I don’t think Lois McMaster Bujold has released a full-length novel since 2016’s Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, which I sort of read as a capstone to the Vorkosigan series. Since then, she seems to have been spending her time experimenting with self-publishing novellas. While I’ve found those to be mostly very good, they’ve all been set in the World of the Five Gods.
So I’m really pleasantly surprised to see that she’s decided to duck back into the Vorkosigan universe after all!
The Flowers of Vashnoi is set after Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, and happily, we’ve gotten Ekaterin back as a POV again! She and the eccentric researcher Enrique have been tasked with dealing with her husband’s own private Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, Vorkosigan Vashnoi. Three generations earlier, the Vashnoi area was the target of an atomic blast as part of the Cetagandan invasion, and it’s lain uninhabitable since. Enrique has had the smart idea of bioengineering some bugs to chelate the radioactive isotopes out of the soil and slowly restore the area.
Unfortunately, the bugs start to go missing and the pair now has a search on their hands.
This story is quite short, even for a novella. We actually get a bit of extra world-building squeezed in concerning the history of Vashnoi. I also love that we get a story from Ekaterin’s eyes again – I felt we got a little short-changed by not having her as a POV character at any point in Diplomatic Immunity, and we haven’t really spent that much time with her since.
The Flowers of Vashnoi is a great little sojourn back into the Vorkosigan universe, but as you can probably work out from all the previous works I’ve mentioned in the review, this novella is really referential to the rest of the series. This would be a pretty poor place to introduce someone to the books and would recommend holding off reading this one until you’ve reached A Civil Campaign.*
But this gets my hopes up – if LMB is willing to dip her toes in once more, who says she won’t do it again? I’m personally hoping for something involving the ‘Protagonist’ Vorrutyers next. I get the impression that Byerly has been up to some crazy shit off the page that would be great fun to read about.
Any other suggestions? Should we encourage her?
*(If you want a good novella to introduce someone to the series with, I suggest the Mountains of Mourning. Yes, it’s not the first story in the chronology, but some of the earlier books are a little weaker than the rest. And if someone doesn’t like that particular novella, then you know the series won’t be for them)