Captain Ivan Vorpatril finally gets his own book, after decades – both in our world and theirs – of grumbling in Miles’ shadow. Unfortunately for him, he gets his book at the point in life when Miles’ bad habits have finally rubbed off enough to push him into a chivalrous-if-ill-advised wedding. Bujold has the decency to show up front that this will be a romance, so that the inclined reader doesn’t have to fret about the ending, and just gets to guess how she’ll bring it off.
This book shows off a lot of things that feel typical for the Vorkosigan series: A weak beginning (c’mon, By and Ivan are Not It), women who start out in difficulties but soon get to show off (and grow into) their strength, a plot made memorable and fun by how atrociously over the top it is (THEY SANK THE IMPSEC BUILDING), genuine excitement, loud laughter (she always makes me laugh), all held together by the most stunning cast of characters. Every single side character in this book had facets and complexity. Time invested in this series really pays off here – character arcs have weight, and depth. Also, I’m in love with Simon Illyan, what else is new.
My only nagging issue was the protagonist, or rather: his treatment by the author. I really am no big fan of Ivan’s, and I wasn’t excited about him as a protagonist, but I appreciate his character as one who is more shrewd than he lets on, while taking pains to avoid the limelight or anything even vaguely hinting at it. But both Ivan and his surroundings relentlessly harp on his intellect in a way that felt offputting, similar to how Mark’s relationship to food is portrayed in other books. Oh well – no book’s perfect, and this one still had me in tears towards the end.