Cetaganda: A murder mystery in space

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

Cetaganda is the ninth novel that Lois McMaster Bujold published in her popular VORKOSIGAN SAGA but, chronologically, the story takes place earlier in the sequence, between The Vor Game and Ethan of Athos. If you’re new to this series, I (and the author) recommend reading these novels in order of internal chronology which is how we have them listed here at Fantasy Literature. I read some of them out of order because of how they were presented in the Baen Omnibus editions and I regret that. The story flows much better if you read them chronologically. (Still, though, any order is better than not reading them at all — this is a great series!)

In Cetaganda Miles Vorkosigan, the “mutant,” and his tall handsome cousin Ivan are off on a diplomatic mission for their home planet Barrayar. They are attending the funeral of the dowager empress of Cetaganda, a planet where everything is genetically engineered to please the senses of the upper class. Cetagandas, like most of the universe, don’t like Barrayar and, like most of the universe, they especially don’t like the Vorkosigan family because of Miles’s father, the military genius who is unfairly known as “The Butcher of Komarr.” And then there’s the problem that Miles, who was crippled and stunted before birth by a teratogen, doesn’t fit in with the snobbish Cetagandan society because of the way he looks. As usual, he will have to rely on his wits so that the Cetagandans won’t have to metaphorically look down on him, too.

Miles and Ivan have been instructed to keep a low profile and to not do anything that might incite the Cetegandans. Unfortunately, as the Barrayaran government should have known, this is an impossible request. Ivan is unable to keep his hands off of pretty girls (and in Ceteganda, all the girls are pretty) and Miles is a magnet for trouble. Sure enough, the mayhem starts as soon as they arrive on the planet. There’s a conspiracy afoot in the Cetagandan upper class and someone is trying to frame Barrayar for their dirty deeds. Miles has to figure out what’s going on before the relationship really goes sour. But even if he does manage to solve the case, we readers know that, as usual, he’s going to leave a lot of angry people in his wake.

In Ceteganda, Lois McMaster Bujold continues to do what she does so well. This is more of a murder mystery than space opera, but as with all the VORKOSIGAN books, Ceteganda has wonderful characters (we really get to know Ivan Vorpatril in this installment), crazy adventures, fascinating societies, ethical quandaries (mostly having to do with genetic engineering), witty dialogue, and clever plotting with several hilarious scenes. It’s not quite as entertaining as Brothers in Arms and Mirror Dance (which are my favorites so far), but it’s still an excellent novel.

I’m listening to Grover Gardner narrate the Blackstone Audio versions of the VORKOSIGAN SAGA. He’s got the perfect ear for Bujold’s brilliant sense of comedic timing. I highly recommend this series on audio!


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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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One comment

  1. This is one of the two I haven’t read. I’ll have to, now!

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