This book takes place after Diplomatic Immunity. But really, I think it's the spiritual sequel to A Civil Campaign. If you liked the latter one, this book is up your alley. This author does sci-fi romance with funny well.
I wasn't overly thrilled with Cryoburn, the most recent release in this series and latest chronologically. This book goes back several years in time and features not Miles, but his forever put-on hunky womanizing "idiot" cousin Ivan. Readers are aware that Ivan's not a bad dude. Like Rupert in Mr. Impossible, he plays at being hot and dumb--but for much higher stakes. Ivan's high enough in the line of succession to the Emperor that he uh, really doesn't want anyone getting the bright idea to plot to get him on the throne. Plus when most of your relatives are infamous genius badasses who are forever getting in the line of fire (and dragging you in with them if you're anywhere in the vicinity), you might decide you'd like to keep your head down. So he makes sure he doesn't get promoted past captain, and his day job is being aide-de-camp/dogsbody/lackey to a general. He's good at it, mind you, but he can't live up to the genius of his infamous cousin Miles. Then again, who could? Really, the only solution to the "I can't live up to someone else" thing is to do your own thing. Preferably away from your overshadowing relatives. Or in this case, perhaps get up to shit while your relative is out of town.
At the start of the book, Ivan's briefly on Komarr for work purposes when Byerly Vorruyter shows up on his doorstep. By's found out that there's a hot Komarran woman who's being targeted by some bad guys for some unknown reason. He doesn't have the time to go watch out for this chick right now, so could Ivan go pick her up and investigate? Ivan obliges. The actual pick-up doesn't fly, but showing up at her door gets him stunned and tied up by two hot women. Minus anything sexual, poor guy, but the jokes just write themselves.
The two women in question are Tej and Rish, two women from House Cordonah on Jackson's Whole. The house got taken over by a rival faction a few months ago, presumably killing off the Baron and Baronne and their heir. Tej and Rish got away together, but have been running into difficulties trying to find their way to Escobar where their youngest brother went incognito in order to pursue a science career. When some bad guys drop by the apartment, Ivan easily deduces that the girls were right to be paranoid, and talks loudly enough upon their arrival to wake up the girls and their stunner. Ivan offers his apartment as a new safehouse, stashes the ladies there, and runs off to work, where he tries to investigate the House Cordonah situation on his lunch hour and gets nailed by Komarran security for the incident he called in "anonymously" (hah, that ddn't work) to the cops.
A few days later, suddenly all kinds of officials are banging on the door wanting to capture and arrest folks, and Tej and Rish are willing to jump out of Ivan's window and commit suicide in order to avoid arrest. What's a guy to do to stop that? Well, propose marriage and its accompanying Barrayan citizenship to protect Tej (Rish declines marriage and is hired as an assistant instead). Yes, in case you didn't guess it from the title, this book is about Ivan, the ultimate bachelor, getting married. Surprise! Your mother will be so thrilled...Of course, Ivan promises that it's doable to get a Barrayan divorce, but...
So Ivan, his new wife, and Rish head off to Barrayar, where things are relatvely safe for awhile. The ladies get to meet Ivan's family, including his "um-stepfather" Simon Illyan, Emperor Gregor (who Tej refers to as "The Gregor" from then on), and Miles, who spends his one scene in the book before he bugs off to Sergyar pretty much chasing his kid and trying not to die laughing upon hearing how Tej and Ivan met. They hang out, Ivan and Tej boink and generally have a good time hanging out, and they attempt to get a divorce. For those of you wondering if divorce is even doable on this planet and if so, how, now you'll find out. Hah. My saying that the plot slows down a bit here sounds like it's a bad thing, but I actually rather enjoyed it. As a couple who basically eloped and hopped into bed, Ivan and Tej have a good time together and enjoy each other. (There's other reasons that they have in common, but I'll have to take that below the spoiler cut.) It's a companionate romance, something that I don't think is seen all that often compared to dramatic swooning and romantic gestures that ah, some other folks do. Theyre happy to cuddle and hang out and enjoy themselves, and why not? Also, Rish starts dating Byerly, who's as mentally twisted as she is. We don't see as much of their dating, but it sounds intriguing. Plus disturbing for Ivan.
Note: while I'm fine with Miles not being in this story much, I did kind of wish he was briefly returning towards the end so that for once, Ivan could suborn Miles into shit rather than the other way around. Come on, that would have been funny...but on the other hand, might have meant that Miles takes over again, so perhaps not. I still think the author should do a story on Sergyar already. Before or after Cryoburn, I don't care which. Including Miles or not, I don't care, though I'd love to see more Cordelia either way. If the author's bored of writing about Miles, this book proves that there's other characters that we'd enjoy reading about too.
At this point, I have a lot more to say, but there's a big ol' plot change around the middle of the book. I unfortunately feel like I am going to have to take a lot of the review and my thoughts below the spoiler cut.*
So, what can I say that isn't spoiler-y after this point for the rest of the review? Well, overall I'm giving it four stars. There's a plot aspect that I find kind of problematic (see spoiler cut), but I had a darned good time reading this. There's nothing quite as funny in this one as the dinner scene in A Civil Campaign (but then again, what could?), and it's not exactly a dramatic romance compared to that book either, but I enjoyed seeing Ivan enjoy marriage and falling into a relationship that works for him. There's a lot of funny bits--Ivan's always funny in a tight spot-- and god knows Tej herself made me laugh a lot of times, especially upon meeting Gregor. Especilaly describing how they meet. And their divorce hearing made me snicker a lot as well. So yeah, I recommend it happily.
But a few more things I want to say before I go write up the spoiler cut stuff...
(a) I'm kind of confused as to the names. Tej's nickname (her entire name is a damn mouthful because Dada got ahold of a baby book and went crazy every time he had a kid. And ther'e s lot of kids...) comes from her middle name rather than her first name, and her "even-sibs" (i.e. the not-as-gene-modded kids) seem to have just as strangely derived middles. It's odd. And then there's Rish, whose real name we're told is Lapis Lazuli, but she claims it's "more of a stage name." And yet, her other jewel-named siblings seem to all go by their jewel names, except for Onyx who goes by Jet...well, that one could go either way. In short, I just want to know where the hell "Rish" comes from as a name, darn it. It's never explained.
(b) After never having driven a groundcar in her life, Tej got her driver's permit in a few hours and her driver's license in a WEEK. With only one time that she had anything bad happen to her at all (hitting a pillar when pulling out for the first time) and then afterwards she is totally perfect to drive in heavy traffic ferrying around tons of people. As someone who took a damn long time to get a license and to this day, still has issues at times, THIS IS NOT REALISTIC.
(c) I have to point out that while the front cover of the hardback is all right--generic, but fine--the back cover of the book is a HOLY JEEBUS THIS IS TERRIBLE. It got rejected for the front cover, I hear--thank goodness--but putting it on the back has just been embarrassing to walk around with for the last few days.I don't know why they even put this on the back, because it looks like it's intended to disgust the fans. (Note: I don't want to link directly to the artist's webpage after ripping the hell out of this. I'm linking to the TV Tropes page for the Vorkosigan Saga. Scroll down to the Contemptible Covers bit to see.)
On the one hand, I have to give the artist credit for having actually read the book, or at least he attempted to mostly match the characters' appearances. Ivan is a dark-haired tall dude who goes around in uniforms a lot. He's not handsome, though. Tej is a black woman, though not as ah, stacked as the book says she is. Rish is a blue woman with gold veins and blonde hair (though she looks like she's modeled after...uh, whoever that scary blonde lady with the buzz cut I can't think of the name of) and she is a professional dancer. Though she's supposed to look like the human version of lapis lazuli and is instead a screeching bright turquoise.
But what the hell is with the poses? Why is Rish doing a grand jete in the back for no reason? And why in God's name is Tej bizarrely sprawled in a super awkward, back-hurting "sexy" pose that looks like she's about to fall off the couch and land on her head? I guess Ivan has to pose like that just to hold her on the couch? And of course, the ladies are both in nothing much but bra and panties. Ugggggghhhhhhhhhhh. It's supposed to be "sexy," but I was turned the hell off.
The second half of this book's theme is "Man, when your in-laws roll into town, they ruin everything." Which is to say, almost every member of Tej's entire family turns out to be alive and well (though a few are trapped/cryogenically frozen on Jackson's Whole) and they find their way to Barrayar. I forgot to mention that Tej's mom and grandmother are Cetagandan, and her grandmother is so old that she used to live on Barrayar during the Cetagandan occupation. And Grandmama Moira remembers where the bodies are buried okay, one body at least where there's a ton of money and genetic stuff and other treasurees are buried...However, in the meantime that hidden underground bunker has been built over by someone who won't sell...which is to say, THE IMPSEC BUILDING. Bwahahahahah. This leads to a not-as-covert-as-they-think-it-is plot by House Cordonah to tunnel their way under and steal.
Ivan--and especially Simon--figure out about 95% of this pretty damn quickly. Hell, Simon and Tej's dad have some kind of bet going on about it to boot. Except neither of them actually try to stop it and mostly just hang about watching the show. Simon seems to be doing it for the lulz because he's really bored, more than anything else (though he does claim he has an idea for getting some leverage in Jackson's Whole with them if they succeed). Simon in particular mentions Gregor's motto of "Let's see what happens," which actually made me think that Gregor had been let in on what was going on. I remembered the scene in A Civil Campaign when Ivan told Dono and Byerly that they'd BETTER LET GREGOR KNOW WHAT'S GOING ON... and in this case, Simon waits too long. Who wants to see how Gregor reacts to that one? Ooh boy.
Tej pretty much stops talking to Ivan entirely once her family shows up because (a) they dragged her into the whole thing, and (b) her family (other than Rish and her little brother) generally makes her feel stupid. Tej is the least genetically-monkeyed-with kid of the family, and compared to her ambitious, scheming sibs, she's the family loser/"control child" because she's not ambitious and hasn't developed a "thing" yet (though her ability with languages sounds like that might be it). It's really sad that within a day of finding out her family's alive, that she feels like shit. They seem to think that all she was ever good for was being married off for a deal, except she wouldn't agree to any before this. It's an interesting perspective for both Tej and Ivan: being the less bright light compared to their relatives.
The ending is...pretty hilarious, somewhat romantic, and a little less heroic than I'm used to in this series. While don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the lulz, how Gregor handled shit, and how Ivan works things to his own advantage in the last chapter...I feel a tad disappointed that Tej didn't really get a chance to come into her own. Now, I'm aware that Ivan isn't a traditional hero-y character in this series, and he doesn't quite Save The Day in the same sort of way that Miles does. He gets rescued, but isn't too bad in a crisis. I would have preferred him to do a lttile more save-ing, but I suppose she needs to be consistent with the long-established character.
But I kept thinking about Ekaterin in the books she's been featured in. She comes off as a meek housewife, but she definitely got her moments of awesome and whoop-assing when a crisis came up. And I wanted Tej to have a moment like that. I wanted a moment where she'd show her family that she wasn't just a waste and only good for driving people around and getting married. I wanted her to end the book with her family respecting her a little more. And...that didn't really happen. Tej's parental happy ending is getting the hell away from them for awhile, and that's it. In a book where the characters are usually coming out with hidden depths and moments of awesome, Tej needed to have one by the end and didn't really. It made me a little sad. That could have been better.