by Lois McMaster Bujold



405pp/$24.00/August 1999

A Civil Campaign
Cover by Patrick Turner

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

There are certain authors whose following is so strong that there is really very little need to write reviews of their works. In many ways, Lois McMaster Bujold is one of these authors. Bujold has demonstrated her skill at a variety of styles, from out-and-out space opera to comedy to political thriller to romance, all within the confines of the characters and situations of the universe which includes the planet Barrayar. Despite the wide range of styles, all of Bujold’s novels are suffused with a certain sameness, which allows her audience to sample various genres while remaining firmly entrenched with the familiar. The newest novel, A Civil Campaign is an extension of the story begun in Komarr, now moved to a backdrop of Barrayar and preparations for Emperor Gregor’s wedding.

In Komarr, Miles Vorkosigan became infatuated with Ekaterin Vorsoisson, and the novel ended with the indication that their relationship would continue to grow. In A Civil Campaign, Bujold does follow this story line, along with several others. However, without having read Komarr, a reader would be hard pressed to understand Ekaterin’s attraction to Vorkosigan. While in the past, each of Bujold’s novels could be read without prior knowledge of earlier books, in this case, Komarr and A Civil Campaign form a diptych which is best read together and in order.

In addition to Miles’s attempts to woo Ekaterin, A Civil Campaign features Mark’s attempts to create a new industry on Barrayar. Having recently returned from Beta Colony with Kareen Koudelka, Mark has brought Enrique Borgos, a scientist whose pet project are insects which can create a highly nutritious food which can be flavored and formed into a wide variety of foods. Bujold shows Mark, who has completed a few years of therapy, fitting into the Vorkosigan family better than at any time in his past, finally coming to accept the fact that they accept him.

A third story line involves two succession disputes which threaten to establish precedents in the Barrayaran Council of Counts. The first involves a sitting Count, René Vorbrettan who, it has been discovered, has an ancestor who was a bastard and, therefore, was not the heir to the Count he succeeded. The fact that Vorbrettan’s actual ancestor was a Cetagandan only makes his situation worse. The other succession dispute revolves around Pierre Vorrutyar, who died without issue. Although normally his title would go to his nearest male heir, Richars, Pierre’s sister, Donna, has requested a delay in Richars’s confirmation.

A Civil Campaign has a strange feel to it. Although Bujold sets the novel up to be one of her more farcical works, in the Miles Vorkosigan sequence, she manages to reign in the chaos before it occurs, giving the book the feel that it lives up to a different set of expectations than those it has set for itself. The situations, ranging from transsexualism and gender roles to the breeding of thousands of obnoxiously grotesque insects in the basement of House Vorkosigan to Miles’s clandestine courtship of Ekaterin Vorsoisson built the tension while the reader waits for Bujold to start the pies flying. When Bujold finally releases some of the tension during a dinner party sequence, she manages to do so in an understated, but hysterical manner. Bujold pulls off later scene in the Council of Counts without resorting to slapstick, although it could easily have been done in that manner.

The majority of the novel goes as can be expected, and occasionally one would wish that Bujold could serve up a defeat to Vorkosigan which he can’t turn to his advantage. Nevertheless, she does manage to fit a few surprises in before the end of the novel. A Civil Campaign is perhaps Bujold’s most cinematic work. There are several scenes which could work quite well on the scene if down properly.

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