Sunday 28 July 2013

Labyrinth, by Lois McMaster Bujold

This is the next up in this author's Vorkosigan series which I am intermittently working through, following Ethan of Athos which I reviewed in March. That one was unusual in that it did not feature Bujold's hero Miles, a junior officer in the Barrayan Imperial Security service, but he returns in Labyrinth in his role as Admiral Naismith of the Dendarii Free Mercenary Fleet. He is making a visit to Jackson's Whole, an outlaw planet divided among several powerful criminal organisations each ruled by an hereditary lord and specialising in a particular brand of nefarious activity. Miles is supposedly buying weapons but is actually there to liberate a skilled genetic scientist from one of the organisations and deliver him to Barrayar. As always, things do not go to plan with various complications and setbacks until Miles arrives at an unexpected solution.

Labyrinth is a novella of only 80 pages but a lot of action is packed into them, with dramatic tension laced with humour in Bujold's usual style. Also very evident is her fascination with difference, both physical and sexual, which was so strongly featured in Ethan of Athos. As well as the physically handicapped Miles, we have his ship's captain, the hermaphrodite Bel Thorne; a Quaddie, engineered for a zero-gravity environment with two extra arms instead of legs; and last but far from least, a ferocious eight-foot-tall genetically engineered super-warrior who also happens to be a teenage girl. As is also usual with Bujold, she makes all of her disparate characters sympathetic (except for the bad guys who do of course receive their just desserts).

Like all of this series it's an entertaining read and it's good to return to Miles after a longish break. I have another volume of his stories awaiting my attention, but they'll have to wait – that book is just one in a dauntingly large pile of new novels which keeps growing faster than I can get through them, not to mention the old favourites I want to re-read when I can find the time!

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