By Lois McMaster Bujold
So I finally got around to reading Cryoburn, which is a ludicrous statement for me to have made. I adore Bujold. I discovered her about fifteen years ago and have read her books ever since. She has three different series, set in three wildly different universes, each of which I love. I have read everything she has ever published and loved them all. She was the first author for whom I actually started purchasing new-released hardcover books and even now is one of only four authors for whom I have done that. So why, then, did it take me nearly two years to read this book, checking it out from the library?
When it was first announced, I was super excited. A few months before it was finally due to be published, the publisher posted the first several chapters online as a teaser and I raced over to read them… and found myself kind of, well, bored.
First of all, this is the fifteenth book set in this universe and the eleventh book following the adventures of Miles Vorkosigan. And it is the first book in which there is no major character development.
It makes a certain amount of sense. Miles was introduced in The Warrior’s Apprentice (incidentally, that book (awesome-awesome-awesome) is available for free online, because both Bujold and Baen Publishers are very cool) as a high-born teenager in a military culture who failed to pass the military entrance exam due to physical disability despite all the nepotism in the world. He’s an awesome character: a brilliant, hyperactive dwarf with brittle bones, a lot of high-ranking family connections, and a deep desire to prove himself. It gets him into and then out of So Much Trouble.
But he does, slowly and painfully (and awesomely!), grow up. He grows into himself and faces set backs and failures and grows into himself again and changes who he is and what he wants and if the teenage years were hard, the twenties were driven, and the thirties were vicious, but now he’s settled. He’s happy with who he is and where he is and what he’s doing.
This makes me very happy for him.
But, well, there’s a reason most stories end with the whole “happy ever after” summary of the rest of characters’ lives. Happy settled people aren’t really as interesting as manic, driven people.
Now, character development isn’t the only thing that Bujold does fabulously well. Her world-building is amazing and rich and deep. Her plot lines and mysteries are complex and tricky and hilarious. And Miles does remain an excellent character and driven in his investigations once they get going.
Cryoburn absolutely demonstrates Bujold’s skills at both science-fiction world-building and tricky plotting. The problem is that since the storyline is a mystery, and the reader only sees Miles’ discoveries as he’s making them, it takes a while for both Miles and the reader to get the momentum going.
Once it gets going, though, the book is excellent. I love the twisty plots and plans and characters and Miles’ manic investigation into them all.
It occurs to me that this book actually might work best as a stand-alone, without having read any of the previous books in the series, and thus coming to it without expectations.
The only thing that needs real background to get the full impact is the epilog, after all the plot ends have been tied up. The epilog, oh, the epilog: it hits like a punch to the sternum and makes my heart skip a beat. (You do need to have read the series to get the full impact, but oh, my heart, oh Miles, oh Bujold, love-love-love!)
So expect to slog a bit through the beginning, but the later two-thirds are really, really good.