Character development is king in A Civil Campaign.

The previous entry in this space opera series was a novel of suspense. Now, in the 12th novel in the Vorkosigan Saga, we’ve got a love story framed in a political thriller. And Lois McMaster Bujold pulls it off with aplomb. Both books are eminently readable, because character development is king in this deeply engaging story. The characters carry the story throughout. You’re unlikely to find a more interesting protagonist in any work of fiction than Miles Vorkosigan. And the supporting cast is equally engaging.

Character development is king: Miles Vorkosigan is in love

Miles has just returned to Barrayar from his first assignment as an Imperial Auditor on the planet Komarr. A woman he met there has returned with him along with her five-year-old son. She is Ekaterin Vorsoisson, widow of a corrupt Barrayaran administrator who died in the course of Miles’ investigation. Now Miles, a dwarf, is desperate to find a way to keep Ekaterin close and out of the clutches of the hordes of handsome (and physiologically normal) men he knows will crowd around her. Because Ekaterin is strikingly beautiful as well as extremely intelligent. Miles has fallen deeply in love with her and is determined to marry her when her year of mourning for her late husband is over.

A Civil Campaign (Vorkosigan Saga #12) by Lois McMaster Bujold (2011) 428 pages @@@@ (4 out of 5)

An imperial wedding in a time of political machinations

Miles and Ekaterin have returned mere months before the Emperor Gregor is to wed an attractive and intelligent Komarran woman. Since Miles and Gregor grew up together in Miles’ parents’ home, and Miles’ father served as Gregor’s Regent for many years, Miles is unable to escape a leading role in the wedding. He is to be Gregor’s Second, or best man. Unfortunately, while the wedding preparations move ahead, complicating everybody’s lives, Miles is caught up in local politics. Two very nasty feuds among the Counts of Barrayar have broken out. Because of Miles’ prominence as the son of the Regent and an Imperial Auditor, he’s forced to play a leading role in resolving the disputes. Both Miles and his cousin Ivan are caught in the middle of both disputes. And ugly days lie ahead. Very ugly.

A clever business proposition

Meanwhile, Miles’ clone-brother Mark has returned to Barrayar, too. Mark is the business genius in a family that cares little about money. He has brought with him a scientist who has discovered a way to genetically modify a certain species of insect to produce a highly nutritious substance by regurgitating it. (Miles calls them “vomit bugs.”) And Mark has plans to build a huge food-services industry around the discovery. Unfortunately, all Mark’s considerable resources are tied up in active ventures. He’s out of cash. So, Mark, the scientist, and the “butter bugs” all move into Vorkosigan House, promising considerable complications. And to compound the confusion, Mark has fallen in love with Kareen Koudelka, a young Barrayaran woman who had been studying on the planet where Mark met the scientist—and the young lady’s father is dead set against her having anything to do with Mark.

Thus it is that three love stories unfold—Gregor and Laisa’s, Miles and Ekaterin’s, and Mark and Kareen’s—in the midst of a brutal political fight. Lois McMaster Bujold makes it work. Her understanding of human psychology runs deep, and that makes character development king. The novel is both suspenseful and charming.

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