Review: Komarr, Lois McMaster Bujold

[This review is spoiler-free for Komarr, but makes reference to some past events in the Vorkosigan series.]

I've come to the conclusion that the overreaching theme of Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan series is identity (or one of them, anyway). While I'm a little hampered in confirming this since most of my books are several hundred miles away, I think my memory of the trend is fairly accurate: Shards of Honor and Barrayar are about Cordelia adding expatriate Betan, wife, and mother status to her identity; the subsequent books up through Memory deal with Miles and his rather complicated identity issues—with the added bonus of Miles and Mark trying to cope with clone-brother Mark's existence in Mirror Dance. Numerous secondary characters go through this process, also, notably Emperor Gregor Vorbarra. Komarr continues this trend.

I used to say that Memory was the companion piece to Mirror Dance, because of their parallel tone and content. I now think Komarr is actually a better companion to Mirror Dance, since it adds structure to the list of similarities (though I suspect Mirror Dance will continue to be the grimmest of the books until, perhaps, Aral dies). Here, one Madame Ekaterin Vorsoisson takes Mark's place as the alternate viewpoint character and the person undergoing the major identity crisis (Miles is still adjusting to his new Auditor's role, but Ekaterin's dilemmas generally drive the plot). Ekaterin is married, disastrously, to Administrator Etienne Vorsoisson, who oversees part of the terraforming project on the Barrayan colony planet Komarr. Miles encounters the Vorsoissons on his first assignment as a permanent Auditor, determining whether damage to Komarr's solar mirror was accident, sabotage, or some odd combination of the two.

As Miles slowly progresses in solving his mystery, Ekaterin slowly progresses in recovering her self. As Bujold has stated, she plots by thinking of the worst thing that could happen to her characters—and then doing it to them. The important qualifier here, which Bujold doesn't explicitly state, is that it's the worst possible thing that the characters can still grow from [1]. Watching Ekaterin, another of her believable and likable characters, break out of her stifling situation and reclaim her identity is truly satisfying. The central mystery is more, well, mysterious, than that of Memory, and Bujold's touch with characterization on the small (individual) and large (sociopolitical) scales is as deft as ever. Her sense of humor is also on display as well, particularly so in the very last scene, which provoked an extreme attack of the giggles.

In summary: Komarr is yet another well crafted, entertaining, and moving novel from Bujold. It is probably a decent place for newcomers to the series to start, as it provides an outsider's view of Miles and depends less on backstory than some recent installments. My only complaint is that it ends sooner than I would have liked—while it ends in a perfectly fitting place, it holds out such terribly interesting possibilities for future books that I (greedily) want ImpWed now [2]. But other than that, Komarr is a worthy addition to one of the best series around.

[1] I think Graydon properly gets the credit for this insight. I don't, anyway.

[2] The sequel to Komarr is A Civil Campaign. ImpWed was the working title.

%T   Komarr 
%A   Bujold, Lois McMaster 
%C   New York
%D   1998
%G   0-671-87877-8
%I   Baen
%O   hardcover, US$22.00
%P   311pp

Copyright May 8, 1998 by Kate Nepveu. Originally posted to rec.arts.sf.written.

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