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Finally checked it out from the library yesterday, finished reading it today, and now I have thoughts.

So, these are the things I did not like about the book:

1. That it was about Ivan. I have mentioned this before, but Ivan is my least-favorite character (aside from villains and obviously evil people, of course), tied with Gregor (who I am still mad at for his actions in Warrior's Apprentice & Vor Game -- what can I say? I hold fictional grudges for forever). I feel that given the range of characters we have to enjoy in the Vorkosiverse, Ivan is perhaps the most privileged one and it shows in some of his behaviors. Part of this also stems from my irritation with some of his words/actions in earlier books (where perhaps LMB had not developed his character as much), especially with the subtext/text that he's assaulted or harassed Elena at least once at some point. See above about fictional grudges.

2. That it was very het-y. Which is an odd complaint coming from me, as I primarily read het fanfics and primarily ship het ships. That aside, I think with the sheer wealth of Ivan/By fic in fandom, and the logic and in-character writing in all those fics, I've come to accept Ivan/By (or at least, By preferring men to women) with some sort of inevitable "It's subtext but rapidly approaches text" mentality. So it was a bit jarring for canon to contradict my fanon (I know -- gasp, shock, my presumptions were wrong).

The thing is, though, I was kind of disappointed that By was portrayed in a het relationship, with only a vague unconfirmed hint that he might be bisexual, when I feel like a lot of the Vorksosiverse has a lot of implied queer characters who are never explicitly in non-heterosexual relationships, Athos aside. Especially with a lot of the things that By says and does (which, granted, are part of a persona that he develops for his undercover ops), I didn't really feel the By/Rish. (Although, I tend to ship canon ships eventually, so I'll probably hop aboard the By/Rish train sooner or later.)

I've also recently gotten tired of loose ends being wrapped up by getting everyone into a happy relationship. I think everyone we care about in the Vorkosiverse is in a relationship by now, which is nice but not completely necessary? Sometimes people can be happy without being in relationships?

3. The romance novel bits. I love reading romance novels, and I really enjoyed the romance-novel-antics of Civil Campaign, but the marriage-of-convenience trope happens to be one of my least favorite. Or rather, when it's done a certain way, I really like it, but if done any other way, I don't. I blame this dislike mostly on the billions of Marriage law fics in HP fandom that may have put me off the trope forever. My first thought when Tej & Ivan got married was, "Please don't fall in love and stay married." While the book reconciled me to their relationship eventually (mostly because I felt that Tej staying with Ivan was preferable to her staying with her family, rather than because I actually shipped her wit h Ivan), I'm not necessarily a fan.

Things that I enjoyed:

1. Every time Simon & Alys showed up. I liked the Simon & Alys & Ivan being a family portions, where Ivan tried to negotiate what Simon may or may not think of him, and him dealing with his mother, and Tej dealing with Alys & Simon, and the nagging suspicion that Aly was secretly orchestrating everything so that she got what she wanted, i.e. a daughter-in-law and a galactic field trip.

(I remain convinced that in that one scene where Udine & Alys are talking, right before Aly leaves and Tej tells Udine she plans on staying with Ivan, that Alys has already manipulated Udine into understanding that if Tej wants to stay, she should stay, and Udine had already said something to the effect of, "Of course I want my daughter to be happy. As long as she tells me that she wants to stay, as long as she is willing to stand up for her right to stay, and she doesn't back down, I'd let her.")

2. The mention of Jole -- while I don't actively ship Jole in a triad/polyamorous/whatever relationship with Aral & Cordelia, I've kind of adopted dsudis' The World That You Need fics as Vorkosiverse backstory with a sort of inevitability, in that I see no way they cannot be true, and I'll take them as canon unless presented with evidence to the contrary. The mention of Jole in the epilogue had me thinking of her fics immediately.

3. The world-building. I liked that we saw more of Jackson's Whole, and how one House, at least, worked.

4. The fanfic-y bits. I did appreciate the insight into how all our favorite characters are getting on (especially since this took place chronologically before Cryoburn so Aral hadn't died yet, *sniff*).

5. The book itself. I did enjoy the book overall -- I didn't fiercely love it, as I have other books in the series, and the plot (and some of the Jacksonian politics) kind of confused me (collateral damage when I really want to know what happens next and I speed-read through), but I think it will improve upon reread. I didn't really like Cryoburn or understand everything that was going on when I read it the first time, but it improved on reread.

6. All the bits where people weren't aware of Ivan's background. I'm just a big fan of people surprisingly having secret awesomeness -- secretly awesome relatives, in this case.

7. Tej's Grandmama making good on her grudge. It cracked me up in the Epilogue.

Things I thought were interesting:

1. Tej's family, and her rejection thereof.

I think the book did a good job of portraying how much Tej loved her family, and how much she was willing to do for them (up to and including jumping off a balcony so she wasn't used as a hostage), in contrast with how much being with them stifled her spirit. What I found interesting about this book, however, was how I feel like Tej breaking away from her family was kind of the antithesis of every other book in the Vorkosiverse to date, thematically.

One thing that has always struck me (perhaps resonated with me?) about Barrayar is the strong collectivistic culture, especially among our protagonists. Part of the reason Miles, and Ekaterin, and Aral, and the Vorkosigans, are so appealing to us is their loyalty, their sacrifice, and their continued willingness to place the interests of their family, of their planet, of their empire, above their own. (Cordelia, coming from a different culture altogether, presents us with a different perspective.)

Part of the point is that there is probably no reason, no instance, no situation or circumstance, that could ever compel Miles or Aral to abandon Barrayar, even if they died for it.

And yet, despite the fact that her family does need her in a way (as pointed out by the speech that one of her sisters gives her -- Pitch, I think? -- about how she needs to give back to her family, and how they need her, considering the straits they're in now, and the family members they have at stake), as the audience, we root for her to make her choice to leave them behind for the sake of a man she's just met a month ago. I think this is probably the first time the Vorkosiverse has portrayed abandoning your family and abandoning your country planet (in this case, abandoning her House, since she has no particular allegiance to Jackson's Whole) as a positive thing.

(Is a list of one still a list?)

Anyways, those are my preliminary thoughts. I did like it, overall, but I do seem to have had rather a lot of complaints.

Date: 2012-12-08 06:14 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Cordelia, surely.

Date: 2012-12-08 08:23 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Yeah, I do wish there had been more Cordelia & Aral ... I miss them!

Date: 2012-12-08 06:22 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Simon and Alys and the fanficcy bits were my favourite part too! And yes, I was disappointed that By ended up with a woman - it's not like Tej had a shortage of brothers, including multicoloured dancing brothers. But there were so many hilarious bits that I couldn't help but enjoy it, in the end :-).

Date: 2012-12-08 08:24 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I did absolutely love ImpSec slowly sinking into the ground. As soon as Tej (I think?) first observed that the plant-thing was digging under ImpSec, I was convinced Simon was secretly orchestrating everything with the sole, specific purpose of toppling ImpSec HQ so he could get a new one.


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