I put off reading this book for 3 years now - simply because I always wanted to have some new Vorkosigan to read when it's likely that another novel won't come. So, was it worth the wait? Yes - and no. Pay special attention to spoilers at the end of this review!
As always, Miles swoops in, finds himself in some catastrophe of his own making or not, and has to find himself a way to solve everything, all at once.
"His mystery, it seemed, had just split in two. Mystery mitosis. It seemed a retrograde sort of progress."
His internal monologue, the reactions of people faced with his indomitable drive forwards and outlook on things, are exceptionally funny. It's pure joy to be able to laugh out loud at a passage.
"I thought the task of an Imperial Auditor was to uphold the law!" Miles-san's eyebrows flew up. "No, whatever gave you that idea? The task of an Imperial Auditor is to solve problems for Gregor."
Bujold's very good at introducing new characters, without diminishing the old ones. Usually, the Vorkosigan-saga is told from Miles' point of view - with the notable exceptions of Ivan and Mark in A Civil Campaign, Mark of course in Mirror Dance and Ekaterin in Komarr and A Civil Campaign. Lately, this change in point of view also included Armsman Roic - yes, the one who chased down some butter bug scheme stark naked in A Civil Campaign. This time Roic and the local boy Jin join in the story-telling. Jin came upon Miles when he stumbled out of the cryo-underworld after a botched attempt at kidnapping. What at first only seems to be runaway who happens to be recruited by Miles, turns out to be son of a major opposition leader who got frozen in order to shut her up. Thusly, not only a threat to the Barrayaran Empire has to be solved - in that a cryocorps is trying to expand to Komarr and get to the votes of people they cryofreeze there... a sort of slow planet conquest -, but also the plight of a little boy in limbo between hope and despair which rings a bit too close to home for Miles' comfort. While wary of people, Jin's attached to his animals... and any kind of positive attention by adults who take him seriously. Which is how Miles wins his allegiance. Not that Jin really understands all the intricacies of Barrayaran politics, or even the high status of his erstwhile guest.
"What is this Lord Unpronounceable you keep talking about, anyway?" asked Aunt Lorna. "What, or who?" said Raven-sensei. "Although I gather that for him, the two are nearly inextricable." "Either. Both." "He investigates insurance fraud for somebody," Jin supplied. "His boss is named Gregor. He talks about him a lot." Vorlynkin blinked; Raven-sensei laughed, and Jin twisted his toes in unease. "Isn't that right?" he asked.
Of course, there's also the hapless Consul Vorlynkin of the Barrayaran Consulate who gets roped in Miles' affairs. At first quite critical of Miles' modus operandi, he warms up to Jin and his sister who find sanctuary within the consulate (including all of Jin's zoo, of course), and finds himself drawn to their mother who they eventually manage to revive with the help of one of the Durona-clones, Raven, who helped back when Miles himself needed cryorevival.
"She looks like something out of a fairy tale." "What," said m'lord, swinging one heel to tap upon a stool leg, "Snow White with just one dwarf?" Vorlynkin reddened, an I-didn't-say-that look in his eyes. M'lord snickered at him. "Now all we need is a prince."
And the mystery on the planet unfurls... with a bit of Barrayaran help, including some investments by Mark as shareholder of the Durona group (including reminscences of other less successful attempts at attacking Jacksonian cloning methods which ended up quite in pain and tears, and, oh so cold). So, eventually, all the galactic keyplayers in the Vorkosigan saga, are reunited on the far-off world of Kibou-daini. And all the others, of course, get mentionned, even Taura who died on Escobar in the meantime, much to Miles' and Roic's regret, having refused being frozen.
This is also where this book suffers a bit. After a fabulous start in the cryocombs, meeting Jin and getting back to the consulate, Bujold spends pages on introducing Miles to the locals, recapturing old adventures, so much so that the middle of the book gets quite slow... and that's not Miles, who doesn't do slow even on bad days.
In the end, though, there are two are three issues very close to Miles which are sort of the red thread through all this mess:
First of all, of course, the remembrance of his own experience at being frozen and revived. Secondly, already mentioned above, Jin's being denied to properly grieve for his mother - she isn't dead, yet she's not alive, either. And thirdly, the fear for his aging father - and Mark's race to extend life.
Of course, too little, too late.
"Count Vorkosigan, sir?"
Or from Mark's point of view:
"Mark had once shot a man with a nerve disruptor; seen the surprised eyes go blank as the charge burned out the brain behind them. He didn't know why watching Miles take in the news of their father's death made that black memory surface. No buzz or crackle from a weapon here; just three quiet words. [...] As if harnessed in tandem to the Count-his-father, Lord Vorkosigan had died in that moment, too, old life draining away along with the color from his face."
So eager to get home to Ekaterin and their four children - interestingly, 3 girls, only 1 boy -, only to return to a whole new life. It's not as though he hadn't represented his father before in the political arena, but now it's a whole new ballgame. And Miles again has to reinvent himself for this new role.
This one moment that Vorkosigan-lovers have dreaded, has now finally arrived. Aral's no more - and it's dealt with in the epilogue of this book, curiously through a mix of short recounts by the keyplayers on Barrayar, Gregor, Ivan, Cordelia (who again apologizes for letting Ensign Dubauer live without higher brain functions which is a nice nod back to Shards of Honor), Mark and Miles himself. I have to admit, I especially loved the books on Barrayar which had Miles confront his parents, and his parents' actions - and I guess, with Miles himself and Gregor, Aral always had a special place in my heart. So this epilogue hit me just as thoroughly, even though I knew it would eventually happen.
But what does this mean for the Vorkosigan-saga? Granted, there's already been a book published afterwards (but set before Cryoburn, told from Ivan's PoV) with Captain Vorpatril's Alliance... but is that it? No witnessing Miles settle in this new role of his? And even if it could be argued that Miles' story has been told: his sturm und drang-time over, he himself accepted on Barrayar, no real threats at major conspiracies now that Gregor has children... I'd still love to have a last glimpse at the Barrayar Aral helped shape with his blood and honor, and which Miles continued to uphold and sometimes was threatened to be crushed by. And if not the future, what about the past? Shouldn't the Regency offer plenty of stories that were only hinted at before - perhaps an anthology?
I know I'm clutching at straws here.
Anyway, it's been a really good experience revisiting these much-beloved characters once more. Cryoburn might not have the emotional impact and depth of Memory or A Civil Campaign (at least until the end), but it's a good read, even if the plot sometimes gets a bit too convoluted for my taste. Miles as always rushes ahead, leaving Roic to follow up and strive not to strangle the little git while he's at it. Just sit back and enjoy!