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review SPOILER ALERT! 2019-02-16 14:43
The Warrior's Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold
The Warrior's Apprentice - Lois McMaster Bujold

Never got around to do a review of this book, so I decided to re-read it and amend this oversight.


After failing his entrance exams into the military academy and the death of his grandfather, Miles Vorkosigan, 17 years old, handicapped by brittle bones, suffering from (more or less) latent depression, is sent to distant Beta Colony. There he stumbles upon a Barrayaran deserter, a jumpship pilot and a contract to ship cargo - erm, weapons - through a blockade.What follows is, as they say, history. Forward momentum anyone?


Coming back to the beginnings of this saga is kind of strange experience: Miles feeling like a failure (and having this feeling reenforced by his grandfather's death and some ill-thought through, and misunderstood, statements of his father's), being rather narrow-minded - well, like a normal 17 year old, I guess. His whole world exists of getting into the academy and impressing Elena, his childhood friend and daughter of his bodyguard Bothari. Stumbling his way through creating an army, dealing with history that's been kept hidden from him, and facing loss and pain broadens his horizons and defines who Miles's ultimately going to become.


In a sense this novel concludes the first part of the Vorkosigan series. It puts a preliminary ending to plotthreads set out in Cordelia's Honor, such as Bothari, Elena, Miles's grandfather, the Regency, Vorhalas's family's involvement with the soltoxin attack etc. The epilogue will be found in "The Vor Game" where Gregor'll have to come to terms with his family's past.


But the board is set for part two of the saga: Miles's time in the Imperial service - and with the Dendarii... and finding his way back to his roots in more figurative sense.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-08-13 20:26
Borders of Infinity by Lois McMaster Bujold
Borders of Infinity (Vorkosigan Saga, #5.3) - Lois McMaster Bujold

This is an omnibus edition of Bujold's 3 earlier novellas, framed by Illyan's interrogation of Miles into the enormous bills the Dendarii Mercenaries seem to accumulate under his command. The framing story is set shortly after Brothers in Arms.


Mountains of Mourning (5++++++ stars) - set after Miles's graduation from the Imperial Service Academy, just before The Vor Game


already reviewed here - still dearly loved.


Labyrinth (3 stars) - set after Cetaganda/Ethan of Athos


Miles is sent to Jackson's Whole to extract a geneticist - whose terms are that Miles has to kill the last remnant of an experiment into creating super-soldiers, animal genes mixed with human DNA. But Miles doesn't find a monster, but a frightened, disillusioned girl.


The weakest of the 3 stories. Not because of the message, but it seems very compressed. Jackson's Whole and Taura would have deserved a longer introduction, especially because both will turn out to be quite important to Miles's growth as commander and human-being. The way the story stands now, Taura latches on too quickly... I don't know... one tumble in the sheets (well, a stone-cold floor) and she's convinced Miles takes her as fully human? And Miles thinks that the body can't lie? I mean, I'm happy Miles thinks for himself (sometimes too much) and doesn't simply follow orders stupidly - and Taura is certainly worth saving... but... still not satisfied with this story.


Borders of Infinity (4 stars) - set right before Brothers in Arms


Miles is sent to infiltrate a Cetagandan prison camp. Initially set to rescue one person he ends up organizing the whole camp.


Again a story that could profit from expansion because again Miles convinced those disillusioned prisoners who are merely existing instead of living, entirely without hope, that there's someting worth living for, a future worth fighting for. Bujold doesn't pull any punches describing the situation there. The Cetagandans are complying with the interplanetary charta to treat PoW... but only literally, reality is quite another thing entirely. You actually feel hope and even sanity leak from you while reading this story. In the end even escape isn't a victory to celebrate.


Curiously, this prison escape also marks the beginning of the end of Admiral Naismith - even if Miles only later learns that fact years later (in A Civil Campaign).


Overall, 3 stories definitely not to be missed in this saga.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-04-05 22:22
Mirror Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold
Mirror Dance - Lois McMaster Bujold

This is a novel that grows on you. When I first read it back in 2005, I reasonably liked it. Except for Cordelia's Honor it was the best part of the saga up till that point in the narrative, but I didn't love it. So I only reread parts of it, but never in its entirety - until now. And boy, this time I absolutely fell in love with it. It has a bit of a slow start (which costs it the half star-reduction), but once the shit hits the fan it's one tour de force of psychology and emotion that keeps you biting your finger nails.


After 2 years, Mark turns up and basically kidnaps the Dendarii posing as Miles for a raid of House Baraputhra's cloning facilities on Jackson's Whole (where he was created as well). Miles races after him and arrives just as the mission fails spectacularly. He ends up shot in the chest and put in a cryotube which then gets lost in the following chaotic retreat. Mark and Elena have the unenviable task of relaying the news to the Vorkosigan parents which means for Elena a return to a difficult past - and for Mark a step into an uncertain future. But the race to recover Miles (dead or alive) isn't over, and Mark won't stop until there's certainty of his clone-brother's fate.


This is Mark's story, who he was, who he is and who he ends up to be. The various roles he has to or chooses to play showcase this, from impersonation, to reluctant and unsure son, to brother and business man - dealing with doubt, guilt, and all the aftereffects that his upbringing with Galen (which is elaborated on here) left him with. Add to that the torture he's put through here, and you get a young man who's somehow toeing the line towards insanity, but nevertheless has never felt more sane and true to himself. It's a veritable tour de force to come to that point, and some chapters are incredibly difficult to read (the black gang's emergence) and make no mistake, Bujold doesn't pull any punches here. This might be the most explicit book in terms of violence and torture against one of her main characters in this saga so far (and overall), and even immoral acts perpetrated by a main character, but it's so rewarding nonethess. Honestly, up till now I've never liked Mark, but in a way Bujold managed to bring him to life in just one (albeit very long) book just as much as she did with Miles. And the Vorkosigan-universe is richer for it.


Miles himself takes the backseat here, but of course he gains a new perspective in life - having an brother, not just a clone, for once not being in the heart of things... and a glimpse of mortality. But his resurrection doesn't come without a price as we'll see. Among all the psychology and character-drama the plot surrounding the Duronas and the despicable machinations on Jackson's Whole get a bit sidelined. But I guess we'll revisit both. Overall, I love the image of reciprocity in this novel: every action has a reaction, just like in the Mirror Dance, a popular dance on Barrayar, and that's transferred to practically everything that's going on here.


Other than Mark himself, the parts that most fascinated me (and the ones that I kept coming back to) are set on Barrayar: the effects Miles' not-quite death has on the Vorkosigans, Mark's introduction into this family, Aral's health crisis which suddenly turns an academic question of succession into a very real one, Cordelia going toe to toe with Simon Illyan, even the small glimpses and huge nudges of Gregor and Kareen Koudelka who both accept Mark for who he is from the start - not just as Miles's clone, but as an individual.


Overall, a stunning novel.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2016-11-19 10:27
Brothers in Arms by Lois McMaster Bujold
Brothers in Arms - Lois McMaster Bujold

The Dendarii reach Earth for supplies, medical aide and monetary compensation, and while Miles tries to sort all this out, he gets to know Duv Galeni, essentially his superior in Barrayar's Embassy on Earth, a Komarran who lost his family during the Komarran occupation and now serves as some kind of poster boy for the integration of Komarrans into the Imperial service. And Miles has to juggle his various identities, coming up on the spot with a clone theory when his cover as Admiral Naismith is threatened to be blown. Little does he know at that moment that there's more truth to his invention than he's dreamed possible.


"Brothers in Arms" introduces two major players within the saga: There's Duv Galeni who's going to become one of Miles's closest allies within the service (of course, while grumbling about it), and then there's Miles's clone brother Mark, created by Galeni's father to replace Miles, take over the Empire and usher in a revolution from within against the Vorkosigans and from without in the form of another Cetagandan invasion... at least that's the plan.


Duv Galeni's quite a complex character. As Komarran he's always under suspicion, yet he was admitted into the Imperial Service thanks to Aral. As a history scholar he knows to question what he's been told about the Barrayaran annexion of Komarr, and he knows that sometimes you have to leave the past behind to embrace the future. His confrontation with his father, whom he thought dead, puts all that he's worked for in danger. I absolutely appreciate Galeni, he's complex, he's honest and honorable, and he thinks before acting (something Miles has troubles with at times). And I love the fact that Aral's hunches about people pay off here again, a skill Miles has inherited from his father, to gather people around himself who are not afraid to speak their mind, who are loyal and worthy of Miles (and Aral)'s high regard and loyalty in return.


Speaking of Miles: He's got to convince his adolescent clone who's come to hate him - who wouldn't after having had to endure countless surgeries to physically resemble Miles, endless conditioning to resemble him in his manners and be able to pass off for him (even fooling Ivan who arguably knows Miles best) -, who's come to hate everything Barrayaran that actually there might be a real place for him within Miles's family, within the Barrayaran Empire. The confrontations between those two were definitely the highlight of this novel - and again show off Miles's people skills, his awareness of his unique origin, his loneliness as an only child (and the reasons for that)... and Mark's own yearning for a family and home even though he's not yet ready to act on that and face Barrayar as his own man, not a puppet of a fanatic.


On a sidenote, especially in the light of "Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen", I paid particular attention to Miles saying that, although Aral and Cordelia could have had more children due to advances in medical science especially on Beta, they didn't even consider going down that route due to Miles's ambiguous standing in Barrayaran society.


Things are about to come to a head soon: Is Miles ready to face life on Barrayar? Or are the strings attaching him to the Dendarii, his position at the head of command, not being weighed down by his physical impediments and common prejudice, and Elli who's not willing to settle down on backward Barrayar, too strong? Are Admiral Naismith's days counted anyway now that the Cetagandan might have discovered Miles undercover role? And Mark? Where's he going to pop up next? Great setup for the next stage in the Vorkosigan-saga.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2016-09-03 12:40
Cetaganda by Lois McMaster Bujold
Cetaganda - Lois McMaster Bujold

This is my second time reading this novel - and let's just say: Bujold's books are eminently re-readable. No matter whether you've read them once already (like this one 12 or so years ago) or multiple times (like Cordelia's Honor, Memory, A Civil Campaign)... love her writing style, her Miles-voice, her way of establishing different cultures. That alone makes for quite a high rating. But let's focus on "Cetaganda".


Miles and Ivan are on their way to the Cetagandan homeworld to attend the funeral of the late Empress when their flight is rerouted and they are attacked. During the fight they get ahold of a strange device whose origin, they later learn, is the Imperial Star Crèche, where all Cetagandan genetic information is stored. During an official funeral procession, Miles discovers their attacker dead at the late Empress's feet, an apparent death by suicide, and he learns from Rian, the handmaiden of the Star Crèche, that the device, the Great Key, is essential to the future of the Cetagandan Empire. Miles realizes that he's stepped into a far more dangerous mystery than he originally thought: one that could destroy the Cetgandan Empire from the inside... and put the blame squarely on the shoulders of Barrayar.


"Cetaganda" offers an intriguing glimpse into Cetagandan society with their genetic engineering, and the question of who controls whom - but it also shows that Miles still isn't able to trust his superiors, or rather that he's a teamplayer but only when and if he's the one calling the shots. And additionally there's his inherent inferiority complex due to his physical impairments to consider which practically forces him to try and prove himself  through his wits at every turn... especially since no one may know of his real role within ImpSec, and everyone believes he has his job through nepotism (a thought on which he at times reluctantly relies to throw people off his scent). All this turns him into a very complex character with distinct flaws - but honestly, I just love him, his internal voice is so precious and his struggles within the system (i.e. his conversations with Vorreedi, his de facto boss on Cetaganda) are an absolute joy to read, as are the mutal interrogations with Benin. I admit I have a thing for intelligence, for smart people and how they act around each other - and this is one of the Vorkosigan-series's strengths.


And there's also Ivan who stumbles from one blunder to the next, who's presented as the ideal subordinate who likes to have orders and doesn't much think about them - and who also likes to transfer any problems to his superiors to mull about, leaving him without worries. At least, that's the picture he likes to project. But then there's the Ivan who's loyal to a fault to Miles (and vice versa I guess, despite any teasing) - and who actually comes up with the solution. Well, he does come from a very similar gene-pool as Miles, just that he's learned that sometimes it's opportune to remain in the background, to set up smoke-screens in order to defer attention from yourself. Quite the contrast to Miles.


I won't really get into Cetagandan internal affairs here, because you actually need to read those 300 pages to get some inkling of understanding. It's just a really interesting society, with the haut lords practically running the place, and the ghem-lords securing power for them. Not to mention the role of the haut ladies who essentially rule over the genetic legacy, whose genome is worthy continuing on, whose family is going to die out - and all this information is centralized in one location which starts the whole affair. So despite the differences, the whole genetic engineering issues, is the Cetagandan system of haut rule so different compared with the Barrayaran with their Vor (except for the female role which on Cetaganda is more advanced than on Barrayar)?


But the genetic engineering serves for quite a few curiosities as well, such as the kitten-tree... or the ethereal beauty of the haut ladies... who knows, perhaps Miles is so intoxicated by Rian's beauty and that's the reason why he won't report to his superiors. Well, at least that would be a simpler explanation than his inherent issues.


In the end, the Cetagandan system survives because of Miles's actions - and he's rewarded, even if this reward by the Cetagandan Emperor comes with the effect of raising suspicions within the Barrayarans. So for once, he gets recognized for his actions but he won't actually be able to show his medal back on Barrayar. Quite the move by the Cetagandan Emperor, ensuring the whole affair remains secret. The only thing that remains a bit unexplained is the concrete motivation of the culprit in the first 2 attacks against Miles and Ivan. For one thing Miles is a scapegoat, that's not the problem. But why target his infirmities with the fountain (which, like an MRT-device, heats up all metal and therefore burns Miles''s feet in their braces) or Ivan's by the pheromones? Just to ridicule them? To throw them off? Or was this left to the personal touch and revenge of the Cetagandan artist whose grandfather fought in the Barrayaran invasion?


Overall, this is an intriguing novel which, for once, puts Miles just in the role of Lord Vorkosigan representing Barrayar in the state funeral (he's 2rd in line for the throne after his father, after all), no Dendarii Mercenaries, no political intrigue on Barrayar, no depressed Gregor - and still he manages to stumble into a major plot. I'm looking forward to revisit Cetaganda in later books because Dag Benin, haut Pel and, of course, haut Rian left a very positive and interesting impression.


Still, despite the positive things I've said, I prefer Miles interacting with Barrayarans, dealing with troubles at (or closer to) home, forcing him to face his physical and mental issues as well as the prejudice on his homeworld, which is why "Cetaganda", despite being enjoyable, doesn't quite have the same impact on me as previous (and later) novels within the series.

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