I waffled on whether this post belonged here or in my Favorites Monday series but ended up deciding that since I've read less than half of the author's output and have just in the last few weeks started a massive glom of her best-known series, it's a Find. When I finish, maybe I'll rave about her some more on the Favorites side.
Anyway. Lois McMaster Bujold. She writes science fiction and fantasy with vivid, appealing characters and strong world-building, with occasional books that are basically mysteries in space or fantasy romances. And they are awesome and addictive. Since I'm more of a fantasy reader than a science fiction one, I read her two fantasy series years ago and can recommend them without reservations. The first starts with The Curse of Chalion and would be an especially good fit for fans of Jacqueline Carey or Guy Gavriel Kay. The second starts with The Sharing Knife: Beguilement and is an evocative romantic fantasy set in a world that physically resembles the American South and Midwest and culturally feels maybe 18th or 19th century in technology, but is very much its own place with its own cultures and magical hazards. The central couple are sweet and different--and managed to get past my usual dislike of large age gaps between heroes and heroines--and the writing is lovely and lyrical.
But Bujold is best known for the Miles Vorkosigan series, which I held off on reading for ages because it's science fiction, which I don't like as much as fantasy. But after hearing what I swear was 3/4 of my friends rave about Miles, I finally swallowed my instinctive preference for books with horses or castles on the covers to ones with spaceships and settled down to read Young Miles, an omnibus edition of the first few books in the series. And I fell hard for Miles somewhere around p. 40 and haven't looked back.
How to describe the appeal of Miles? Well, he was born with a compelling combination of power and weakness. He's the son and heir of an influential lord and military leader on a planet where such things matter a lot--but because of an attempt to assassinate his parents by poisoning while his mother was pregnant with him, he was born stunted and deformed into a society whose prejudice against such disabilities is even stronger than our own's. So he's got every advantage...and every disadvantage. He's freakishly smart and a master manipulator, though he mostly uses his powers for good. He swashbuckles and wisecracks and improvises his way across multiple planets, and his story is the best-written pure fun I've run across in years.