Sunday, November 11, 2012

Review: Cetaganda by Lois McMaster Bujold

Cetaganda by Lois McMaster Bujold
Published: Baen, 1996
Series: The Vorkosigan Saga Book 6 (by internal chronology)
Awards Nominated: Locus SF Award

The Book:

When the Cetagandan Empress dies, Miles Vorkosigan and his cousin Ivan Vorpatril are sent to Cetaganda for her funeral as diplomatic representatives of Barrayar. But when the lifelong attendant of the Empress is found murdered, Miles and Ivan find themselves in the thick of things.

Miles tries to play detective in a strange, complicated, and deceptively alien culture, while lascivious Ivan manages to get himself involved with several noble females at the same time – a diplomatic no-no of the first order. As the plot thickens, it becomes clear that to save the Empire, it's up to Miles to do the job. He doesn't mind exactly, but... an adversary's Empire?”

Cetaganda marks the 6th book I’ve read in the Vorkosigan Saga!  I think there are still plenty of exciting novels ahead, but I’ve been enjoying the series thus far.  Next up is going to be Ethan of Athos, and then I’ll have to see about buying the next batch (they’re mostly sold in omnibuses these days).

My Thoughts:

Cetaganda was a planet-bound mystery, unlike the military adventures of the last few novels I’ve read in this series. The mystery was heavily involved with Cetagandan class politics, so developing the society and culture of the Cetagandan Empire was a major focus of the novel.  To me, the most interesting aspect of the culture was its approach to genetic engineering, specifically the way they used it to create both art and themselves.  There was also some examination of class and gender politics, and the different kinds of power people yield.  It was fun to learn more about a society that has only been briefly mentioned in earlier novels, and there were some entertaining side characters portraying the experience of various social stations.

Though the Cetagandan Empire is a focus of the novel, the main characters are two Barrayarans, Miles and Ivan.  In this foreign setting, they stumble into an intriguing mystery that leads to a humorous adventure.  The contrast between Ivan and Miles’s very different personalities lead to some of the most amusing scenes of the story.  Ivan Vorpatril just wants to have a good time on his trip, hopefully a time full of wine and the company of beautiful women.  He has little patience for Miles’s apparent mystery-mongering, and is often exasperated by his friend’s apparent inability to just let things go.  Though Miles seems to be a magnet for trouble, playboy Ivan manages to get into plenty all on his own with the local ladies.  

Miles, in his early twenties here, is intelligent but still fairly immature.  He thinks poorly of Ivan’s preoccupation with women, but he himself falls head over heels for a pretty (and completely untouchable) woman.  While Miles and Ivan are very, very different people, it’s clear that they do have a loyal friendship, which might be one reason why their arguing comes across as funny rather than mean-spirited. I hope there’s plenty of Ivan in the novels to come, because I think he and Miles have made for a highly entertaining duo every time they’ve appeared so far in the series.

While Miles and Ivan’s adventure does involve surviving assassination attempts, investigating murders, and so forth, Cetaganda still has a decidedly lighter tone than some of the other Vorkosigan novels I’ve read.  Besides Falling Free, I think it is also the most independent of the chronology of the series.  There aren’t many callbacks to characters or events from previous novels, and I don’t think that there are any major changes in Ivan or Miles’s characterization throughout the story.  It feels like more of a humorous side jaunt than a part of the central series’ storyline.  Overall, it was just a light, fun, mystery, and I thought it was well-paced and entertaining.  I don’t think this one will become my favorite of the series, but I did enjoy the time I spent reading it.

My Rating: 3.5/5

Cetaganda is a planet-bound mystery that introduces the structure of the society of the Cetagandan Empire.  I enjoyed reading about the practical Cetagandan approach to genetic engineering, and how that interfaced with their strictly class-based society. Miles and Ivan work remarkably well as the main characters, and the contrast of their personalities injects a lot of the humor into the story.   There’s relatively little dependence on past characters and events, so Cetaganda felt more like a stand alone novel than most others I’ve read in the series.  Altogether, it felt like a light, humorous side adventure that would not suffer much from being read out of sequence.

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