Review: CryoBurn by Lois McMaster Bujold

CryoBurn (Vorkosigan Saga, #14)CryoBurn by Lois McMaster Bujold
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When it comes to our favorite series and characters, we always want more. Never mind that the series in question may have run its natural length or that the author may want to branch out and try new things. No, we want that favorite series or character on a regular basis for as long as possible.

At least, that is, until things turn sour. Then we’ll turn on you and the series so fast it will make your head spin.

When it comes to the on-going saga of Miles Verkosigan, I’m a fan. I’d happily see Lois McMaster Bujold put out a new Miles book every year like clockwork. But I do understand that she wants to stretch her wings a big and let things simmer a bit when it comes to her most popular and famous character. In some ways, I’d resigned myself to the fact that we might not ever see another Miles novel and I was, for the most part, OK with that. Better to leave fans wanting more and the series is good shape rather than keep on beating a dead horse and churning out a new novel each year just to fulfill a contract or to ensure a spot on the best-seller list.

So, when I heard that "CyroBurn" was coming and that it was the long rumored next Miles installment, I was both excited and apprehensive. Excited because it’s a new Miles book. Apprehensive because I’m not sure the book could live up to the seven years of waiting and hoping I’d had in my mind. (Also, can a new book compete with my memories of reading the older ones?)

Thankfully, Bujold is up to the task, slipping back into Miles’ universe with ease. For the first 300 or so pages, it would be easy to categorize the "CyroBurn" on the same level as "Komarr" or "Cetaganda"–a fun story about Miles that offers us some interesting insight into his character and an intriguing mystery to solve, but overall fairly non-essential to the entire arc of the series.

Then you get to the last several pages and Bujold hits you between the eyes with one of the most pivotal moments in the Verkosigan universe since we met Miles’ clone Mark and you’re left hoping and praying the next installment won’t take seven years to hit shelves.

First up, the main story. Miles is sent by Gregor to New Hope II to investigate several companies who specialize in cryo-freezing people. The companies are hoping to make inroads onto Komarr and there are whispers of things not being exactly on the up and up. During a conference, Miles and several other delegation members are attacked and kidnapped. Unknown to the kidnappers, Miles is allergic to the sedative used and instead of knocking him out, it makes him hyper. The story begins with Miles in the cryo-tombs, trying to recover and find his way out.

He’s met by Jin, a young boy whose mother was frozen supposedly because of an illness. Jin lives high above the city with his pets and is supposed to be looked after by his aunt and uncle. This isn’t necessarily the case.

Meanwhile, Roic has been kidnapped and works to escape.

"CryoBurn" varies its viewpoint between Miles, Roic and Jin with considerable ease and impact. Seeing Miles through the eyes of the younger Jin is a treat, esp. now that Miles is getting closer to 40. Watching as Miles maneuvers and schemes from both inside his brain and outside of him is fascinating and fun.

For most of the book, "CryoBurn" feels like a comfortable visit with an old friend. The story references events from previous books and Mark shows up late in the game to help push things along toward the eventual resolution and denouncement.

And just as you’re ready to wrap things up and turn the final page, Bujold hits you with a pivotal moment in the life of Miles and the Verkosigan saga.

OK, so here’s where the huge SPOILERS begin…and trust me you don’t want this ruined. If you’re going to read the book, stop reading this review now. Go read it and then come back. Trust me.

You have been warned.

The final paragraphs see Miles and Mark learn of the death of Miles father, Count Verkosigan. At this point, Bujold then challenges herself and the readers by offering up 100 word stories that show various people’s reactions to the week of the Count’s funeral. The news hits you in the gut and then the separate stories each drive home what’s happened. It’s a fascinating end to the story and it opens up a lot of interesting potential for the next installment, assuming we get one.

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