A Civil Campaign - Lois McMaster Bujold image
Following the resounding success of my Locus Quest, I faced a dilemma: which reading list to follow it up with? Variety is the spice of life, so I’ve decided to diversify and pursue six different lists simultaneously. This book falls into my FINISHING THE SERIES! list.

I loves me a good series! But I'm terrible for starting a new series before finishing my last - so this reading list is all about trying to close out those series I've got on the go.

Oh, Countess Bujold, you spoil us.

There are three BIG series (10+ books) which I adore: Discworld, the Dresden Files and, the most recent addition to that illustrious club, the Vorkosigan Saga.

I discovered the Vorkosigan Saga as part of my quest to read every significant sci-fi award winner, and thinking about it, that’s kind of surprising. Sci-fi awards often go to radical, edgy, unusual books – but that’s not the kind of sci-fi Bujold writes. Sure, the series features spaceships and other high-tech accoutrements, but they’re never the focal point. This is accessible, comfortable, pleasure reading – not high-concept award fodder.

Bujold’s is really, really good with characters. The comparison that’s jumping to mind isn’t quite right – but she writes a bit like Joss Wheedon (the TV writer who created Buffy/Angel, Dollhouse & Firefly). Her cast are instantly and lastingly likeable. Some people may love Cordelia more, my wife is little bit in love with Miles – my own personal favourite is Marc – but all the characters make an impression on your heart. They’re rounded, flawed, motivated, conflicted... and strong!

And damn, the woman can weave a plot! It’s never too complex to confuse, but there’s always enough elements in play to keep it fresh and unpredictable. The more I read of her work the more I admire her methods. Yes, she’s a sci-fi writer, but she’s a natural storyteller who could work in any genre she pleased.

My favourite sci-fi writers are guys like Simmons and Stephenson – they’re looking to blow your mind and rebuild it with a new outlook. Aunty Bujold just wants you to snuggle up with a blanket by the fire and get lost in a good book. Nothing fancy, just solid as a rock storytelling and a rollicking good read.

A Civil Campaign is a romance! A romance, I say! And I say it again because I never read romance novels. It's not an overly soppy romance, but (to coin Friends’ phraseology) “The One Where Miles Gets The Girl”. It's funny. If you’ve never read any of the series, Miles is this hyperactive little ex-super-spy, who is son of a military legend and best mates with the Emperor. As his mercenary under-cover alter-ego, he had a string of wild lovers, none of whom were suitable (or interested) in coming back to his backwards home planet to become the next Lady Vorksigan. But, in the previous book (Komarr) Miles met the recently widowed and rather fantastic Ekatarin. She’s just come out of a rather horrible marriage and isn’t at all interested in romance, so Miles is playing it slowly... but competition rather forces his hand.

Plus, Marc’s back from Beta! Marc is Miles’ brother (with a ‘black-gang’ of semi-autonomous personalities). As I said, he’s my fave so having him back made me happy, and his new business venture (genetically engineered butter spewing bugs) provides a constant thorn in the side for any kind of smooth sailing that anyone attempts.

The story occurs in the run-up to the Emperor’s wedding, so it’s very much ‘love is in the air’. But it’s made interesting and convoluted, because Miles has been ensnared in a couple of complex inheritance cases.

And the dinner party scene is just perfect. Really. You have to read it to understand!

So why not five stars for this one?

Obviously, there’s no room in Miles’ civilian life for all his old mercenary buddies – so Bujold needs to put some time into developing his new Barrayar-based social life. There’s a new crowd being introduced (or at least fleshed out from prev introductions) – and none of these new characters quite wowed me, so their contribution to A Civil Campaign let the side down in pursuit of that final star from me. Harsh, but honest.

After this I read: Hairy Maclary from Donaldson's Dairy