Alex and I review the final instalment of the Vorkosigan Saga (so far?) with Cryoburn. Our full review series of the Vorkosigan Saga are as follows:
Cordelia’s Honor (Shards of Honor and Barrayar)
Young Miles omnibus (The Warrior’s Apprentice and “The Mountains of Mourning” and The Vor Game)
Miles, Mystery and Mayhem omnibus (Cetaganda, and Ethan of Athos and “Labyrinth”)
“Borders of Infinity” and Brothers in Arms
Miles in Love omnibus (comprising Komarr, A Civil Campaign and “Winterfair Gifts”)
By Lois McMaster Bujold
Well Tehani, I guess we actually have to bite the bullet and admit that we have come to the end of the Vorkosigan saga, as fas as has been published so far anyway.
*sniff* I think we might have put this last review off a little, cos it’s THE END (so far, we can only hope!).
I KNOW I was putting this off! I have read somewhere that she is working on ANOTHER one, but given it took a decade to get from Diplomatic Immunity to this, there will be no holding of breath.
I’ll start off by sacrificing my reputation and saying that this is definitely not my favourite story – I would not want to come to Miles with this book, because I think that the first couple of chapters might have really turned me off! In fact for the first third or so I wasn’t overly impressed at all. It was a very abrupt beginning, the whole wandering-through-the-tunnels thing; being suddenly on a world that we’ve never experienced before, AND minus Ekaterin – to whom I had become so accustomed over the last few books – was quite disorienting. I had to keep reminding myself that I trusted Bujold’s story-telling and character-development skills in order to keep going.
The beginning is a bit off-putting, for sure. There is precedent though, as it uses the same technique as in “Borders of Infinity”, dropping us into the middle of action we know nothing about. I thought it was very effective, especially given most people reading the book WILL know the characters, so you’re not coming into it blind. Having said that, you’re right in that if this was your first Miles book it would be a shock!
You’re right that it’s similar to “Borders”. Somehow though, that felt more … familiar maybe? Because Miles had been having similar-ish experiences. This time, though, it’s quite different from the last couple of books.
Anyway, as Bujold has started to implement over the last few books, we have multiple perspectives again in this novel; the other main one presented is that of the young boy, Jin, whom Miles befriends – or is befriended by, really. This was interesting and different for the Miles books, since previously it’s been the perspective of people we already know, or Ekaterin. It did make me like the young characters a bit more, and it was a different and otherwise impossible view of the world itself.
And don’t forget Roic! The stoic armsman has a bigger role here, foreshadowed in his point of view narration of “Winterfair Gifts”. It’s interesting, because the first time I read Cryoburn, I absolutely raced through it, and was left with the impression when I talked about it later that it was Miles and Roic narrating, and that I hadn’t liked it. That first time, it felt like the two voices were too similar and there didn’t seem to be a purpose to the dual narrative perspective. THIS time though, I had a completely different opinion! I’d forgotten about Jin, and yes, I think that works really well – particularly interesting in that Miles is now a REAL DADDY and has a much better understanding of kids! But even the Roic POV worked better for me, and I think it was well done.
I do love me some Roic, I’ll admit. I like the adult-but-not-military-male point of view. And he’s a maybe a little less in awe of Miles, maybe? You’re right that Miles’ attitude towards Jin and his sister is maybe a bit more understanding than it was before, although he dealt with Nicky fairly well.
The plot is, on the surface, a standard investigative one – is a cryogenic company doing, or going to do, something dodgy on Komarr?
Yep, but we don’t find this out until quite a long way into the book! For a goodly while, we’re really not certain what the heck Miles has been sent to do – doesn’t help that he finds himself an even more interesting mystery while on the planet, which occupies much of the storytelling 🙂
Oh that’s right! I forgot that – it just gets all so tied together in the end 🙂
Miles is sent to find out, on the pretence of attending a cryogenics conference – which also allows us to be reconnected with Raven, the very young clone who helped Miles a bit way back in Memory. Of course, this being Miles, the whole thing develops into something even more unsavoury. As with his meddling on Cetaganda, Miles ends up helping another planet discover something rather wrong at the heart of their system. In this case, on a world where cryogenic storage is close to being the accepted norm for every person (at least those who can afford it…), it turns out that a few decades ago the preserving fluid was faulty, so the people preserved then are actually, genuinely dead. This is bad enough, but is made worse – and far worse, perhaps, from the companies’ perspective – because in storing those bodies, the companies get the rights to the frozen people’s votes. So they are in effect exercising the rights of people who are dead. The whole situation on this planet is gerontocracy taken to a bizarre degree. Miles doesn’t exactly end this, but he certainly helps the world out. And foils the dastardly plans of the cryogenics corp, Chrysanthemum, to do the same on Komarr.
The story is made the more interesting with Mark and Kareen turning up to make a business investment, meaning we get to see the brothers interacting outside of the family sphere and with their respective businesses potentially either colliding or colluding.
And I’d forgotten this entirely! That Mark and Kareen have a part (and quite an important one!) in the story. Was most odd re-reading – almost like I hadn’t read it before at all!
That’s a good thing!
And then Mark and Miles travel together most of the way to Barrayar and … well, then we get to the bit where I cried just a little. Because after an entire book about death, and with Miles earlier brooding over what it would be like when he was finally told that his father had died, that’s exactly what happens. He is greeted by those three little words: “Count Vorkosigan, sir?” For me, this was a fairly heart-rending moment. When I read it, it had only been seven weeks since I first met Aral, as he was capturing and falling in love with Cordelia. For him to them up and DIE so soon was … hard. And poor, poor Miles. I really appreciated the way Bujold then told the end of the story, in five discreet ‘drabbles’ – stories of exactly 100 words each. The different perspectives on Aral’s death and its aftermath were very compelling. I had more tears, actually, when it got to Gregor’s perspective, and his insistence that he be a pall-bearer because “the man has carried me since I was five years old … it’s my turn.” SO SAD.
And I teared up even just reading THAT! Hits me every time. Even though Aral hasn’t played a huge role in the actual storytelling for most of the books, he always loomed so large in Miles’ life, in so many of his decisions (particularly to do with honour, and what it means to be a hero), that he seemed to be hugely present in every book. And how masterful is Bujold. Just three words reduce me to floods of tears – the connotation of what it means for Miles to be addressed that way is something only a seasoned campaigner in the Vorkosigan universe would be so affected by and it’s Bujold’s nod to the intelligence of her fans that she could end the chapter that way, knowing that we would KNOW what it meant. In some ways, I would have preferred the book without the drabbles, although they are indeed heartrending – but for me, I think they are there for the newbie reader, not us.
I thought the drabbles were the perfect conclusion, actually. It saved Bujold from the potential to be all saccharine and unbelievable by trying to do the funeral etc from Miles’ perspective, and allows us an insight into the other characters that we love.
So where could it possibly go from here? What will happen to Cordelia, adrift in Barrayaran society as a widow? How will Miles handle life as the Count? Will Bujold write more novels? Should she? Who should they focus on?? Of all the threads Bujold has woven in her Vorkosigan tapestry, are there still some unfinished? (I think Ivan’s story isn’t yet done, myself, and maybe Mark and Kareen? And then there’s the children…). Do we WANT more?
A large part of me of course wants more, but … like you say, where would it go? I don’t know whether I want to know about Miles the Father and the stinky nappies, or Miles the Count and the Disappearing Money. I really don’t think I like Ivan enough to want an entire book about him, but I know you disagree rather violently! And if the focus were not Miles … well. That’s not really a Vorkosigan novel, is it? I can’t imagine another Cordelia novel, but I’d sure as hell read the heck out of it.
14 Vorkosigan novels in seven weeks. I think I am officially an addict.