*Minor Spoilers Ahead*
A month or so ago, I was bemoaning the fact that my local library has an incredible lack of Lois McMaster Bujold books. They only have very spotty coverage of the Vorkosigan series. So my attempts to read it have been mostly stymied. A few days later, a package showed up on my door. A friend of mine from the other side of the Atlantic had bought me a whole whack of the Vorkosigan books. It was just about the best surprise package ever. Books! Books I wanted to read! And a very thoughtful gesture from a very good friend. Thank you again, Nele!
So I settled down to read the first book in an omnibus with warm fuzzy feelings, and was not disappointed. I'd read a book further in the series, so I knew about Mark, but, of course, not the details about where he had come from. Knowing more or less how it came out did not spoil the book for me - in fact, it made it more interesting. How do we get from here to there? That's often far more interesting than what twists are coming up next.
And hey, we finally get to see Earth! And things finally move forward with Elli Quinn! (Although, given that the later book I've read was A Civil Campaign, that raises entirely different here to there questions.) Miles and the Dendarii fleet show up at Earth, looking to get resupplied, and secretly, funded by the Barrayaran government. But the attache on earth seems more than a little suspicious of Miles in both his guises, either as himself, or as the Admiral of the Dendarii.
There are also enemy forces on Earth, both the Cetagandans and a shadowier conspiracy. Miles and Admiral Naismith both appearing around the same time on the same planet risks blowing Miles' cover, and yet, it keeps being necessary. So Miles spins a story for the press about the Admiral being his clone. And as soon as that happened, I winced. Telling the lie that is actually sort of the truth tends to make conspiracies edgy.
Because, of course, someone has cloned Miles. In hopes of replacing him and using that replacement for nefarious purposes. But what is most interesting about this are a couple of themes it raises. Family, for one. Raised by a Betan mother, Miles knows immediately that a clone brother is still a brother, with all the problems that might raise. But he can't reject Mark, and his mother would be outraged if he didn't look out for his little brother, even though they've only just met and Mark is trying to kill him. This idea of family, the bonds that are there immediately, even if the other person is unaware of them, is interesting. Mark, of course, believes this not in the slightest.
The other aspect that interested me is the idea of loyalty, personal, familial, or to a cause. And what happens when a cause becomes moribund, but there are still fanatics hanging on. I'm not going into details here, but the struggle between Mark's creator and those around him, is very well done.
And, of course, Miles and Quinn finally give in to certain...desires, and that leads to complications. Not least an argument about which Miles is the real Miles, which I can see causing real problems between them down the line. It's a good subplot, and I look forward to seeing how it pans out. Or doesn't, as the case may be.
Of course, there's always Miles, trying to juggle identities and responsibilities, with a little brother suddenly added to the latter. A very enjoyable entry into the series.