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.

~Kat Hooper

This is Marion’s review of MemoryKomarr and A Civil Campaign.

In Memory, Komarr and A Civil Campaign, Lois McMaster Bujold turns the VORKOSIGAN SAGA from space opera to planetary politics.

Miles Vorkosigan has always been a risk-taker. Usually the person he puts at risk is himself, but in Memory, Miles’s choice injures a crew member. Miles compounds the problem by procrastinating and then outright lying in his report. Even hundreds of years in the future, the cover-up is often worse than the original act, and the consequences for Miles are serious. He must give up the mercenary fleet and the alter ego “Admiral Naismith.”

Miles, though, is too valuable an instrument to leave on the shelf, and Emperor Gregor soon makes him an Imperial Auditor. At first this sounds punishingly tedious to Miles, but Gregor points out that an Auditor is an Imperial inquiry agent, and the unique traits that make Miles so, well, Miles-like are exactly what Gregor needs.

Komarr is a futuristic detective novel. Komarr, a neighboring planet in the Barryaran system, is being terra-formed, and there has been an incident with the equipment that might have been sabotage. The name Vorkosigan is met with hatred on Komarr, where Lord Aral Vorkosigan brutally put down a rebellion decades earlier. Political skullduggery, criminal conspiracy and a love story all unfold. In Komarr, Miles finally meets a woman he may be able to be happy with. After his exotic liaisons and hook-ups with galactic tough-girls, Ekaterin is something of a surprise; a conventional Vor woman. She has a son with a genetic condition, and Miles soon bonds with the boy. Ekaterin is well-drawn and believable, a good match for the Vorkosigan scion and the secretly lonely hero.

A Civil Campaign is a book with many subplots. Back on Barrayar, Miles continues his courtship of Ekaterin, who is trying to make her own way under very difficult circumstances. Miles’s clone-brother Mark is pursuing a business venture with madcap results. Emperor Gregor is involved in a royal wedding — his own, to a Komarran, a match that will finally join Barrayar and Komarr in peace. And a young Vor lady brings information to Gregor that will change the political landscape of the whole planet.

Mark’s butterbug marketing scheme was the least successful storyline here as far as I was concerned. The Vor books are filled with dry wit and slapstick humor, but this Three-Stooges-style farce, especially the predictable dinner party scene, didn’t work for me. I also thought that Gregor, who comes to the aid of a nine-year-old-boy at the eleventh hour, was too good to be quite true. Yes, he had told the boy to call him if he were in danger. Yes, Gregor must be a man of this word, and yes, I do understand that we must see Gregor as a protector of children in order to recognize how different he is from his sadistic, insane father. Still, Gregor has a planet to run and a wedding to plan. I would have expected a snappish comment or an acerbic remark directed at Miles, at the very least.

Still, there is so much here to like. Miles and Ekaterin are poignant as two vulnerable people trying to be together in the face of huge odds, and the subplot involving gender politics hits all the right notes.

Early in the Vor Saga, Bujold gave herself a huge canvas and filled it with an extended ensemble of characters. From Cordelia and Aral, Miles and Mark, to their very Vor cousin, to family retainers, to Gregor and the royal court, she has left herself plenty to work with, and deploys these interesting people with skill, humor and panache. At the end of A Civil Campaign, Miles is no longer a space pirate/undercover operative. He has found a woman to share his life, and a way to be Vor and still be fulfilled. And has he truly settled down? Only time will tell.

~Marion Deeds

Publisher: One cunning plan too many? It’s spring in Vorbarr Sultana, and a young person’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love …money …bio-genetics …love …lack of money …incompatible planetary sexual mores …love …District succession scandals …the Emperor’s wedding …and, of course, love …Lord Miles Vorkosigan, youngest Imperial Auditor to be appointed by the Emperor since the Time of Isolation, has a problem all his new power can’t solve: unrequited love for the beautiful Vor widow Ekaterin Vorsoisson. Ekaterin is violently allergic to marriage as a result of her first exposure. But as Miles learned from his late career in galactic covert ops, if a frontal assault won’t do, go to subterfuge. He has a cunning plan …Lord Mark Vorkosigan has a problem: his love for the sunny Kareen, daughter of Commodore Koudelka, has just become unrequited again. But if all his new money can’t solve their dilemma, perhaps a judicious blending of science and entrepreneurial scheming might. He has a cunning plan

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

View all posts by Kat Hooper


  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,


    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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