Kibou-daini is a planet ruled by one preoccupation – to stave off death. Its’ citizens are placed in cryostasis as soon as possible, to improve their chances of a successful return once the condition threatening their life has been overcome by technology. The giant corporations running the cryofacilities are interested in negotiating with the Barrayan Empire, so Emperor Gregor sends his most wily Imperial Auditor, Miles Vorkosigan, in to investigate.
Having survived one cryo-revival, and after a lifetime of cheating death from before his birth, Miles is uniquely qualified for the task. And within hours of landing on the planet, Miles discovers a less well publicised side of Kibou-Daini culture – enormous wealth discrepancies, an invisible underclass, and a real-life Snow White, asleep but waiting to for a prince (or scaled down facsimile) to rescue her and, in turn, her planet.
Cryoburn is the thirteenth Barrayan novel, and though the publication dates and chronology do not always cohere, it takes place after Diplomatic Immunity (after a seven year gap, hopefully for new stories). I wish I were able to write a more useful, insightful review than the one which follows, but I cannot do justice to the complex but navigable plot, nor the meticulous yet invisible world building. As has been the case with the series as a whole, the writing is lucid and engaging, the dialogue rings true, the characters are multidimensional, and the different cultures are truly unique (rather than cosmetically different but substantively similar). Miles’ bride, Ekaterin, sadly makes no substantive appearance, but we are reacquainted with many favourite characters, from Armsman Roic to clone-brother Mark. There are moments of humour (though not nearly to the degree of the butterbug scenes in A Civil Campaign), though the overall tone is a little more somber. And the series-altering shock of the final line of the novel proper is surpassed only by the wave of sadness conveyed by the penultimate line of the last of five ‘Aftermaths’ drabbles. I finished Cryoburn (which refers to the cryonic version of freezer burn) simultaneously replete and craving more.
And writing this review I realised, as I tried to link to the other titles mentioned, that I somehow didn't review them in 2008, which means I get to re-read them to review early next year, thus assuaging my craving. What a lovely pre-Christmas present! - Alex