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Cetaganda
Lois McMaster Bujold
Narrated by Grover Gardner, unabridged
Blackstone Audio, 9 hours, 18 minutes

Cetaganda
Lois McMaster Bujold
Lois McMaster Bujold was born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1949. She attended Ohio State and later worked as a pharmacy technician at the Ohio State University Hospitals. She has two children and now lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her first novel, Shards of Honor, was completed in 1983 and published in 1986. Her first professional sale was a story in 1984 to Twilight Zone Magazine. Falling Free was her first Nebula Award. Since then she has won another Nebula, and 4 Hugo Awards.

Lois McMaster Bujold Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Borders of Infinity
SF Site Review: The Vor Game
SF Site Review: Cryoburn
SF Site Review: Brothers in Arms
SF Site Review: Ethan of Athos
SF Site Review: Falling Free
SF Site Review: The Warrior's Apprentice
SF Site Review: Barrayar
SF Site Review: The Sharing Knife: Beguilement and The Sharing Knife: Legacy
SF Site Review: The Miles Vorkosigan Saga
SF Site Review: Paladin of Souls
SF Site Review: The Curse of Chalion
SF Site Review: The Spirit Ring

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Nicki Gerlach

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The Cetagandan Empire may be Barrayar's main military rival, but when the Cetagandan Empress dies, political niceties must still be maintained. In this case, the young officer Miles Vorkosigan, son of the Barrayaran Prime Minister, and his cousin Ivan are sent to Cetaganda to attend the galactic funeral proceedings. However, they've barely made it off their spaceship -- and haven't, to their knowledge, offended anyone yet -- when they're attacked by a servant of the late empress The same servant who is later found in the middle of the mourning procession with his throat cut.

Miles and Ivan are torn about how to report this incident, and to whom, and puzzled as to how they've acquired such obviously powerful enemies so quickly. Also puzzling is the mysterious object left behind: a seemingly inert rod bearing the seal of the Star Crèche -- the elite genetic repository for the Cetagandan upper class. The Cetagandan aristocracy is rigidly stratified, with the Ghem Lords in charge of the military, and the Haut Lords ruling the Ghem. The Haut exist in such luxury and seclusion that Haut Ladies travel everywhere inside opaque force-field bubbles, seen in the flesh by no one outside the Haut.

With that social system in mind, Miles is shocked when a Haut Lady corners him to demand the return of the missing object. But given that he still doesn't know why he and Ivan were attacked in the first place, Miles is unsure whom to trust, even as he uncovers a plot that could shatter the very foundations of the Cetagandan Empire.

The more I listen, the more I realize that the Vorkosigan Saga books come in several distinct types, and Cetaganda has confirmed that I prefer the books that are centered around a mystery more than the books that focus heavily on military strategy. Sleuthing beats spacefights, at least on my own personal scale. Cetaganda takes place almost entirely planet-side, and it's got a good and delicious mystery at its core. It's well paced, with each fresh revelation only leading to a deeper mystery, so that you're left feeling satisfied yet intrigued throughout. Clues are sprinkled around, although some of the more important ones are subtle enough that they can zip right past and be gone if you're not listening closely.

While Lois McMaster Bujold's familiar themes of identity and what makes a person who they are continue to be developed throughout the book, what I found the most interesting thematically was the development of the Cetagandan caste system and the relative role of gender. Bujold has built a society that takes traditional gender roles and power structures and gives them a new twist, taking them to their extremes in a way I've not seen before. The world of the unapproachable Haut Ladies actually makes a very interesting counterpoint to the all-male society of Ethan of Athos, which is the next book in the series' internal chronology.

This book also had a very interesting play on the political boundaries of the Barrayaran Empire. Barrayar and Cetaganda, while not (currently) active enemies, are tense rivals at best, and Miles finds himself in a position where he can choose to save the Cetagandan power base from falling into disarray. The ending of the book hints at the broader political implications of his choices, but I thought they could have been expanded upon more than they were.

The audio production was seamlessly enjoyable; Gardner's slightly sarcastic voice is a great fit both for Miles's character and for Bujold's dry wit.

Miles's background is less important to Cetaganda than it is to some of the other mid-series Vorkosigan novels, so it could ostensibly be read on its own. However, it's a lot richer for knowing more about the rest of the Galactic worlds, to better bring Cetagandan society into contrast.

Copyright © 2011 Nicki Gerlach

Nicki Gerlach is a mad scientist by day and an avid reader the rest of the time. More of her book reviews can be found at her blog, fyreflybooks.wordpress.com/.


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