Komarr, by Lois McMaster Bujold
In this novel, which takes place about three months after Miles Vorkosigan is named as the youngest Auditor of the Bayarran Empire, we see the accumulated result of the stress and wear of Miles’ life on him and its continuing penalties . Strikingly, we are not left to see this damage from the perspective of the somewhat unreliable Miles, but also from the point of view of the lovely and somewhat abused housewife Ekaterina Vorsoisson, who sees Miles’ scars and personality and appearance with a mixture of amusement and attraction. Like me  she is somewhat attracted to those who are somewhat scarred and broken, which can also be said of Miles himself. Considering that Ekaterina spends this novel either as a housewife in an abusive marriage or as a recent widow, this attraction between the two lead characters is definitely unrequited, adding a lot of tension and restraint, as neither of them is interested in being an adulterer.
Aside from that heavy romantic tension, this novel is another kind of detective story similar to the previous volume of this series, Memory. Miles and another auditor, who happens to be Ekaterina’s uncle, travel to Komarr, which was conquered by Miles’ father (a fact which causes considerable tension between him and the local population, which considers his father to have been a butcher) in order to solve a mystery involving an accident on a solar array that is responsible for providing power for the planet’s expensive terraforming efforts. In seeking to solve this mystery, which has both alarming engineering and political repercussions, Ekaterina’s husband finds herself hapless in both home and professional life and his personal life for interconnected reasons, including his deception over a mutation that is shared by him and his son, while everyone else finds themselves either burdened with difficult technical problems or the threat of death and hostages, and manages to act in ways that are full of surprise.
There are at least a few elements of this novel that are particularly thought provoking. For one, we pay for the trauma of our lives and cannot escape that burden. For another, those whose lives have been full of stress and trauma and abuse are often brave in ways that are deeply profound and are also largely unrecognized. For another, though, this book is full of sobering lessons about the unintentional evil that people can be drawn to by either their greed, their fear, or their ideologies. Like many of the volumes in this series, this particular volume shows some truths that can relate painfully well to our experiences in a fallen world. Some of us, myself included, even have the embarrassment of trying to explain our lives to potential partners, with the anxiety about whether they will be attracted to the breathtaking beauty of pain, which would be about the only way they would love us with all of our damages. I can relate to being at the stage of life where Miles is in this novel, as it represents a close approximation to my own state in life. Perhaps there is some encouragement in that.
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