A Civil Campaign (Vorkosigan Saga, Chronological #12)
By Lois McMaster Bujold
First published in 1999
From Goodreads: Miles Vorkosigan has a problem: unrequited love for the beautiful widow Ekaterin Vorsoisson, violently allergic to marriage after her first exposure. If a frontal assault won’t do, Miles thinks, try subterfuge. He has a cunning plan… Lord Mark Vorkosigan, Miles’ brother, also has a problem: his love has just become unrequited again. But he has a cunning plan… Lord Ivan Vorpatril, Miles’ cousin, has a problem: unrequited love in general. But he too has a cunning plan…
A complex story, as the various members of Miles’ family attempt to find their one true love, and a measure of destiny. This against a background of domestic political squabbles and an earnest attempt at capitalist enterprise.
(Warning, may contain spoilers for the Vorkosigan Saga)
I’ve seen A Civil Campaign described as a comedy of biology… and manners, and it’s true. There’s something almost Shakesperean or Austenian about it, what with the miscommunications, domestic quibbles, and the plotting win one’s true love- assuming that Shakespeare or Austen ever could have dreamed of setting a story on a faraway planet, involved clones, genetically engineered insects, a somewhat-mad scientist, and conflicts between old-fashioned and interplanetary cultural ideals.
Miles is in love. After the events of the previous book, Komarr, his heart belongs altogether to Ekaterin Vorsoisson, who does not know this, and wouldn’t want his affections even if she did know. Her last marriage was a disaster, and she has no wish to let history repeat itself, no matter how many wealthy and available Vor lords show up on her doorstep. So Miles plots to win her heart before anyone else can snatch her up. If only he’d paid attention to his classic romantic comedies, he might realize that his little plan might not be the best of ideas.
Meanwhile, family and friends are coming back from across the Nexus to attend the emperor’s wedding. Love is in the air, and no one’s quite sure what to do about it.
As often as I rolled my eyes while reading this, as I think back on it I like it more and more. There are no space battles here, but there are politics to be had– a district count isn’t who he thought he was, and the ‘backwards’ court of Barrayar suddenly has to deal with galactic mores when a transgender noble seeks his new birthright. Miles is, of course, in the thick of that, too.
Add in a well-intentioned but ill-conceived plan from Ivan, a questionable dinner party at the Vorkosigan mansion, and some dangerous rumors, and it’s a wonder that anyone makes it to the emperor’s wedding at all!
A Civil Campaign was not what I expected, and though I could have done with fewer bugs, I’ve decided that I was thoroughly charmed by this book. It’s far different from the rest of the Vorkosigan Saga, but that makes it all the more compelling. And this is coming from a reader who does not care for romances. It’s the details that make this book for me– Cordelia’s advice, a passionate letter with a traditional wax seal, Aral’s advice, and a very public proposal are my personal favorites.
I’m sure some readers will see A Civil Campaign as one of the least interesting books in the Vorkosigan Saga, and I can see why. It lacks the danger and derring-do of the earlier volumes, but a series– especially a scifi or fantasy series– that repeats the same thing over and over and over again quickly grows dull. Sure, you could skip A Civil Campaign, find a summary online, and continue on to the next book just fine, but you would miss the fine qualities that make up this book. It’s not just a romantic caper, in the end. It is a book about the myriad forms of love and honor.