Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Komarr - Lois McMaster Bujold

Alright. It’s been a Vorkosigan couple of weeks here, and the trend may continue for a while. I want to apologise, but also, I don’t, because the series in general is so good, and the next book in our reread sequence,
Komarr, is absolutely one of my favourites.

The book begins with an accident. Well, with a mystery. Well, with an explosion. Well, with a mysterious explosion. Well, with a mysterious explosion which damages a solar array that helps keep a Barrayaran conquered planet fed, watered, and not-rebelling. Was it an accident? Was it rebellious dissidents? Was it something else entirely? Who the hell knows. 

Having said that, Miles Vorkosigan is going to find out.

Having been forcibly parted from the Barrayaran military in Memory, Miles is tryinng on a new hat, that of Imperial Auditor. He’s now a galactic troubleshooter, who speaks with the Emperor’s voice, and can essentially do whatever he likes, a sling as it solves the problem at hand, and as long as he can justify it in person to the emperor. We all thought intergalactic secret agent was Miles’ dream job. I think Imperial Auditor is the job he needs. It rewards out of the box thinking. It hands you virtually unlimited power. And it expects a duty-bound Vor lord to have enough sense of responsibility to be exhilarated and terrified by both of the first two things. Miles..well, he’s always wanted to find a pair of shoes big enough to fit his drive, and so, here he is, investigating an interstellar terrorist bombing-slash-accident. 

The investigation, the who did what, when, where and why is  by turns tense, byzantine and darkly comic. It certainly kept me guessing. I’ve re-read it enough times to see the twists coming now, and yet they somehow always still land their hits perfectly. You’ll see dogged determination, paperwork, interrogations, and some darn sneaky investigation at play here, in a world away from the Barrayar, beta and interstellar fleets we’ve known until now. Komarr is a rich planet, a planet driven by money, and a planet uneasy under the yoke of the Barrayarans, a people it betrayed to their previous conquerors. It’s a subtle place, a place  still stirring between identities. A place tat may know where it is three generations from now, but for now is torn between embracing the wealth and power of a Barrayaran empire, or tearing down the fragile peace and charting their own destiny. 

And here is Miles, the son of the man who conquered Komarr for Barrayar, looking to solve their problems for them.


The stage is a grand one then, and the story fast-paced and convincing. But it’s the characters that make this one, that make my heart ache for them, even the fools and idiots and villains. A key figure is ekaterin Vorsoisson, whose husband is the deputy administrator for a key ministry, largely staffed by Komarrans, whom he barely tolerates. Madame Vorsoisson is bound to her husband by loyalty more than love, and by their shared family, their little boy, for whom she has every hope in the world. Vorsoisson is, himself, a petty man in many ways. Misreading everything in the worst light. Struggling with prejudices and preconceptions of Barrayaran society, a man out of his time, and suffering, along with his family, because of it. Every time I read this book, I see Ekaterin’s husband, and I ask myself to be better. To do better. Because as a character, Vorsoisson is banal and prosaically awful, each one of us on one of the worst days of our lives, over and over again. And Ekaterin has turned herself so small, to fit into his vision of the world. 

And here is Miles, the human tornado, physically small, but definitely a giant, there to investigate her husband’s department, and show another way through, with verve and grace and more than a little accidental humility. Oops.

Komarr is a fantastic book, one I cannot recommend highly enough. It has family drama, and raw truth and pain backing it. It has a story filled with mystery and quiet, tense-wired adventure. It has a world that will amaze and delight even as it baffles. And in the end, its a damn fine book, and one you’ll read again, and again, and again. 

So go do that. I will be.


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