For the past two years I’ve been hooked on the series. Komarr is the 11th book among the 16 that have been published so far. And, even though some of the earlier novels have also been exceptionally good, Komarr is in my opinion the best book in the Vorkosigan Saga.
The best book in the Vorkosigan Saga?
Most of the Vorkosigan novels are space operas that sprawl across the galaxy. The action in Komarr is limited to the single planet of that name and a space station in orbit around it. And most of the books in the series feature a large cast of characters. The focus in Komarr is squarely on Miles Vorkosigan and Ekaterin Vorsoisson. As you know, if you’ve read earlier novels in the series, Miles is the son of the former Regent of the Barrayaran Empire. He is a dwarf, his body cruelly crippled in utero in an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate his father with poison gas. Ekaterin is a young woman of about Miles’ age who is married to an administrator on the planet. The story is written in the third person, nearly always from either her perspective or his.
Komarr (Vorkosigan Saga #11) by Lois McMaster Bujold (2011) 332 pages @@@@@ (5 out of 5)
Outstanding examples of character development
Both Miles and Ekaterin are Barrayaran. Her husband is a senior functionary on Komarr for the Empire. Miles is now an Imperial Auditor on his first big assignment, sent by the Emperor to investigate a tragic accident. The plot revolves around his investigation and his growing infatuation with Ekaterin. But what is distinctive about this novel is how deeply we plunge into the inner lives of both principal characters. Few literary novels provide better examples of character development.
A charming man full of dry wit
Here is Ekaterin musing about Miles: “Vorkosigan’s face, once she’d penetrated his first wary opacity, was . . . well, charming, full of dry wit only waiting to break out into open humor. It was disorienting to find that face coupled with a body bearing a record of appalling pain.” And, later: “He really must have once held military command. [In fact, in an earlier life undercover, he had been Admiral Miles Naismith of the 5,000-strong Dendarii Mercenaries.] The contrast between this strained, forceful lord and the almost goofy geniality of the young man who’d bowed her out of the airlock bemused her; which was the real Lord Vorkosigan? For all his apparently self-revealing babble, the man remained as elusive as a handful of water. Water in the desert.”
A complex and highly intelligent woman
Miles has a bad habit of falling in love with tall, beautiful women, and here he goes again. Ekaterin’s “perfume was making his reptile-brain want to roll over and do tricks, and he wasn’t even sure she was wearing any.” However, Ekaterin is no shapely mannequin. She is a complex and highly intelligent woman who had been trapped for many years in a marriage to an insensitive and madly jealous husband. Yet she has endured and succeeded in raising a young son who is still remarkably free of neurosis.
With insightful writing like this, it’s hard not to look on Komarr as the best book in the Vorkosigan Saga. If this is space opera, it’s several cuts above the field.
For further reading
You’ll find all the books in the Vorkosigan Saga at The pleasures of reading the complete Vorkosigan Saga. And you’ll find this book on my list of The decade’s top 10 historical novels, mysteries & thrillers, and science fiction.
For more good reading, check out:
- The ultimate guide to the all-time best science fiction novels;
- Great sci-fi novels reviewed: my top 10 (plus dozens of runners-up); and
- The top 10 dystopian novels reviewed here (plus dozens of others).
You might also check out Top 10 great popular novels reviewed on this site.
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