Miles, Mystery and Mayhem by Lois McMaster Bujold
Miles, Mystery & Mayhem by Lois McMaster Bujold is the second omnibus of the Miles Vorkosigan Adventures with Miles as the protagonist. The omnibus contains the stories Cetaganda, Ethan of Ethos, and Labyrinth.
Cetaganda is the prime story in this omnibus. Miles is on a mission to be a part of the diplomatic staff during the funeral of the Empress of the Cetagandan Empire. The Barrayaran Empire has less than good relations to this empire and one can consider them the enemy, but at the moment there is no actual war.
Miles and his Cousin Ivan are part of the highest nobility on Barrayar, with Miles very high up on the succession of the throne to the Barrayaran Empire. As such, their presence is a sign of the good will of the Barrayaran Empire, and nothing exciting is planned for the visit except their presence in the ceremonies of the funeral and the time leading to it.
But this wouldn’t be an interesting story if nothing happened and so Miles and his cousin get involved in shady business as soon as their ship docks at Eta Ceta IV. Since you probably know Miles from Young Miles, I think I don’t need to go into detail why he does it, but as Miles is, he wants to get to the bottom of this first encounter on his own. He fears that someone wants to frame Barrayar, though he doesn’t have any proof for it except his instinct. So Miles starts to wriggle his way through the high class of the Cetagandan Empire in search for the reasons behind his encounter. He doesn’t know anything and has to figure everything out on his own. All the while he has a big target on his back and the barrayarans are basically in enemy territory without much insight into the political structure.
While the ghem-lords are the often seen elite of the Cetagandan Empire, there exists a class above them, the Haut. They are the rulers of the Empire and Miles has to find his way through their alien ways to avert a catastrophe that could lead to a massive war.
While the story about incriminating Miles and Barrayar is interesting, the greatest strength of the story lies in the interesting Cetagandan Society Bujold builds. Genetic enhancement has a big part in the Cetagandan Empire, the ghem-lords are basically bred to specific characteristics, and the Haut have made themselves to resemble celestial creatures, only barely human. The upper class spends their time with creating art in all of its forms, and the Haut are the peak of this pursuit. Other interesting concepts are the in concert singing frogs, or the revolting tree with its living cats as fruits. Watching Miles tread carefully through this maze is interesting, especially since the society is generally very interesting and I liked learning more about them. Bujold has a way with creating believable societies. The Barrayaran and the Cetagandan are two prime examples of this, and her universe is full of such societies.
This is shown in Labyrinth too, where Miles visits the “planet of the criminals”, where you can get everything you might want. In contrast to the first story which is mostly devoid of any action and lives through its interesting storytelling, Labyrinth makes up for this as Miles has a job to do on Jackson’s Whole. It doesn’t go as planned and Miles makes dangerous enemies as he resolves things in his own way, headstrong as ever.
If you liked Young Miles, this book won’t be your last stop of the series. It is not as action packed as the first omnibus but persuades with different elements. Especially the strong and interesting societies Bujold builds in her universe make this story a worthy continuation of the Miles Vorkosigan Adventures series.