As with the other volumes, this is an omnibus composed of three separate stories – two books and a novella. I won’t avoid spoilers for Young Miles or Cordelia’s Honor, so read those reviews before starting this book!
All of the stories in this particular omnibus deal with genetics and the manipulation of them.
In the first of the two books, Cetaganda, Miles and his cousin Ivan find themselves amongst the Cetagandans when a murder mystery sets off – with him and Ivan at the center of it. Miles was passed a mysterious object and set up so the Cetangandans will think he stole it. He needs to use his famous mind to get the Barrayaran embassy out of trouble, and if he meets a few of the gorgeous Haut class, who ride around in opaque bubbles, along the way then he certainly isn’t going to protest. This particular planet, Tau Ceti, separates genetically the higher class from the public face, the ghem lords, leading to some very interesting politics. While I don’t think this was actually my favorite story of them all, I still enjoyed watching Miles dig himself out of trouble.
Ethan of Athos, the next story, doesn’t feature Miles at all, but it’s set in the same time period. The title character is from Athos, a planet where only men are allowed to live. They create children using a limited number of female ovaries donated in the distant past – the babies are then placed in the uterine receptors, developed on Beta, and selected to be male. As you can imagine, this leads to an absolutely fascinating society of men who simply have never seen women and don’t know what they’re like. When a new batch of ovaries arrived and is found to be contaminated, it is Ethan, who has made his life’s work creating babies, who is sent to Jackson’s Hole to investigate the problem. While there, he meets Elli Quinn (who was introduced in Young Miles), one of the Dendarii Mercenaries, and has his expectations of women flipped upside down as they team up to try and get to the root of the problem.
Even though this particular book didn’t feature Miles, it still manages to give us a wider view of the universe Bujold has established, show Ethan how women are actually independent and different beings just like men (I loved this), and also shows us how Miles is regarded by an outsider like Elli. She has a lot of hero worship for him, especially given he made her life liveable again, but it was nice to revisit the character and see what Ethan gathered of him just from Elli’s recollections. It’s also a bit lighter than the other stories in the series, and Ethan’s behavior towards women before he learns is absolutely comical. I loved seeing his expectations completely subverted by the women he meets.
The last story, “Labyrinth”, finds Miles in a desperate battle to rescue a genetically modified woman from the basement. Because she’s considered a “monster”, she’s about to be killed, but he is persuaded to save her. Miles may not be genetically mutated himself, but he always has a soft spot for people who simply look different. A sweet story, but again not my favorite, and lacking the power of “The Mountains of Mourning”.
Still, even if this wasn’t the best volume, I loved reading every virtual page of it, and I can’t wait to carry on with the series.
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