This is the first part of the opening duology of the Vorkosigan Saga. Although I read the omnibus-edition containing both this one and Barrayar, I decided to review the books separately after my 2nd read-through in 2013 - be aware that because this is the review of a second-read-through it already contains spoilers to later books within the Vorkosigan-series -, but actually got around only to this first part... leaving Barrayar's separate review (and, coincidentally, that of Warrior's Apprentice) for my next re-read...
I loved that novel (and its continuation "Barrayar" - see my earlier entry in this journal) when I first read it about 10 years ago, and I still love it today. But there are some points that, while not distracting from my enjoying it, still keep me thinking afterwards.
* I like Cordelia, I like her outsider's PoV on Barrayar and its politics. But I have the feeling that her own voice gets a bit lost during this novel. I can see where the psychiatrists on Escobar and Beta Colony are coming from (even if their techniques are questionable as hell), because she actually does sound a bit brainwashed after Escobar. And it's one thing to defend Aral as a person, it's another to defend a planet's political system or its people/soldiers in general.
Later on she is portrayed as a woman with strong beliefs that more often than not are the complete opposite of general beliefs on Barrayar. So this confusion about who she is as a person lifts at some point - I just sort of would have liked for it to not overshadow her decision to come to Barrayar.
Oh, I think I'm making a mess out of this because I can't properly explain what I mean. I love the emotion, I love that Aral and Cordelia just complement each other, they click on a spiritual level - yet, Aral tells her of murder, of senseless rages, and she just takes it, even in the early days on Sergyar. She can't or won't judge him, but that she isn't horrified considering that she comes from the supposedly highly civilized Beta Colony where there should be a judicial system? There's a bit too much complacency on her side especially even before she was faced with the depravities of the likes of Vorrutyer and Serg. And that's what's bothering me a bit.
* Aral, who we unfortunately see only through Cordelia's PoV, seems more authentic in his emotions and motivations, curiously. He doesn't apologize for who he is and for what he has done. Of course, he doubts himself, and orchestrating Serg's assassination by war and by consequence eliminating his power base on Barrayar is highly questionable considering the innocent victims. Serg's proclivities can't have come as a surprise. Did Ezar simply react too late - and could all this bloodshed have been prevented?
* I've read in journals that quite a few people criticize LMB for how fast Ekaterin married Miles after the disaster of her previous marriage and despite his manipulations. But isn't the same thing sort of happening here? I think if you criticize one whirlwind romance you'll have to criticize the other, too. Especially as Aral/Cordelia's is as full of clichés as Miles/Ekaterin's. Whether it's the captive that falls in love with her captor (and vice versa) or the poor wife/widow who falls in love with the troubled man who shows her some kindness (and displays his idiocy in the process *g*). And yes, I admit it: I love both despite the clichés because in both cases, the emotions ring true to me.
* Why did Piotr and Xav suggest to Ezar that he take the throne? Why didn't Xav himself?
* IMO the book should have ended when Cordelia arrived at Vorkosigan Surleau - the rest with Aral being appointed Regent felt a bit disjointed.
* There are quite a few beautiful wordplays that come back later in the series: "Tests are gifts...", "You pour honor like a fountain over those around you [...] There's nothing left for you" etc.
* Did anyone actually vote for Freddy? *g*
* Dubauer: I also was bothered by Cordelia's apology. LMB very much puts the emphasis on mind over body, Koudelka vs Dubauer... Miles himself... To a certain extent, even Bothari falls into this category as he's described as inferior, as something the cat dragged in, as some kind of lapdog. It doesn't justify what he's done, but he's mentally ill, not inferior. And I wonder how "Mountains of Mourning" would have played out if there had been a minor neurological defect instead of the lip cleft. Would Miles have been as motivated to get to the truth?
* Barrayar's political system: Granted, Barrayar's still quite away from having a constitution. It's a grown feudal system... that might not have changed from Shards to ACC and beyond. But I wouldn't say that it's remained the same, either. I think change must come from within, and society already has changed on Barrayar. It's more open to outside influence, a Komarran empress, a count with Cetagandan ancestors, Miles with his physical problems going from being an outcast to being a central player. Of course, it all depends on the key players - but so does a constitutional/democratic system as well. I don't think you can put the genie back into the bottle - and when the time comes, Barrayar will get its constitutional monarchy including free elections... After all they're still just one generation shy of the annexion of Komarr, the Escobar debacle etc. ACC could well have ended in a political uprising, but it didn't. And I think that's due to Aral's Regency and Gregor's wisdom in keeping out of the everyday political mess. In a sense the monarchy isn't as absolute any more as it was in Ezar's time.
These are just a few rambling thoughts - on to Barrayar. :)
review/comments originally written in 2013