My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I haven’t read the entire Vorkosigan Saga–I read an omnibus of the first 4 novels about a decade ago, and picked this one up because dozens of friends who read both SF/F and romance love this to bits.
I can see why. I gleefully devoured this “Watch Miles Squirm and get EVERYTHING wrong when he falls in love” book. Structured like a romance, set in the Vorkosigan universe, with all of the protocols, politics, and shenanigans involved. Cordelia and Ivan are both here, being their excellent selves, and the whole thing is delightful in a general sense. Excellent banter, and Ekaterin, who ends up as Miles’s wife (That’s not a spoiler, this is a ROMANCE) is a delight to get to know (I had not read the previous novel). I’m a sucker for romances where both members of the couple are adults, and they are trying to see if their baggage coordinates, because they both have pasts, and damage, and are nervous about trying to make new relationships work. This is one of those.
It’s absolutely clear why Miles is in love with her, and vice versa. They are well-matched. There’s an imperial wedding to make things more challenging, and another couple for contrast: Miles’s brother Mark and Kareen Koudelka, who are struggling with being in love with each other while still figuring out who they are.
There is, as in so many Bujold novels, a depiction of a Typically Taboo Thing in SF/F. (Every time I go to a panel where someone says “x just isn’t really done in SF/F,” someone pipes in “Bujold did it already.” And they’re usually right.)
In this case, it is a gender change for one of the side characters. It is, especially given that this was published in 1999, pretty well handled, but I’m not an expert by any means. The gender change is for political/social/economic reasons, and it is that character’s choice–they take agency to initiate the change. Characters reacting to the gender change have a variety of reactions, and the characters that you want to handle it well mostly do. However, folks who live with gender dysphoria or identify as transgender or genderqueer may have a different experience of this than I do.
That said, this was a thoroughly enjoyable read for me.