Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Cryoburn is Lois McMaster Bujold's first novel set in the world of Miles Vorkosigan since Diplomatic Immunity, eight years ago. Cryoburn is also set nearly eight years after the events of Diplomatic Immunity, and as the novel unfolds, Bujold drops several hints about what Miles and Ekaterin have been doing in the intervening time, as well as brief allusions to the rest of her large cast. Cryoburn, however, focuses on Miles and his armsman, Roic as they are sent on an Imperial mission to the vaguely Japanese planet Kibou-daini.
The novel opens with a disoriented Miles making his way through a dark labyrinth and Bujold's readers are as much in the dark as her protagonist. So much time has passed in Vorkosigan's world since his last adventure, he is practically a new character with new concerns. Eventually, he is allowed to regain his sense of space and identity and Bujold reintroduces her readers to the Imperial Auditor, on a mission to find out about the interest certain Kibou-daini businesses have in expanding their franchise to the Barrayar colony world Komarr. A straightforward assignment, but Miles being Miles, things never go particularly smoothly.
Just as many of the planets in Bujold's universe have their own oddities, so, too, does Kibou-daini, where people are frozen using cryonics prior to their actual death. Existing in a state of suspended animation, they are neither alive or dead yet retain property and voting rights, given in proxy to their estates. Miles is rescued from his dazed state by a young runaway, Jin, whose mother was a vocal opponent to the practices of the corporatocracy which ensures the cryonics which have come to be the major political force on the planet continues to function.
Cryoburn unfolds as a couple of intertwined mysteries. Miles's focus appears to be on resolving the problem he inadvertently created for Jin, which leads him to uncover corruption in the companies that hold sway on Kibou-daini. At the same time, he faces the question of the attack which first left him dazed in the cryocombs, ostensibly by a splinter group. Possibly related to both of those mysteries is his initial reason for being on Kibou-daini in the first place.
Being away from both Barrayar and the Dendarii limits the number of familiar characters Bujold can make use of, however in addition to Miles and Roic, she does bring in one of the Durona clones to help Miles understand the science behind the cloning and a few other characters manage to make appearances. This also means that Miles is not entirely sure who he can trust. Theoretically, Consul Vorlynkin and Lieutenant Johannes of the Barrayaran Consulate on Kibou-daini should be trustworthy, but there is always the chance they have "gone native" or on part of the problem Miles has been sent to resolve.
Bujold wraps up the various mysteries well, although in a vaguely disappointing manner, and also throws a major plot twist into the novel near the end, which, in some ways, undermines the sense of importance and accomplishment of Milesís resolution to his adventure on Kibou-daini. Cryoburn is not among the top tier of Vorkosigan novels, but it does ultimately leave the reader with the hope and expectation that more of Miles's adventures will appear before another eight years pass, and that is a good thing.
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