Miles Vorkosigan is at it again, merrily planning (and attempting to execute) a very exacting military campaign. The only trouble is, the military objective is inducing his new-found lady love Ekaterin to marry him. His plan includes notable pieces of strategy: not to be too obvious about it, as she is still in mourning for her late husband (see the earlier book Komarr for details); keep other suitors well away; make sure there are frequent opportunities for the two to be in each other's presence; ensure that she becomes aware of all the niceties that would entail from marrying into one of the noblest families on Barrayar. Each piece of his plan, though, runs into one minefield after another, and as he puts emergency stop-losses in place, his situation continuously deteriorates, culminating in a dinner where absolutely everything goes wrong. The dinner may be the high point of this book - the person who can read this section and not fall over laughing, cringing, and crying all at the same time isn't a real human being. For this book is not about military action, political plots, or single-handed world-saving, but is rather a very witty comedy. The picture of Miles making just about every mistake a lovelorn suitor can is both marvelously funny and very believable, and the picture of Barrayaran society is solidly fleshed out, making the whole a perfect environment in which to play out such a comedy of manners. As usual, Bujold keeps several plot threads spinning at once, whose resolution, while (for once) not at all earth-shaking, makes for a nicely unified wholeness to the basic story. In another departure for Bujold, this story is told from several viewpoints, not just Miles', which adds a lot to the reader's perspective of the society and situation, and also allows for much greater character development of Ivan Vorpatril, Mark (Miles' clone brother), and Ekaterin than has been the case with previous books in this series. Perhaps my only real objection to this book was that some of the side plots from the main story just didn't seem to have enough importance and weren't detailed enough to make me really get involved with them, so that their major effect on the final outcome seemed to be larger than justified and a little bit of a surprise. This is a pretty minor quibble, though. Nominated for the 2000 Hugo award, this is a fine entertaining read, full of chuckles and belly-laughs, managing to make Miles into a normal human being without totally losing his aura of impossible competence, engaging and heart-warming. Possibly the best of all the Vorkosigan books.
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