A Civil Campaign, by Lois McMaster Bujold
As it would happen, I delayed my sleep last night to rather dramatic levels to finish reading this book, which ought not to be too surprising considering the fact that this particular novel has a lot of rather eerie parallels to my own life, with a happy and satisfying ending that everyone stuck in that kind of situation deserves. This novel picks up fairly shortly after the previous novel in the Miles Vorkosigan series, where Miles is seeking to get used to his role as Lord Auditor and dealing with competition for the hand of the self-effacing but immensely talented widow Ekaterina. The novel itself is full of complicated plans and plotting among various characters, most of whom (except for the obvious comic foils or villainous) end more or less successfully if not perfectly and certainly not easily.
This novel is a complicated one because of all of the plotting going on, the title of the book being a very delicate understatement for the atmosphere of intrigue that this novel is bathed in, intrigue that revolves mostly around the politics of romance and competition for title and position. These mutual intrigues, most of which are unsuccessfully kept from others throughout the course of the plot, often bounce off of each other in very complicated ways. Miles himself seeks to slyly and surreptitiously court Ekaterina by stealth, and manages to let everyone know except for the recent widow until she finds out in a spectacularly unsuccessful way, which sounds like something that would happen to me. Mark, Miles’ brother, has formed an intimate relationship with his beloved Kareena while they were both college students on socially permissive Beta, but finds things more difficult on far more conservative Barrayar. Ivan is upset at the lack of suitable attractive women to string along, and finds himself pulled into the plots of a former lover who has become a man in order to improve “his” chances at succeeding to a position as count. Meanwhile, another count finds himself with part Cetagandian ancestry and disqualified, all while the Emperor Gregor is dealing with his own upcoming marriage, Mark is involved in some complicated raids and business deals with an unsophisticated researcher, and Ekaterina is dealing with a complicated custody battle with her relatives over her son.
Among the most interesting parts of this fascinating and complicated novel are the difficulties of technology and law, the somethings yawning and tragic gap between reputation and honor (a gap I know all too well), and the way in which life is complicated by our mutual goals and ambitions and the often indirect means we use to seek what we want because we do not trust others to support our wishes directly and openly. Nevertheless, this particular novel shows in good moral form the difference between well-intentioned (or mixed-intention) blundering and diabolical attempts at manipulation, showing the costs of deviousness and trickery in spectacular form, that fortunately is not fatal for most of the characters in the novel. For those who enjoy complicated romantic hijinks and indirection on the level of Jane Austen’s Emma, and who enjoy romance sprinkled with elite politics as well as the building of friendships and characters with devotion to both the well-being of others as well as their own happiness, this is an enjoyable novel, even if some parts of it (okay, many parts of it) hit painfully close to my own life. Hopefully the ending will be as happy for me as it is with my dwarfish doppleganger in this novel; I suppose time will tell.
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