Diplomatic Immunity (Vorkosigan Saga, Chronological #13)
by Lois McMaster Bujold
First published in 1999
From Goodreads: A rich Komarran merchant fleet has been impounded at Graf Station, in distant Quaddiespace, after a bloody incident on the station docks involving a security officer from the convoy’s Barrayaran military escort. Lord Miles Vorkosigan of Barrayar and his wife, Lady Ekaterin, have other things on their minds, such as getting home in time to attend the long-awaited births of their first children. But when duty calls in the voice of Barrayar’s Emperor Gregor, Miles, Gregor’s youngest Imperial Auditor (a special high-level troubleshooter) has no choice but to answer.
Waiting on Graf Station are diplomatic snarls, tangled loyalties, old friends, new enemies, racial tensions, lies and deceptions, mysterious disappearances, and a lethal secret with wider consequences than even Miles anticipates: a race with time for life against death in horrifying new forms.
The downside of being a troubleshooter comes when trouble starts shooting back . . .
After their harried courtship and nearly disastrous wedding, Miles and Ekaterin are returning from their long-delayed honeymoon on Earth in time for the births of their first children, a pair of twins. Ekaterin herself is not pregnant. A galactic technology– uterine replicators– allow fetuses to grow in a monitored environment, safe from accidents and other problems while allowing women to escape the physical dangers of natural pregnancy. The oddest thing about the situation, at least to Ekaterin, is that while fathers have long missed the births of their children, technology has now made it possible for mothers to miss their children’s births, too. It doesn’t lessen their excitement when looking forward to the arrival of their twins, though.
And so staying on schedule during these long, interplanetary journeys is of utmost important to Miles and Ekaterin. Cue the delays. When a Komarran shipping fleet and its Barrayaran escort are impounded at Graf Station in Quaddie space, the emperor sends his closest Imperial Auditor to solve the problem. That auditor is, of course, Miles.
What he finds on Graf Station are a missing security officer, an old friend, and a lot of Barrayaran prejudices when it comes to people who look substantially different. Like the Quaddies, a race of people genetically engineered to exist in the zero gravity conditions of early space stations. Instead of legs and feet, Quaddies have a second set of arms and hands. Cue a major issue when the Quaddies come into conflict with the Barrayarans.
Miles must play the diplomat in this situation to keep the Quaddies from banning all imperial ships from this important trading hub. But of course, the deeper Miles looks, the bigger the problem gets until it grows into something that could devastate Barrayar.
Diplomatic Immunity starts out as a mystery and develops into a political thriller, though the core of the initial mystery’s A Plot is critical to the political thriller’s B Plot. It would be a disjointed story otherwise, and Lois McMaster Bujold is too much of a professional to leave a plot point dangling. The events seem to be unrelated as Miles and Co. come across them, but each link in the chain builds on the next and the sequence makes perfect sense once the pieces are in place. And yet solving the mystery doesn’t make Miles, Ekaterin, or anyone else in the region any safer. Space is big, and the travel times that make it possible for Lord and Lady Vorkosigan to miss the births of their own children also make it possible for galactic events to spin wildly out of control before calmer voices– voices with answers for what’s going on– can intervene.
I enjoyed Diplomatic Immunity all the way through. Miles has settled into his role as Imperial Auditor, and it suits him. Great power means great responsibility, and throughout Komarr, Miles was sorting that out. What limits did his power have? Should he authorize this or that, or would that be taking advantage of his role as the emperor’s voice? Holding back when instinct told him to act nearly resulted in disaster on Komarr. A couple of years after that, though, and with Ekaterin by his side, he’s settled into his role. It doesn’t mean that his job is any easier, but he doesn’t second guess himself as much.
Ekaterin has grown quite a lot, too. In A Civil Campaign, more that one character (not Miles) noted that any woman who married Miles would have to have a strong personality and be able to stand up to him, or be swept away by his often manic sensibilities. Ekaterin does this admirably, reminding Miles to do things like eat and put on pants, as well as getting him to explain his wild leaps of logic so those around him aren’t metaphorically stumbling around in the dark. And when fear puts Miles’s thoughts into a wild, useless loop, she knocks sense into his head and puts him back on track.
While each book of the Vorkosigan Saga marks a major change in Miles’s life, I think Diplomatic Immunity is one of the major turning points for him. While he’s always had Barrayar’s interests at least somewhat in mind during his previous adventures, it has always been more of an abstract concept. Facing impending fatherhood, the consequences of failure are far more apparent to Miles. It’s no longer ‘random children’ that would be harmed if interplanetary conflicts erupt into full scale war, it’s his own children who could be hurt or killed. It’s a drastic and very believable change from the impulsive seventeen-year old Miles from The Warrior’s Apprentice.
It’s a pleasant change, too. The sci-fi and fantasy genre is full of teenaged protagonists whose stories begin when they’re sixteen or seventeen and end by the time they’re twenty. And sure, they’ll have changed from the beginning to the end of that story, but you rarely see what they’ll be like after a marriage proposal is rejected, or when a cousin achieves a desired promotion first regardless of the MC’s sacrifices, or how they face becoming a parent. Reading the Vorkosigan Saga from Barrayar to Diplomatic Immunity takes you from Miles’s childhood to age thirty-two. He remains a hyperactive and charismatic throughout the series, but he outgrows the shallow thoughtlessness of youth and grows into a mature adult who learns from his mistakes.
With just a few books left until I finish the series, I’m starting each one with a sense of bittersweetness. I’ve grown to love so many of the characters in the Vorkosigan Saga, and I’m starting to see some of their storylines wrapping up. Barrayar has evolved from a backwards military-mad planet into a world quickly catching up with its galactic neighbors, even if there have been a lot of growing pains. I wish the series could go on to the next generation, with the children that Miles and Ekaterin are bringing into the world in Diplomatic Immunity, but that’s not likely to happen. And that’s okay. The sixteen books and several stories encompass an amazing universe, and are stories that I’ll be able to read over and over again.