Reviewed by Steven H Silver
In the annals of Komarran history, Miles Vorkosigan's father, Aral Vorkosigan, is known as the Butcher of Komarr for his role in the Barrayaran invasion of Komarr. Because of this, and the Komarran rebels introduced in Brothers in Arms, one would be excused for thinking Miles would have a difficult time on Komarr. However, these historical events play only a small role in Komarr. In fact, they play a role hardly bigger than Bujold's fleeting reference to quaddies from her first novel Falling Free.
In his first job as Imperial Auditor, Miles has been sent to Komarr with another IA, Professor Vorthys, to discover why the soletta, a giant mirror in orbit around Komarr to aid in the terraforming efforts, had a collision with a spacecraft. Although the collision could have been a simple accident, sabotage is equally possible. Their case is proceeding at a snail's pace until Miles and Vorthys visit the Professor's daughter, Ekaterin Vorsoisson, and her family on Komarr.
Bujold alternates her chapters between Miles and Ekaterin's viewpoints. This gives multiple impressions of the events and allows Bujold to open the story more than if she had stuck with Miles as the sole viewpoint character. This is especially helpful since Miles is an outsider on Komarr and doesn't necessarily understand the workings of the society. Furthermore, in his new role as Imperial Auditor, he finds that he is only shown what people want him to see.
Even more important in having Ekaterin as a viewpoint character is the fact that for the first time since The Warrior's Apprentice, Miles is surrounded by a completely new cast. Ivan, Ellie Quinn, Simon, Gregor and Mark are all light years away as Bujold blazes new ground with her diminuative character. By using Ekaterin as a viewpoint character, Bujold is creating an instant menber of Miles's entourage as well as reminding the reader about the Barrayaran attitude against mutation, especially poignant since Ekaterin's husband and son suffer from a mutation known as Vorzohn's Dystrophy.
Komarr is a mystery with an abundance of red herrings. Unfortunately, the pacing doesn't quite work with clues coming few and far between. This is, in part, because Bujold is building up Ekaterin's character at the same time as well as getting Miles used to his new role as an Imperial Auditor. At times, the inspection to determine the cause of the soletta accident seems to take a back seat to the relationship and character building, not really a bad thing, but it causes the novel to work less well than some of the earlier books in the sequence.
Despite the character building for Ekaterin and Miles, many of Bujold's minor characters, such as Professor Imperial Auditor Vorthys, Ekaterin's son Nikolai Vorsoisson, and the Komarran aide-de-camp Venier come across as barely more than caricatures than characters. They make their appearances, brief or otherwise, but never really develop into the three-dimensional characters Bujold has demonstrated herself as adept at describing.
Komarr moves the biography of Miles Vorkosigan along nicely into the phase which began in Memory, however it does so slowly and, at times, painfully. Just as Miles is adjusting to his new role without the support of the Dendarii or his Barrayaran friends, Bujold, also, seems to be adjusting to his new role and trying to figure out exactly how Miles should react when he is the authority instead of bucking authority. I imagine Bujold will have resolved these issues by the release of A Civil Campaign, the book which will deal with Gregor's marriage.
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