This was a pivotal book that I missed on my first patchy run at this series. The library didn't have it, but it did the next one, so I came to read this with some idea of what happened in Komarr, but not when. Which ended up being important. And it may be superfluous to say about a Lois McMaster Bujold book at this point, but I liked this a lot.
Let's step back a bit and talk about the plot, then go on from there. This is set on Komarr, under Barrayaran control since the time of Miles' father. Miles is sent there with another Imperial Auditor to investigate the destruction of part of the solar array that helps keep Komarr viable as a world. Was it sabotage? A mistake? Simple accident?
Miles is feeling out his power as Lord Auditor, trying to walk a narrow line between using his power well, and the ability he can clearly perceive to abuse it. This is set against a domestic story of a marriage in tatters, where a long campaign of isolation and emotional abuse has taken its toll on a wife and mother. What power does she have in the situation? To whom does she owe her loyalty? Who is she if she is forsworn?
These are heavy topics, yet, as always, the books are not dour. They are entertaining, and interesting, and Bujold sprinkles through little insights of such depth with light touch. It is breathtaking, but never preachy. I am in awe of this talent.
This brings me to what I mentioned in the first paragraph, and what I'm coming to realize is a hallmark of many of her books. Having read A Civil Campaign, I knew one very important event in this book. It's the kind of event that, consumer of fiction as I am, I assumed was the big denouement, the centrepiece at the end that brought everything to a climax.
It wasn't. In fact, it happened almost exactly halfway through. And so most of this book was about the aftermath. I start thinking about her other books, and realize that that's often the way she seems to approach it. What other authors would likely have as the end, the strings wrapping up, Bujold puts about in the middle, and her stories are as much about how you survive those big moments as what led up to them. The repercussions, physical, emotional, social, communal - that's what she's interested in, much of the time.
I love it. I love everything about that. She is so good at saying "and then what?" and going from there, and watching these characters we love struggle with loss, with betraying and betrayal, with knowledge, and then watching the further wringer those things put them through - it's amazingly well done.
Of course, it's Miles, so my emotions are already engaged. But this first introduction of Ekaterin, even though, with my messed-up reading schedule, it's the second time I'm meeting her, it's hard not to fall for her as a character as hard as you do for Miles. She is just so entirely herself. She could be no one else. That's true of so many of Bujold's characters, and that is high praise indeed.
Watching her struggling with the aftermath, watching Miles, it makes me glad to know the next book already so I know what will come. But it's still a difficult one - perhaps one of the more difficult Bujold books, emotionally. Again, not heavy. But with surprising depth.