Lois McMaster Bujold – Cryoburn

Somewhat unexpectedly Lois McMaster Bujold last year added a new novel to her Vorkosigan Saga, a series of character-based science fiction novels with which she has won multiple awards. What defines this series is that each novel can be read as a standalone. References to earlier books only add to the richness of the plot but do not obstruct understanding it. Another important notion is that in each novel Bujold follows a certain theme in which the morality of certain choices are woven into an engaging and fast-paced story which is written in a very easy going but effective writing style. What she does so good, and which is probably also why she won those awards, is that the theme is never forced upon the reader but a natural element within the story. It will make the reader think and creates depth to what would seem just an adventurous action-like SF novel. Like other great story tellers it is her strong characterization that grabs the reader and creates a strong attachment to the different characters of her novels.

The last Vorkosigan novel was published 8 years ago. The series had reached a certain conclusion although as it is also a history of a family over the period of many decades there was still space for some additions, if there was a theme and plot available that would provide for a fitting SF story. To that I should add that Bujold has not written her novels in chronological order so she could always fit a new story within the existing timeline.

The new novel is called Cryoburn (2010) and takes place several years since the events of the last novel. What makes this novel different from the previous ones is that there are three main points of view. Besides the main character we see events from a familiar side-character whose viewpoint was also used in previous stories and a new one specifically for this novel, telling the story through the eyes of young local child. It was somewhat obvious to me that Bujold wanted to give herself a bit more of a challenge and do something new to make the novel more different than the previous ones. I can say this worked out well enough as it provided a way to tell more story. In earlier books we only saw events through the eyes of the main character which also meant that things he didn’t know, the reader wouldn’t either. In this case there are less of such surprises as more angles are covered.

However, these multiple perspective do try to hide that the plot is not as complex or thrilling as we are used to. Although a lot of things happen and Bujold takes her time to give it sufficient attention it is rarely really riveting. Things fall into the right place too quickly, even when there are twists. The plot is well crafted but simply too limited, especially compared to the plot of the other novels. As such this book feels more as a fan-pleaser than a novel that would draw in new readers. As I’m a fan myself I did enjoy myself greatly, but for a good review I need to detach myself and pick out what a new reader would be less happy with. A new reader would certainly like and enjoy the book, but would not be impressed. The theme that Bujold has picked up is not really new, although she adds some new elements to expand on the concept. Bujold knows what works in a novel but I did feel she took it too easy. A bit more danger or complex situations would have improved the story. I cannot say the plot or story is weak, but having read the other Vorkosigan novels I know she can do much better.

That is where my conclusion brings me. Cryoburn is an enjoyable addition to the Vorkosigan Saga but also one of the weakest, compared to the high quality of those other novels, perhaps the weakest. Still this is a good SF novel which remains, like Bujold always manages to do, easily accessible for any reader.

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