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Customer Review

on 17 January 2013
With true heroism, I resisted the pre-release ARC of CVA and waited for the full Monty, as it were. It was made doubly difficult in that I contacted LMB through her MySpace to ask a question re the Vorkosigan Series and she very kindly replied and whetted my appetite for "Ivan's book".
CVA is the 19th story and the 14th book in the VS and is set before Cryoburn SC (Miles Vorkosigan Adventures) which I like because that way Aral Vorkosigan knows his most exasperating foster child is okay in life by the time those events occur. I mention its position because whilst I suppose it is possible to red CVA as a standalone or out of sequence if you wish, I don't think it's possible to do that and still get everything the book has to offer.
Ivan is a very subtle man, and the book is exactly the same - to get the best out of it, you need to know Ivan, to understand who he is, where he came from, how he fits in with the Vorkosigans specifically and Barrayar/the Inhabited Galaxies generally in context, and to do that you really need to read the books in order - I'd start right at the beginning with Shards of Honor which is Aral Vorkosigan and Cordelia Naismith's first meeting and go on from that - there is no downside whatsoever to working (what work, it's sheer enjoyment all the way) your way up to CVA and after it you can now even go straight onto Cryoburn.
CVA isn't as comical and laugh-aloud funny as A Civil Campaign: A Comedy of Biology and Manners (Miles Vorkosigan Adventures), nor as drily witty but acutely perceptive as Memory (Vorkosigan Saga) (still my favourite VS title, and one where I was actively encouraging Miles to ditch the ingrate Illyan and Gregor to be Naismith): "the one thing you can't give for your heart's desire is your heart."
But it is definitely smile broadly/soft chuckle territory and it is very realistic in the situations - on Barrayar, personal and public honour and duty to your culture and community are far more important than selfish personal whims and wishes, so Ivan and his wife getting married first and falling in love with each other later is far more realistic than them disregarding everything and everyone for grand passion. Such sensible alliances were once the norm in the UK - marriage for "love" is an invention of the 1930s, like Television, and has often done just as much damage when people ignore their common sense in favour of sensual gratification.
The second "half" of the book is also very realistic - as someone who struggles with a memory like a sieve due to ill health I really envied Simon Illyan until I read Memory etc., and really thought through what it would be like to be a person who is literally a HD Digital Surround Sound recording meeting, unable to ever forget even the most banal, or disgusting, or vicious images and spiteful words. Yet again, LMB gives her readers a subtle lesson in "be careful what you wish for because you might get it." It also gave us insight into Lady Alys, Ivan's formidable mother, who in previous books has been a bit one-dimensional, although we get a glimpse of character depth in A Civil Campaign.
It has been mentioned that the usual suspects only make cameo appearances (Miles, etc) but I think this is a good thing. It lets the light shine on Ivan. I don't think Ivan would "carry" more than one book with him being (mostly) the main protagonist, simply because Ivan wouldn't want to - I imagined him when LMB was writing CVA trying to talk her out of it, `Look, I really don't fancy being under the spotlight - it's so hot and everyone will be expecting me to be urbane and witty - which is what Byerly's for, or wildly heroic, which is what Miles' is for, or noble, which is what Gregor is for, or wise and shrewd, which is what Aral and Cordelia are for, or industrious and diligent which is what my blasted mother Lady Alys is for. Can't you just let me go on being content and comfortable in Vorbarr Sultana?'
Because of course Ivan isn't an idiot. After all, in A Civil Campaign he makes the rare mistake of showing his actual intelligence and political savvy when he warns Dono Vorrutyer et al to get to Gregor asap to put their case - they're done if Gregory is blindsided by what's happened. In fact, that sort of thing is the one thing that always made me shake my head when I read earlier books in the VS - how on earth people as astute as Aral and Miles and Gregor couldn't see what Ivan really was, or what he was doing!?(Cordelia, I am sure, has always known and being Cordelia, has always shut up about it). Whenever one of them (usually Miles) ranted "Ivanyouidiot" as one word I wanted to cry, "What is wrong with you? Are you blind?"
The only father Ivan ever knew was Aral, his only siblings were Gregor (emperor), Miles the Maniacal and Elena Bothari (daughter of the most psychotic man on Barrayar). There is no way that anyone growing up with those people in that environment would be either foolish or lazy or cowardly.
But Ivan has lived his life in the terror of ending up with the poisoned chalice. Thanks to the Pretender War, the heirs to Gregor's throne were in order, Aral, Miles and Ivan. Given the varied attempts to bump off Aral and Miles the Maniacal's lifestyle, Ivan must have known he could end up lumbered with the Imperium in an instant, something he wanted about as much as he wanted to contract a plague.
When I read Cetaganda (Vorkosigan Saga), in particular, and also Memory and A Civil Campaign, it was obvious to me that Ivan was an acutely intelligent, exceptionally shrewd individual who had become a peerless master of the subtle art of being like the late Denis Thatcher, to Miles's Margaret Thatcher, Britain's [first female] Prime Minister, `always present, but never there.'
Nor has it been easy for Ivan to pull off - read the earlier books and you will see how many times Ivan has been dragged into deep and nasty political intrigue in Miles's wake, not to mention his formidable mother, constantly trying to get him to be a carbon copy of Miles and trying to bully him into living up to his dead father's mode of death. Wildly over-drugged by the Pretender's murder squad, Lord Padma Vorpatril's only concern was his pregnant wife, and he was killed trying to protect the woman he loved - since the drunk and high are unable to lie (which takes effort and a clear head) his honest response in caring for nothing but saving Alys immediately made him an unassailable paragon in death, no matter his inevitable flaws in life.
As so often in her writing, LMB makes a good psychological point when she uses Alys's insistence on Ivan making an annual pilgrimage to the spot where his father was gunned down to highlight the counterproductive and usually negative results that occur. Such things don't inspire the person's child/younger sibling to live up to the Paragon, they cause a deep sense of personal inadequacy that they aren't loved or valued for who they are individually, and a fierce resentment towards the Paragon who has made their lives one long nagging lecture and endless criticism as a result.
Reading the earlier books especially in sequence shows how Ivan has ferociously worked to be the Invisible Man - he is far too sensible not to realise that contentment and comfort are worth far more than dash and flair, not least because if you show aptitude everyone immediately tries to dump their responsibilities onto you (he very carefully ensures he gets a billet in Vorbarr Sultana and advances no higher up the ranks than Captain).
I like this book because it finally shows that Ivan Vorpatril is a perceptive, subtle and shrewd operator and that if only briefly, Ivan, Aral et al get to realise that Ivanyouidiot has very adeptly hidden in plain sight right in front of them for most of his life - well done Ivan!
So why only 3 stars - well these days I have to buy my books as ebooks, and since ebooks are a) liable for VAT and b) have a ridiculous region bar which means you can't buy them from any other country but the one you reside in, I expect them to be excellent value for money and quite frankly they are often not. There is no excuse for the poor proofreading and shoddy formatting if they want to charge us these prices for a book that doesn't even exist in the real world. If that had been better, there would have been another star.
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