Book Review – A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold

a-civil-campaignI wanted to read A Civil Campaign as soon as I read this introduction to a review of the omnibus Cordelia’s Honor:

Lois McMaster Bujold wrote what is quite possibly the most famous, beloved, and awesome science fiction romance ever, A Civil Campaign. A Civil Campaign is a Regency Romance set in space, with manners, fantastic clothes, and awkward dinner parties mixed with cloning, recovery from physical and mental trauma, inter-galactic politics, humor, sadness, glowing HEAs, and much more.

Doesn’t that sound fantastic? Really, why wouldn’t you want to read it?

I am here to report that A Civil Campaign lives up to the hype. I absolutely adored it.

This picks up a few months after the events of Komarr, with Miles back on Barrayar and bound and determined to start courting Ekaterin properly. However, he knows that she’s not all that keen on getting married again, so it’s a SECRET courtship. A secret courtship that he tells absolutely everybody about except for her.

(Don’t worry. He gets smacked for this. A few times.)

Then there’s his brother, Mark. Mark returns home from university with a brilliant scientist (that he may have helped escape from prison), a girlfriend, a bunch of bugs, and a business idea that involves all three.

And during all of this, Miles’s foster brother, Gregor (who also happens to be the Emperor of Barrayar), is getting married, which means that wedding preparations are taking up a great deal of everyone’s time.

It. Is. AWESOME.

I loved the way the various plot threads intersect and the culture clash between the staunchly traditional and conservative Barrayar society and the more progressive Beta Colony. I loved the more serious political plots moving under the romances.

I loved getting to meet Miles’s family: Mark, Ivan, Gregor, and his parents, Cordelia and Aral. Even though I hadn’t read the previous books that built the relationships between these characters, I still got the sense of camaraderie between them all. And I loved seeing how Ekaterin and her son, Nicky, slowly became integrated into the Vorkosigan family.

I loved seeing Miles in love and generally stumbling over himself and becoming his own worst enemy as he tries to do what he assumes is the right thing. (Because it’s what he wants, of course it’s the right thing.) And when he screws it up and it’s identified how badly he screws it up, Miles does apologetic like nobody’s business.

Ekaterin really grows in this book as well. After all the events of Komarr, it’s wonderful to see her come into her own, to stand up against people who want to beat her back into the mold she just escaped. And over the course of this novel, she becomes more than a match for Miles.

A Civil Campaign is much longer than most of the romances I’ve read (400 pages in a hardback), but it never feels that long. With everything that’s going on—the wedding plans, romantic plots, political plots, and business plots—it needs the space. The pacing’s brisk, and I was never bored.

There are so many things I want to talk about in this, but half the fun of the book was the discovery, seeing how all the best-laid plans you learn about in the first few chapters of the book just go straight to hell by the middle of it.

If the idea of a Regency-style romance set on another planet intrigues you, and if the elements from the quote at the beginning of this post pique your interest, then you must add A Civil Campaign to your TBR list. It was such a joy to read. I really couldn’t put it down.

I’d recommend reading Komarr first to get to know Miles and Ekaterin before you jump into this one, but as both are really, really good, you won’t be sorry.

A to Z Challenge – K is for Komarr

komarrAs a fan of both science fiction and romance, it’s probably a crime that I haven’t read any of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga novels before now, particularly since they’ve come so highly recommended. However, the idea of jumping into a series that is something like fifteen books long is daunting, to say the least.

(Because I know I’m not the only one who has that “thing” about starting a series from book one, right? And you have to go through the whole thing to read it properly? About the only series I don’t do that with is Discworld, and that’s because the books are so loosely connected you could probably read them in reverse order and still be fine.)

(Sir Terry Pratchett is awesome. But I digress.)

So I hunted up a “recommended reading order” list for the Vorkosigan Saga and found one written by Bujold herself. Though her suggestion is to read it in internal chronological order as opposed to publication order, she also said that Komarr could be an alternate entry point to the series.

This thrilled me, because it would give me a chance to read some of the later books that I’d seen praised. Plus, Komarr was the only “place to start” book available at the bookstore at the time.

Thus, I hopped in with both feet.

Komarr is a world undergoing very gradual terraforming. Right now, the world is too cold and the atmosphere has too much carbon dioxide for people to be able to live on it. Thus, the human population of Komarr is restricted to domed living while the planet takes its sweet time getting human-friendly. This requires a space-based soletta-array, which helps increase the amount of light and heat going to the planet.

Then an explosion of some sort damages the array and kills everyone on board, and the Emperor of Barrayar (another planet, of which Komarr is a colony) sends two of his Imperial Auditors to find out if the soletta explosion was a tragic accident or deliberate sabotage.

Of course, it’s never that simple.

In Komarr, Miles Vorkosigan, the protagonist of Bujold’s previous novels, has overcome some seriously limiting injuries (like, you know, death) which forced him to retire from a military career and embark on a new one as an Imperial Auditor. His greatest strengths are his intelligence, charisma, and energy, not to mention a great internal wit.

It’s taking him time to adjust to his new role and new responsibilities, or rather, the lack thereof. Miles has an amazing amount of leeway in what he’s allowed to do as an Auditor, and I found myself enjoying his internal dilemma as he tries to figure out the balance between doing his job and abusing his power.

That inner struggle also leads to more “what ifs” and “if onlys” throughout the story, as some of Miles’s actions—or lack thereof—result in the antagonists getting a step ahead, or so he perceives.

Ekaterin Vorsoisson is Miles’s host, a woman who inadvertently gets into the middle of the soletta array investigation. She’s very much a product of her culture in terms of what she holds as important (her honor and her duty to her husband, and by extension, her family and Barrayar).

However, after ten years of an increasingly loveless marriage, Ekaterin is beginning to question the importance and wisdom of pledging her honor to a man who demands her fidelity, her trust, and her silence, while he doesn’t reciprocate.

I loved reading about Ekaterin and her struggle as she tries to decide what matters to her after years of being whittled down and hollowed out until she feels like there’s nothing there. She’s surprised by how much she likes Miles, since she hasn’t had a chance to really develop any friendships outside of her marriage because of her husband’s jealousy.

Even though it comes later in the series, I didn’t feel too out of my depth reading Komarr. Granted, I’m not exactly an expert on Bujold, but it never felt like she was info-dumping. There are some things I’m sure I’d have understood better if I’d read more of the novels, but I picked up enough not to feel lost in this one.

My one issue with the story was the ending. It felt like a little too much tension had been released before the actual climax, and I didn’t feel much menace from the antagonists. However, the rest of the story was well-written and entertaining with characters I enjoyed, so I can forgive that.

Plus, the book was good enough that after I finished I put it down, sighed happily, and immediately picked up the sequel. 🙂