Bujold is great at the good ol' space opera standbys: other planets and cultures, big space battles, interstellar politics, and so on... so why is it that no matter how good she is at that stuff, my favorite parts of the Vorkosigan books are almost always those set on Miles Vorkosigan's homeworld of Barrayar? Maybe it's because the culture of a planet that has become a major military power in space and still has peasants who live like it's the goddamn Dark Ages is fascinating. Or maybe it's just because Miles, in his own way, is less comfortable there than anywhere else--in certain ways, at least.
After reading Cordelia's Honor--an omnibus of the two books about Miles' parents--I had trouble seeing how this "new" character who was the real focus of the series would be as interesting as they were, although the whole "extremely crippled in a culture that sees that as a great failing" thing gave me promise. As fascinating as an adventure hero who's bones break if you look at them funny (and who isn't conventionally good-looking on the outside either--I don't know who the fuck that's supposed to be on the cover) is, it's watching Miles stumble into things and, without time to acclimate himself, somehow turn things around that makes the character so rewarding. Sometimes there's a great deal of luck involved, but even then it's extremely entertaining, as I'm just as curious how Bujold will extricate her character as I am about Miles himself. This is not terribly surprising, given that her way of writing is to sort of let things flow along and see what happens--it shows, but in a good way, for the most part. It reminds me of classic serialized storytelling.
It also feels much like we're just learning about someone's life, which is why an omnibus works just fine this way. Each of the two novels here have a few different stories in them, and even the novella that they flank could have been an introduction, if the author had been so inclined. I'm glad she wasn't, though, because the entirely Barrayar-set Mountains of Mourning was my favorite part of the whole product. And I LOVE me some space opera. I also loved watching Miles somehow bumble his way into mistakenly running a mercenary fleet (and making it seem natural), but the social questions of Mountains were fascinating, and the murder mystery storyline very compelling. I usually don't have the patience to read a short story in a sitting, let alone a novella, but this one absolutely was. Bujold is extremely readable and hard to put down, even when nothing is happening (like the earlier parts of the two novels contained herein.
There's a lot more to say, but my mind's a muddle. I will put forward, however, that this didn't just make me decide I'd read the rest of the series--that was pretty much a given. Rather, this made me realize that (provided there isn't a horrible drop-off in quality in the later books, and I've heard nothing about such a thing) I'll clearly want to re-read and re-read this series throughout my life. So why doesn't it get a five-star rating? Because there were little tiny flaws here and there and I get an extremely distinct feeling that there is better to come.