkosigan” series. It’s a great series, but it’s also a bit problematic. It has some fantastic books later on, but the (chronologically) earlier books are only “ok”. However, in order for the later awesome stuff to fully resonate, you pretty much have to read the earlier books too. I consider the high points of the series to be “Mirror Dance” and “Memory”, with the light(er)hearted “A Civil Campaign” getting special mention. “Diplomatic Immunity”, the next book after those, wasn’t nearly as good in my mind, and unfortunately the same can be said for this book. It’s by no means bad; it’s good page-turning entertainment and quite solidly written. However, at no point (bar perhaps the very end) does it really rise above that.
Miles is visiting Kibou-daini, attending a conference on cryotechnology, when he is suddenly kidnapped. Escaping his captors, he wanders off in a drugged state of mind and encounters some locals – and while “off the grid” in this fashion, finds out some facts about the local cryofreezing business that many would prefer remain secret. In a way it’s quite a traditional Miles Vorkosigan plot, but it’s somehow muted here; Miles is quite passive in many regards here, with side characters stealing some of the action, and it’s not quite the same. There is an important event at the book’s end, told via several very short snap viewpoints, which promises more upcoming stuff for Miles to do – so I’m hopeful for another great book in this series. This one is worth a read if you’ve read the previous books, it’s good entertainment and great vacation reading, but it doesn’t rise to even the level of the previous book, let alone the highlights of the series.