All right, I can take a hint. I could have ignored the number of people here asking me if I was going to write about “Winterfair Gifts” but when the author herself sends me a copy! Thanks again, Lois!
“Winterfair Gifts” comes chronologically between A Civil Campaign and Diplomatic Immunity, but it was published last, and thus despite myself I stick to my goal of reading in publication order. It’s a novella, not a whole book, and I think it’s weaker for not having the strengthening themes and context that being part of a novel would have given it—Bujold is generally best with room to stretch herself. (If there are authors, Ted Chiang, John Varley, Robert Reed, whose most natural length is the short form, and others whose most natural length is a novel, are there others whose most natural length is a fourteen book series?) It’s from the point of view of Miles’s armsman Roic, who first appeared in A Civil Campaign and who is a major character, though not a point of view character, in Diplomatic Immunity.
I wouldn’t recommend starting with it. But I can’t see that it would do any harm either.
This story is set around Miles and Ekaterin’s wedding. It’s another romance, and it was written specifically to be published in a genre romance anthology. It’s a romance between Roic and Taura, around the wedding, and around a plot to hurt Miles by killing Ekaterin on her wedding day by giving her poisoned pearls, and trying to frame Quinn.
This story got snarled for me by my going to a reading at Minicon at which Lois read the first half. I then had to wait months and months for the second half, during which time I deduced the shape of what had to happen in it, and figured out that Quinn hadn’t done it. I’m pretty good at doing that if you give me half a story, which is why it’s a terrible idea to give me half a story. Give me a whole story and I’ll swallow it whole. I no longer go to readings at cons for this very reason. Re-reading it now, I notice it doesn’t actually have pacing problems, they were an illusion caused by this. It’s well paced, like all Bujold except the very end of Diplomatic Immunity.
The romance is sweet and nicely done. Taura and Roic are convincing, Taura’s philosophy is just what one would expect, and the obstacles of Roic’s prejudices against mutants and female soldiers go down very nicely. It’s also a nice touch that she’s as much taller than him as normal women are to Miles. (Normal tall women. I’d only be a couple of centimetres taller. But Miles likes tall women.) I’m not sure how readers of genre romance would see it, as it isn’t a “here is the destined One Person” romance but a “gather ye rosebuds” one, and much the better for that in my opinion. I hope they liked it, as I hear there are a lot of them and they buy a lot of books.
Roic’s POV is great. I like his hesitancy about having been a (heroic) policeman instead of a military man, like the others armsmen. I like the way this plays into Diplomatic Immunity, where Miles finally assures him he’s glad that Roic is the one he brought. And it’s an interesting point of view, too, proletarian Barrayaran, Vorkosigan district, entirely impressed with Miles but more so with Aral, easily embarrassed, quite different from anyone else we’ve seen.
The wedding. Well. On the sandwich level, I was just as delighted as Nikki was to see Arde Mayhew, and I was upset that Mark and Kareen didn’t get home. I liked Quinn sending the cat blanket. I liked Elena calling her daughter Cordelia. I liked the ice garden. I love Lady Alys using Roic as a reaction test to how Taura looks, and also that she looks great. I didn’t like Ekaterin being so nervous or Miles thinking she wanted to back out. I like Ekaterin saying of the poisoned pearls: “I’d have worn them as a courtesy to your friend, I’ll wear them now as a defiance to our enemies.” That’s the spirit. Maybe she can keep up with him. I do hope so.
The plot seems a little rushed. But that’s not much of a problem.
All in all it’s a charming little story with a lot of nice shout outs to fans that shouldn’t spoil the flow for new readers. It’s minor in the context of the series, but it is an interesting perspective and very nice to see Miles and Ekaterin settled. As an end for the series—nope. It’s too slight to bear the weight of that. But it’s a lot of fun to read.