Tag Archives: romance

The black jewels

Daughter of the blood / Anne Bishop

Daughter of the blood is the first book in the Black jewels series.

I don’t know where to start with this book. It’s tough to pick a point to get a handle on other than the reviewer who described it as “sensual” should feel terrible about using that word to describe this book’s world of nightmarish predatory sexuality.

Plot summary is below the cut this time. Content warning for a world of nightmarish predatory sexuality including extreme abuse.

Things also got a little more political than they normally do but part of that is as a live “human” I find the real-world parallels are important.

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A civil campaign

A civil campaign / Lois McMaster Bujold

A civil campaign is definitely my favorite of the Vorkosigan books to date. It features a significantly more lighthearted tone than most of the series, and Bujold herself has described it as a “romantic comedy”. 

Plot summary

After returning to Barrayar Miles is eager to court Ekaterin Vorsoisson. Unfortunately, the arrival of sex-selection technology around the time of Miles’s birth has resulted in a generation with a severe gender imbalance and Miles must contend with a horde of other suitors.

Meanwhile, Ekaterin is living with her aunt and uncle, both highly respected engineers. Deciding to pursue her love of gardening and landscape design she has sworn never to marry again. After the events of Komarr are classified at the highest levels, Ekaterin  and Miles discover themselves implicated in an ugly rumor, one that ImpSec refuses to dispel as it provides an effective cover story for what really happened during the Soletta Array disaster.

So how is it?

As I’ve said, it’s not the “best” Vorkosigan book but it is my favorite. There’s a playful silliness here that serves as a nice contrast from the drama of psychological abuse that serves as the center of Komarr. Together, the two books balance each other out wonderfully.

There are several interesting subplots in A civil campaign that sere as interesting social commentary, especially as they intersect. 

René Vorbretten, newly married and eager to start a family, discovers that his grandfather was the son of an officer of the Cetagandan occupation, not his great-grandfather. The conservative faction of the Council of Counts jumps on this opportunity to have Vorbretten stripped of his titles.

In another subplot, Barrayar’s system of male primogeniture is challenged by the newly available medical technology.

In a third subplot, one Count attempts to deal with both the underpopulation of his district and the general societal gender imbalance by taking unused donor eggs and growing himself several hundred daughters.

All of these subplots have some interesting things to say about the assumptions made by chauvinists about how widely their views are held, and the way different interests interact to create political coalitions. 

A civil campaign might be the “romantic comedy” of the series, but that doesn’t mean it shares the normal conflation of obsessive, possessive behavior with romance. Miles’s attempts to court Ekaterin without her knowledge end up working well as a deconstruction at the way the classic romantic comedy structure eliminates women’s agency.*

Miles is presented as much more flawed here than he sometimes is, and finds himself confronting that his standard strategy when dealin with people is attempting to manipulate them into doing whatever he wants.

The way everything comes together is perfect, complete with an obnoxious proposal and a Shakespearean pairing-off of most of the recurring characters, but there are some really poignant moments. The emperor Gregor’s discovery about the type of person his father really was from The Vor game comes back here as Ekaterin struggles with letting her son know what really happened at the end of Komarr.

It’s a great book, but it’s conceivable that it might be too silly for some. There are several Oscar Wilde-sequel moments, including a disastrous dinner party and a scene where one character’s creditors catch up with them. There’s also what amounts to a food fight in there. A civil campaign maintains the emotional depth of the series but never feels grim. My favorite Vorkosigan book, but Sam the Eagle types will be cranky at the tone.

*the best of the classic romantic comedies is obviously His girl Friday, and a major factor in that is that the original stage version was about a platonic relationship between two men.

Komarr

Komarr / Lois McMaster Bujold

Komarr is the first post-Memory volume of the Vorkosigan series. As a result, it’s quite a bit different than the earlier books and even more so than Shards of honor presents a blend of genres – half regency romance, half science fiction.

Miles Vorkosigan features, but from this point on in the series other pout of view characters become increasingly prominent.

Plot summary

Ekaterin Vorsoisson is unhappy. Her husband, terraforming project administrator Tien Vorsoisson, is moody and struggling to hide a genetic illness that drove his brother to an “accidental” death in a vehicular accident. To make matters worse, her husband’s job has forced her to leave her belove home world for the domed cities of Komarr, a world whose attitude towards Barrayarans is rarely welcoming and frequently hostile.

After a mysterious accident destroys a large portion of the planet’s orbital solar power collector her uncle, former engineering professor and current Imperial Auditor Vorthys comes to Komarr to investigate. Accompanying him is the “mutie lord” Miles Vorkosigan, the twisted dwarfish son of the notorious “Butcher of Komarr”.

So how is it?

As I’ve mentioned in many of my previous posts on this series, it’s one of my favorite books of all time. 

I need I make a confession: I like books that feature really mundane activities. My favorite Recluce book is the first one because I like the part where Lerris is working as a carpenter. My favorite of the Chronicles of Prydain is Taran Wanderer. My favorite parts of Memory are the part where Miles is trying to get his home up and running and the part where he goes fishing. For some reason my favorite parts about sff are the parts that do the least to distinguish it from other genres. As a result, my favorite part of Komarr is a scene where Ekaterin and Miles go shopping. My second favorite part is a scene where Ekaterin’s son refuses to go to school. So be aware of that when I say that this book is one of my favorites.

One of the reasons I like Komarr is how relaxed the whole thing feels. Yes, there’s a plot involving the secret behind the accident that destroyed the Soletta array, but that takes a back seat to scenes of people going shopping and eating dinner and questioning themselves and getting to know each other. It feels very historical romance that way, which is fine with me an makes me wonder if I should be reading more historical romance anyways.

Komarr is also more towards the “hard sf” end of the spectrum than most Bujold. There’s plenty of discussion about terraforming and waste-heat and things like that. It adds a sense of realism but never falls to Kim Stanley Robinson-like depths of obnoxiousness like “Joe exited the ship into an atmosphere of 70% nitrogen and was promptly surrounded by a dust cloud featuring iron particles at a concentration of 377ppm. The barometric pressure was N and the gravity was .7g which meant he found walking across the surface composed of 66% silicon, 20% iron, and 10% trace organic material …” (Etc.)

So Komarr is kind of weird in that it’s simultaneously more and less “hardcore” sf. I suspect that this will be more of a stumbling block for hardcore sf fans than it will others. The engineering talk is largely just extra flavoring while the emotional moments are the core of the story.

I think it was Jo Walton who said that for her, Memory was the point were the Vorkosigan books stopped getting better. That wasn’t the case for me, but Komarr is the beginning of a new stage of the series with less emphasis on Miles himself and fewer set-piece action scenes. I like it that way but those looking for puppy-style adventure will be disappointed when characters start talking about their feelings.

The climax of this book is amazing and make it worth checking out for fans of the earlier books too.

Recommendation

As I mentioned in my previous post about this series, Komarr is actually a great entry point to the series. It’s mostly told from the PoV of a new character and while previous events are important the plot doesn’t assume knowledge of them and it’s easy to figure it out from context. (Neither is much time spent recapping. Bujold is the best at informing the new reader without boring the old one.)

It’s also worth a recommendation to non-sf readers. Historical romance* fans in particular will find a lot to love here. It’s a strong recommendation for fans of Sarah MacLean who are willing to try something unusual. Shana Galen is another good comparison.

*That being said, Komarr is much less sexually explicit than most historical romance so if that’s your primary motivation you’re going to be disappointed.

A brother’s price

A brother’s price / Wen Spencer

A brother’s price is a novel that seems to be intended to defy genre categorization. Part fantasy, part western, and part romance, it comes from Wen Spencer, more frequently a writer of urban fantasy/paranormal romance with an sf twist.

Despite the fact that I’ve read about 10 urban fantasy novels in a row, this is the only book I’ve read by this author.

I usually try to avoid talking about other reviews when I write these, but I have totally failed this time.

Brief plot summary

Jerin is a young man being raised by his sisters. About to come of age in a world where men are treated as property due to their extreme scarcity, he is not exactly looking forward to an arranged marriage. After rescuing a mysterious woman, Jerin finds himself embroiled in a conspiracy that threatens to overthrow the government.

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