Discussion Post: Winterfair Gifts by Lois McMaster Bujold

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Winterfair Gifts is the latest story we’ve read in our Vorkosigan Saga Project. It follows on after the novel A Civil Campaign and before the novel Diplomatic Immunity. In Winterfair Gifts we get a glimpse of the Vorkosigan household in the lead up to a wedding from the point of view of Roic, a junior Vorkosigan Armsman.

You can read Tsana’s review of Winterfair Gifts here, and Katharine’s review here.

 

Tsana: Well. I had only vague memories of this one before re-reading. I think I probably just inhaled it on my first read through without stopping to think about it very much.

 

Katharine: It kept me up so late on a work night. I thought to myself ‘I’ll just get started for now and then hopefully finish it this weekend…’ and zip. Got to 90% past midnight and tore myself away.

 

Tsana: Lol, you managed NOT to finish it in one go when you got that close? That’s extremely impressive. I read it in one sitting in the middle of a weekend day. I had forgotten why we should care about Roic too, but as the novella quickly reminded me, he was the one that ended up covered in bug butter in A Civil Campaign.

 

Katharine: I was so tired and stressed about work that I figured I should keep something to look forward to. How old do we think Roic is in this one?

 

Tsana: He has to be in his 20s, I think? Upper limit of 25 at a guess? Which, on a slight tangent, isn’t it convenient how everyone counts time in Earth units? Even though Barrayar has longer days, I don’t remember them saying anything about different year lengths and hence different ways of calculating ages…

 

Katharine: It’s a bit sad that’s seemingly been thrown in the ‘too hard’ basket and they don’t care to explore that into something interesting. They could have said age doesn’t matter for that reason and yet they do rely on it for all their Vor quirks.

 

Tsana: I mean, it makes sense to have a galactic standard, so that part’s fine. But I do wonder about what happened with it in the Time of Isolation. Perhaps we’ll never know… :-( (Although, as someone who has devised a different time system in fiction, it is a pain in the arse to explain and keep track of, so I can understand the reluctance.)

 

Katharine: Maybe it’s something we can ask if we ever happen to go to the same Worldcon (or other con) as Bujold. So, Roic tells the story from his POV – guests are coming back to Barrayar for another wedding. Presents and messages are arriving for the happy couple and being put on display. And one of the guests just so happens to be Taura.

 

Tsana: And Elena with husband plus baby in tow. But perhaps this is the moment for the spoiler shields.

 

~~~~ SPOILERS AHOY ~~~~

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Discussion Post: A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold

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A Civil Campaign is the latest book we’ve read in our Vorkosigan Saga Project. It follows on after the novel Komarr and before the novella Winterfair Gifts and the novel Diplomatic Immunity. In A Civil Campaign we get to see the lead up to Emperor Gregor’s wedding from the points of view of several characters, who all have their own agendas.

You can read Katharine’s review of A Civil Campaign here, and Tsana’s review here.

 

Katharine: Hi, my name’s Katharine, and I think I love Ivan.

 

Tsana: Didn’t you already? This doesn’t sound like news…

 

Katharine: Confirmation, Tsana. Confirmation!

 

Tsana: Well OK. And Ivan had a particularly amusing storyline in this book. From being deputised by his mother to run endless errands for Gregor’s wedding, to being forcibly recruited to help a new count fight for his countship…

 

Katharine: and then the whole thing with a past romance reappearing on the horizon. But we’ll talk much more about that later. So basically not much time has passed since the end of Komarr, and all characters we know and love are returning (if they ever left Barrayar) for the big event of the century – the royal wedding. This includes Mark and their parents… and with him, Mark brings some bugs.

 

Tsana: Those bugs were really the stand-out memory I had from my first read of this book. I still just snicker if anyone says “butterbug”, although mainly it’s me saying it and then sniggering to myself.

 

Katharine: I was about to ask how often it comes up in random conversation. It totally made me think of a more crunchy (and winged) version of a witchetty grub. Have you tried them? (For any international readers, they are a, well, grub, native to Australia and part of that ‘bush tucker’ thing you may hear Aussies talk of sometimes.)

 

Tsana: I have not. It’s also a bit different because witchetty grubs are for eating but butterbugs aren’t exactly. But I think we’re approaching spoiler territory. Wouldn’t want to ruin any jokes for people that haven’t read the books.

 

Katharine: This is true. The other important part of where we find our characters is that Miles has employed Ekaterin to landscape a bit of the Vorkosigan property into a public garden, so that they have an excuse to spend time together during her mourning period, now they’re back on Barrayar and the Komarr investigation is over.

 

Tsana: Which means we get to see a lot of interactions between them. But, much like we saw at the end of Komarr (since this doesn’t start very much later), Ekaterin has no desire to get married. For his part, Miles only really knows how to run military-type operations, which doesn’t translate quite so well to wooing.

 

Katharine: Though to be fair, I don’t know many people who are good at wooing. And there aren’t many others in the series either. In fact one of the running themes throughout this book are the love lives of several characters – Gregor and Duv’s success (or at least, getting there) and the dramas, shall we call them, for Ivan, Mark and Miles. Basically everyone should be as chill as Aral.

 

Tsana: Aral had the good fortune to be vomited on by the right woman at the right time — his first marriage (which we actually learn more about in this book) was much less successful. So I don’t know that we can really count him as a good romantic role model.

 

Katharine: That’s also very true. Drat, despite the good talk about his first marriage I had already basically forgotten all about it. Should we throw up the spoiler shields now?

 

Tsana: Shields up!

 

~~~ Spoilers now! All the spoilers! So many spoilers! ~~~

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Review: Winterfair Gifts by Lois McMaster Bujold

Series: Vorkosigan Saga
Published by: Tekno Books
ISBN: 1435510372
ISBN 13: 9781435510371
Published: 2004
Pages: 57
Format reviewed: ePub
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Related Reviews: Reading Challenge: Vorkosigan Saga Project

Why can’t this series have better covers? I know accuracies are never true to books (or at least they’re dang rare) but come on! His height! Eugh.

Anyway. Told from Roic’s point of view (one of the lesser ranked staff in Vorkosigan house), we see guests and distant family return to Barrayar for the wedding between spoilers. You know whom. One of those who returns is Taura who is already getting on in her years, and we see more of her than most of the other characters. It would have also been nice to see how Elena handles her return, and the interactions between Cordelia/Aral with her husband and their child, but ah well. I’ll always want these things to be longer, won’t I?

Even in a simple tale, we have the extra complications that seem to follow Miles around. This is pointed out to his wife to be, who only steps up to the challenge with the sass we know her for, earning both Roic and Taura’s approval.

It’s lovely what we get to see of the characters in tiny side notes – such as Aral’s words with Ivan, the result of this, and how Cordelia handles it. How Gregor handles the day. They’re just all so lovely! They’re fun and ridiculous and feel so real.

Even if the book cover is ridiculous.

Review: A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold

Series: Vorkosigan Saga
Published by: Baen
ISBN: 0671578855
ISBN 13: 9780671578855
Published: 1999
Pages: 544
Format reviewed: ePub
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Related Reviews: Reading Challenge: Vorkosigan Saga Project

We meet Miles again soon after we left him after Komarr, where he first met Ekatarin. They’re back in Barrayar and the countdown is on for Gregor’s marriage to Laisa which means everyone is coming in for the big event. Mark returns after some time with his grandmother on the free-thinking Beta Colony along with Kareen and neither of them are overly happy to be back on the judgey Barrayar. Their parents Aral and Cordelia are on their way back, and their night of return is about as ill-timed as possible.

But before all that, Miles is helping Ekatarin and Nikki settle in. He offers her a slice of the Vorkosigan grounds to create a public garden for everyone to enjoy and Nikki has free reign of the household and the nearby kids (mostly that of the staff) to play with. This, of course, doesn’t mean that he has a monopoly on her interests. Despite her mourning attire and the fact she tries her best to brush off any attempts at holding her interest, several other men arrive on her doorstep to try to charm her away. Barrayar has had far too many years of seeking only men for their progeny and now of course, the field for appropriate wives as at an all time low.

Meanwhile, Mark and Kareen along with the bizarre Enrique have brought a business venture to Barrayar that involves some kind of bug that it nutritious and not appalling to eat… it just looks gross. Personally I pictured an crunchier version of a witchetty grub (found in central Australia, which, incidentally tastes like a kind of nutty chicken if my memory isn’t playing tricks on me, I confess it’s probably been 15+ years since I’ve had any) anyway, with this venture, Ekaterin again, comes in handy.

Basically, anything and everything that is thrown at her only shows time and time again just how suited she is to the role of Lady Vorkosigan in ways Elli never wanted to. Other than the way she quite rightly storms off when it turns out that Miles asked her to create the garden so they could have an excuse to stay close together first, rather than firstly appreciating her abilities.

We see Miles’ parents elegantly handle the troubles that plague both their sons, Gregor continue to be surprisingly elegant, level headed, caring and intelligent, and a reveal of the lovely Ivan that had me clapping.

Overall, highly enjoyable. Even if at one point I had to put the book down thanks to such a high feeling of fremdschämen I really thought there was no possible way I could read on.

Discussion Post: Komarr by Lois McMaster Bujold

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Komarr is the latest novel we’ve read in our Vorkosigan Saga Project. It falls after Memory and before A Civil Campaign. It introduces a new recurring character and gives us a closer look at the planet Komarr than we’ve had so far.

 

You can read Tsana’s review of Komarr here and Katharine’s review here.

 

Tsana: So this novel shows us the start of the next phase of Miles’s life, which changed dramatically in the previous book, Memory, when he was forced to leave the Dendarii. Now he’s solving mysteries/problems and having adventures… which isn’t too far from what was happening before, just with fewer soldiers. What did you think?

 

Katharine: I liked how he was basically shadowing one of the other Imperial Auditors, yet they still worked in unison and bowed to each others strengths. More jobs in life need to be like that.

 

Tsana: I think it helped that Vorthys knows for certain how competent Miles is, whereas most people Miles encounters don’t because they haven’t read his classified files. Also, the whole reason they’re both Auditors is because they’re competent, which is sometimes a tall order in real life… ;-p

 

Katharine: Very true, but I can dream of my version of utopia :p So yes, Miles is on one of his first investigations as an imperial auditor, and it’s taken them to Komarr, where a spaceship has happened to crash into the solar mirror that’s vital to the continual terraforming of the planet. Imperial Auditor Vorthys is the other chap with him, and his niece happens to live on Komarr, so it’s there they go to stay for what they first assume will be a few nights and nothing else.

 

Tsana: However, Auditor Vorthys’s niece is, Ekatarin, our other point of view character in this book. So we know from the start that she’s going to be important for the story — roughly half the book is told from her point of view, in alternating chapters with Miles’s point of view. And, minor spoiler, Ekatarin is set up to be another recurring character. As a result, her personal journey from the start of the book to the end is much more significant than Miles’s. Miles just gets the hang of this new Auditor gig, while Ekatarin goes through some big life changes.

 

Katharine: It’s good seeing how people view Miles every so often. We’ve seen him go through some pretty significant changes and so you think he doesn’t look as ‘mutie’ as he would have previously, but this book reminds us yet again just how the majority of people view him.

Ekatarin is from Barrayar, and old Vor. She married young to Etienne “Tien” Vorsoisson, who has a genetic disorder that he’s frightened of being publicly known – even though Vorzohn’s Dystrophy is treatable – which just shows how judgemental Barrayans are about any condition. Ekatarin is worried for their son, Nikolai, and wants to start his treatment immediately… however Tien forbids it until they can treat it in absolute secrecy… which of course is far more expensive. This provides the majority of the tension between their once-happy marriage.

 

Tsana: When we got more of the backstory, it sounded like Ekatarin’s marriage to Etienne Vorsoisson started off well only because she was young (twenty to his thirty), idealistic and a bit naïve. As soon as things started to get a little challenging in their marriage, Etienne became emotionally abusive, mostly to Ekatarin, but also to his son. In the eight or nine years since (they’ve been married ten years at this point), Etienne’s moodswings, angry outbursts and a string of jobs in various locations, all quit prematurely, has eaten away at Ekatarin’s happiness and sense of self. It was really painful to read most of the married couple’s interactions.

 

Katharine: Especially as we see Ekatarin light up when eased into security around her uncle when they go out for lunch together, and then again as Miles becomes determined to make her laugh. We see hints of what she used to be passionate about – she has a deep interest in botany, but the constant moving made keeping her own garden pretty pointless after a while of barely a year in the same place. She has one plant that’s over seventy years old – that Tien throws from a great height at a certain point in the story when the options are either her, the plant, or himself.

 

Tsana: Maybe we are getting into spoiler territory now. (plant spoilers!)

 

~~~ spoiler shields up! ~~~

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