At the time of its release in 2010, Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold was, to put it mildly, a highly anticipated novel. It had been about eight years since Diplomatic Immunity, the previous full-length installment in the author’s excellent Miles Vorkosigan Saga. In the intervening years, all we’d seen were the novella Winterfair Gifts and a bunch of omnibus editions collecting the previous novels and stories in the series.
If you’re not familiar with this series yet and are in the mood for some intelligent, character-driven and consistently entertaining SF, drop everything now and go find the first few books. Almost all of them are available in the aforementioned omnibus editions from Baen, which are an affordable and convenient way to get most of the early novels and stories in the series, arranged (mostly) in chronological order. You can start with the Cordelia’s Honor omnibus if you want to read the series according to internal chronological order, or Young Miles if you want to start where Miles Vorkosigan, the series’ unforgettable hero, really gets into gear. (I recommend the former option, as this is one of the few series where I recommend reading according to internal chronology rather than publication order.)
In Cryoburn, Miles is on Kidou-daini (a brand new planet in the series, as far as I know) to investigate a possible scam involving cryogenically frozen people. As the novel starts off, he has just narrowly escaped becoming a hostage during an attack at a cryonics conference and is wandering around in a drugged haze, because he happens to be allergic to the drug used by his would-be kidnappers. By the time the (very amusing) hallucinations wear off, he finds himself in an underground cryonics clinic, taken under the wing of a young boy who has recently run away from home. Eventually, Miles finds his way back to the local Barrayaran consulate, and begins to unravel a mystery that leads much, much farther than anyone originally suspected…
Cryoburn shows Miles in his Imperial Auditor role, investigating a mystery in the name of Emperor Gregor, but as he isn’t actually on Barrayar, his powers are more limited than they would be on his home planet. Still, in typical Miles fashion he quickly pulls the local consular staff along in his wake as he investigates and solves the mystery through legal, quasi-legal and, well, uniquely Milesian methods. As always, there’s lots of action, a good amount of humor, and Bujold’s consistently excellent dialogues. It’s hard to be bored, reading a Miles Vorkosigan novel.
By now, a narrative infused with Miles’ manic energy will be more or less expected by long-time readers, but as a special treat, Cryoburn alternates viewpoints from Miles to Jin, the boy he meets at the cryonics clinic, and (best of all) Miles’ Armsman, Roic. Roic is a sturdy, calm fellow who sounds as if he is used to his master’s antics by now. It really can’t be a coincidence that his name rhymes with ‘stoic’. Seeing Miles through Roic’s eyes is the best part of this novel.
In a nutshell, Cryoburn is a good installment in a great series. I doubt that many long-time fans of the Vorkosigan Saga would consider this one of the best entries in the series, but expecting that would put the bar almost impossibly high. The plot also doesn’t really advance the overall story arc of the series much, and instead reads as if it could be one of five or ten other missions Miles completed in the same year. However, the end of the novel, which is unconnected to the mission, suddenly and painfully yanks you back into the main continuity of the series, and will have you clamoring for the next book.
If anything, given the long break since Diplomatic Immunity and the fact that Cryoburn got nominated for a Hugo, I’m sure this novel got some new readers interested in the Vorkosigan Saga at the time. That’s a good thing, as this is easily one of the best SF series of the last few decades.
Note: This review was originally published at Fantasy Literature. I decided to scan through the novel again and update the review a bit, as I’m (finally) about to read the newest novel in the series, Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance.
A good and fair review. Cryoburn wasn’t one of my favourites, no. I’m looking forward to seeing what you think of Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance. I know you’re a fan of the series–I think you introduced me to it, actually, via Beyond Reality. Anyway, I really loved Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance. I think it’s one of the best books in the saga!
I have a couple of books I need to get to first for review, but I’m getting to Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance as soon as I can. Ivan has always been one of my favorite characters in the series, so I’m really looking forward to it!
Great and informative review. I honestly can’t wait to see Miles post Cryoburn. It’ll be another huge change for Miles.