Just my job: Lois McMaster Bujold’s Diplomatic Immunity

Diplomatic Immunity is one of the most exciting books in the universe ever. The first time I read it, it gave me an asthma attack —those Cetagandan bioviruses are so effective they incapacitated me through the eyes, in ascii! It almost did the same this time, it was only remembering that it did last time and breathing carefully that got me through the incredibly tense bit.

I don’t think there’s anything else I can safely say about it without spoilers, not for it but for the rest of the series. It would be a perfectly reasonable standalone book, or place to start, I think, it probably helps if you’ve read Cetaganda and Falling Free, and a fair sprinkling of the others, and it would certainly contain spoilers for them, but it wouldn’t be a problem for enjoying what’s going on and having fun.

Miles and Ekaterin, married for a year, go off for a galactic honeymoon while twin babies are being cooked up in uterine replicators. On their way home they’re diverted to Quaddiespace where mysterious things have detained a Komarran trade fleet and its Barrayaran escort. Miles is designated to deal with the problem. He meets Bel Thorne, now living with Nicol from “Labyrinth,” investigates the problems and finds out they’re being caused by a Cetagandan Ba, disguised as a Betan herm under the common Betan name Dubauer (very clever bit of misdirection there, because I instantly started thinking he must be related to poor Ensign Dubauer from Shards of Honor) who is trying to steal a load of Cetagandan haut babies and start his own empire, while starting a war between Cetaganda and Barrayar as misdirection. Miles and Ekaterin manage to stop the war, but not without much tense excitement and bioweapons, and Miles being infected by being too clever for his own good. There’s some excellent broadening of the scope of the problem.

This is only the second time I’ve read Diplomatic Immunity, the first time since it came out in 2002 and we all read it in relays. Most of these books I know backwards and forwards, but I’d forgotten the details of Diplomatic Immunity until they came back to me while I was reading.

This is another surprising departure for the series. It’s a mystery, which isn’t surprising, but it’s galactic, which is, and there’s almost a war. We thought Miles had put away the Little Admiral for good, but here we have him signing off “Nai—Vorkosigan out!” in a top speed full steam ahead crisis. Naismith is still there for Miles to draw on when he needs to be him. It’s not a Dendarii Free Mercenaries adventure, but it’s much closer to The Vor Game than it is to Komarr. After all these books centred on Barrayar and Barrayaran problems and politics and interactions with Komarr, we’re suddenly back in space, and the problems turn out to be Cetagandan.

What’s wrong with it is the end. The book is going along at a zillion miles an hour, and I am hyperventilating (or, this time, deliberately stopping for chocolate to avoid hyperventilating) and everything is going along fine and then… it pulls back. It’s like the end of Mansfield Park. The text withdraws into tell-mode. Miles succumbs to the sickness, and Ekaterin deals with the crisis, but we don’t see it, we hear about it later. We get caught up with the plot, we do not get to see it at first hand, which, after the extremely close tension up to that point, is just weird. The epilogue is fine, and the rewards and medals from the Cetagandans are fine as well, I suppose, but there’s a big hole in between Miles passing out on the ship and there.

This could very easily have been plugged by giving us some Ekaterin point of view, and Bujold has not been stingy with Ekaterin POV in the last two books. Indeed, the whole of Diplomatic Immunity could have been enhanced with some Ekaterin alternating chapters, like Komarr—How is marriage to Miles settling down from Ekaterin’s POV? Ekaterin goes shopping with Bel and they talk about Miles. Ekaterin looks at quaddie hydroponics. Ekaterin deals with Admiral Vorpatril and the Cetagandan Empire. It could have been so cool! It would have made such a great intercut with Miles trying to solve the problems and then it getting all so exciting. Unfortunately, thinking about this Ekaterin-shaped shadow makes the book feel to me as if it has an Ekaterin-POV shaped hole in it, and that’s why I hadn’t re-read it, despite having re-read several other bits of the series on different occasions since then.

The book ends with Aral Alexander and Helen Natalia being decanted. Would this make a good series end? Well, it has been the de facto series end for the last seven years, and it certainly isn’t leaving anything trailing, but it definitely doesn’t feel like a good conclusion—both Memory and A Civil Campaign come with better places to stop.

Though this is the last book in the series at present, I’m going to do one more post about the series as a whole.


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