The fourteenth book in the long-running Vorkosigan series. This time Miles meets Ekaterin Vorsoisson.

Publication year: 2004
Format: Audio
Narrator: Grover Gardner
Running Time: 12 hours 44 minutes

Ekaterin Vorsoisson is married to Tien Vorsoisson who is a bureaucrat in the terraforming project on Komarr. They have been married for a ten years and have one son, Nikolai. Ekaterin is unhappy because her husband mentally abuses her. They also have a secret: Tien and Nikolai suffer from a genetic disease. Tien hates mutants and is afraid that someone else would know about his disease. So, even though Ekaterin pleads him to cure himself and their son, he delays and delays. Also, Tien has trouble keeping his job; he blames his awful supervisors and co-workers, and moves often. Ekaterin doesn’t have any friends anymore and she doesn’t even bother to plant a new garden.

When Komarr’s solar array is damaged by a mysterious accident, Emperor Gregor sends to Imperial Auditors to check it out; Vorthys, who is Ekaterin’s uncle and an Engineer Professor, and the newly minted Auditor Miles Vorkosigan. The more they look into the accident, the weirder it looks. The duo lives with the Vorsoissons during that time, and Miles and Ekaterin grow closer.

Miles Vorkosigan is now the youngest Imperial Auditor ever. He comes to Komarr to study the elder Auditor in action and to help with case. He’s instantly attracted to the lovely Ekaterin but keeps reminding himself that she’s married. He’s also trying to adjust to his new job but his old instincts as a secret agent still take over from time to time. In addition to researching his case, he also manages to snoop in Ekaterin’s computer. He stumbles into her garden designs but also her notes about the disease.

The book is structured as a romance; the point-of-view switches between the hero and the heroine, and their growing attraction is a secondary plot along with the mystery. Thankfully, the story is devoid of the more toxic romance tropes, such as rape is romantic if it’s done by the “right” guy.

Professor Vorthys and the ImpSec people are great new characters. Vorthys has also a wife who is called the Professora and she also a university teacher. Unfortunately, we didn’t see much of her. Ekaterin has trained herself to be still as stone so that she wouldn’t do anything to upset her volatile husband (Unfortunately, her tactic doesn’t work because Tien is the cause of Tien’s anger) so she might come across as a bland character. Apparently, she’s a realistic portrayal of an abuse victim. In the end, she does have fire and passion in her.

Komarr’s cities are inside domes because the planet is still being terraformed. Barrayar conquered the planet about a generation ago. However, while some Komarrans make snide remarks to the Barrayarans, there doesn’t seem to be much active resistance going on. For example, Miles whose father is known as the Butcher of Komarr can move around freely without bodyguards. Komarr feels also more galactic than Barrayar. I can’t imagine that any Komarrans live in as profound poverty as the peasants on Barrayar. So, the difference between the conquered and the conquerors seems to be surprisingly large.

I heartily recommend the book for romance fans.