A Civil Campaign: Romance, politics and comedy

Science fiction book reviews Lois McMaster Bujold Miles Vorkosigan The Vor Game, Mirror Dance, Cetaganda, Memory, Komarr, A Civil CampaignA Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold

I was afraid I wasn’t going to like A Civil Campaign as well as the previous VORKOSIGAN novels because, according to the description, the plot takes place all on the planet Barrayar and it deals mostly with relationship issues for several of the characters. Most of the various editions of the book sport covers with couples dancing or getting married. So, yeah, I thought it was a romance novel.

Well, A Civil Campaign is a romance novel, but because it involves the romances of Miles Vorkosigan, his clone brother Mark, and his tomcatting cousin Ivan Vorpatril, it is, thankfully, a lot more than that. Along with the romance, Bujold weaves in a few funny subplots that both entertain and advance the plot of the VORKOSIGAN series on the non-romantic fronts, too.

Miles’ goal in this book is to convince the widow Ekaterin Vorsoisson to marry him. (We met her in Komarr.) Ekaterin’s first marriage was painful and she is not inclined to repeat the experience. That’s just one problem. The other is that Ekaterin is beautiful and a Vor. Since beautiful single Vor women are rare on patriarchal Barrayar (the previous generation genetically selected for boys), they are in high demand. Miles has to court Ekaterin without scaring her away while he attempts to fend off all other suitors and while he tries to maintain his dignity as an Imperial Auditor. Other romances are going on, too. Gregor’s wedding is being planned by Ivan’s mother. Mark is courting one of the Koudelka girls (her father is not pleased!) and Ivan has suddenly realized that while he has been happily carousing for years, all the best girls were getting snatched up.

Meanwhile, since Aral Vorkosigan is off planet, Miles is left with his father’s political duties and the counsel has to deal with a couple of inheritance disputes. One of them involves the problem of patriarchy and the other involves racism. Lois McMaster Bujold has a way of commenting on these issues using humor instead of a hammer — it’s both effective and entertaining.

Along with the all the romance and politics, Bujold serves up a hilarious storyline in which Mark, who now considers himself an entrepreneur, teams up with a brilliant but socially inept scientist to genetically engineer insects that vomit up a cheap and nutritious creamy substance that they hope to market to the universe. They set up a lab in Vorkosigan house and get the lovely Koudelka girls to be their lab assistants. This slapstick storyline is a little over the top, but I thought it worked well as a contrast to the politics and romance. Bujold weaves all of these plots together for a synergistic effect that’s quite pleasing.

There are some niggling little problems with A Civil Campaign, at least for me. One was that I couldn’t muster up the attraction for Ekaterin that Miles seems to feel. I am not sure why he loves her — she’s kind of dull. Also, her reaction to the discovery that Miles was trying to sneakily court her was unreasonable, and his reaction to her reaction was even more unreasonable. This has to do with my second complaint which is that Miles and Mark are both in their thirties but act like they’re eighteen. Miles is an Imperial Auditor, in fact — a very distinguished position in the empire. I forgave their immaturity in previous novels because it seemed like the messes they got themselves into weren’t really their faults. In this novel, though, they don’t have such a good excuse… On the other hand, this juvenile behavior, which culminates in this case in a disastrous dinner party, is exactly what makes the plot so entertaining, isn’t it?

I’m listening to Grover Gardner narrate the audio version of the VORKOSIGAN saga. He’s awesome.


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KAT HOOPER is a professor at the University of North Florida where she teaches neuroscience, psychology, and research methods courses. She occasionally gets paid to review scientific textbooks, but reviewing speculative fiction is much more fun. Kat lives with her husband and their children in Jacksonville Florida.

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6 comments

  1. RedEyedGhost /

    This book really took me by surprise too. I was a bit disappointed with Komarr, and since this was a direct follow up I wasn’t really expecting that much. The humor in this book made it very difficult to put down,

    **MILD SPOILERS**

    the dinner party scene in particular, and this line had me rolling:
    “Is the entire city party to my private conversations?” Miles snarled. “I’m going to strangle Mark.”
    Martya blinked at him with manufactured innocence. “Kareen had it from Mark. I had it from Ivan. Mama had it from Gregor. And Da had it from Pym. If you’re trying to keep a secret, Miles, why are you going around telling everyone?”

    I don’t think it’s my favorite Vorkosigan book, but it’s near the top.

    • I like the dinner party scene, too. You can feel it coming, but that’s okay. I love her sense of humor.

      Which is your favorite? I think Mirror Dance is mine. I’m currently reading Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, and it’s good, too.

      • RedEyedGhost /

        I think I’ll agree with Mirror Dance as being my favorite novel, too. The confusion Miles experiences as to his own identity, even especially when presented with the two possibilities was fantastic. As was Mark’s growth over the course of the novel.

        Overall my favorite story is probably The Borders of Infinity short. It was just so fun reading that, and the it links back to so many of the books later in the series.

        I think the only book in the series for which I did not say, “wow, that was incredibly fun!” after finishing it was Ethan of Athos. I just didn’t find Ethan worthy enough to be the sole point of view character, iirc, it’s been awhile since I read it. I was really disappointed that Elli didn’t get more screen time; she completely stole the show, especially in contrast to the terribly bland Ethan.

        CVA is a lot of fun, enjoy it! Do you still have Cryoburn to read after it? After reading the entire series sprinkled in amongst other books over about 15 months, I immediately wanted to start over, and I never reread books because have too many unread on the shelf! Great, great series.

        • Yes, and I’ve read Cryoburn since my last reply. I’m kind of sad that I’ve finished the series (except I need to go back to read Falling Free). This is one I’ll revisit again someday, but probably not for years.

          Oh, and still I think Mirror Dance was the best one.

          • RedEyedGhost /

            How about those last three words in the last chapter of Cryoburn before the epilogue? There was definitely enough foreshadowing that it was expected, but it still hit like a ton of bricks.

          • I didn’t see it coming, actually. Well, at least it suggests that there are more books coming, I think.

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