Miles Vorkosigan is born into a noble family on a planet called Barrayar, but with a disability that may permanently bar him from gaining any merit in his warrior-based society. His bones are as fragile as glass and a simple fall can render him unable to walk. Yet Miles is clever, resourceful, and determined to live up to the example set him by his father and grandfather.
This omnibus edition actually consists of three different stories; two novels and a short story. In The Warrior’s Apprentice, Miles fails to gain entry to the military academy due to his handicaps. Instead he goes off-planet to visit his Betan grandmother, along with his bodyguard Bothari and Bothari’s daughter Elena, with whom Miles is enamored. Miles manages to get himself and his companions into serious trouble in a war zone.
It’s hard to emphasize how pleased I was even just by this first story. The plot is surprisingly complex as Miles manages to think and innovate his way out of the many difficult situations he encounters. But what really makes this shine is the immediate fondness and admiration we feel for Miles, starting off with his painfully failed entry to the military academy. I don’t know if anyone could fail to feel for Miles, but it’s not just pity, it’s admiration of someone who refuses to let his damaged body restrict his possibilities.
Miles isn’t the only fantastic character in these books; each and every one of them is well-drawn. Even just a few encounters lead us to build up relationships and understand how each character relates to one another. Once I’d started reading, I was hooked. While science fiction, these fall more into the genre of “space opera”, which I’ve always understood to be more character and story-focused than science based. I like this definition, from the Wikipedia page: “colorful, dramatic, large-scale science fiction adventure, competently and sometimes beautifully written, usually focused on a sympathetic, heroic central character and plot action, and usually set in the relatively distant future, and in space or on other worlds, characteristically optimistic in tone. It often deals with war, piracy, military virtues, and very large-scale action, large stakes.” To me, this means almost everyone can enjoy this book without getting bogged down in the details.
The second story, The Mountains of Mourning, is short and demonstrates Miles’s life on his home planet, as an old woman comes to him begging for justice. Her baby daughter has been murdered due to a deformity, a subject naturally close to Miles’s heart given his own physical problems, even if they aren’t genetic. This was a perfect contrast to the first novel, showing another side of Miles as we encounter the difficulties he grew up with. Miles still shows his trademark clever ingenuity, but it’s at a completely different pace.
Lastly, we finish with The Vor Game. Ensign Miles hopes for spaceship duty as his first assignment, but instead ends up on frozen Lazkowski Base in the midst of a mutiny. Eventually, he finds himself once again dodging high treason, but with the young emperor in tow, who he has to save from himself, and then from those who would cause him harm. This shows how much Miles has developed since the start of the series, tying in more world-building and giving us a glimpse of how Miles advances through the various challenges that he is presented with.
As Bujold tells us herself, all of these stories touch on growing up. Miles is learning how to inhabit his skin, coming of age in a world of pressures made even worse by his physical problems. This utterly fantastic novel takes a deeper look at prejudices, war, and politics as Miles questions himself and makes decisions that he believes will work the best. I honestly could not believe how much I enjoyed this book – it’s incredibly thoughtful yet action-packed space opera, mixed with just the right amount of humor and tragedy, which has had me eager to read the next book every time. I couldn’t believe how quickly the “pages” fled by as I was wrapped up in this story.
Best of all, if you’d like to try these books for yourself, they are all available freely from the publisher. I know I’ll be reading all books available, and then proceeding to purchase everything Bujold writes in future. I would highly recommend you give this a try!
I downloaded this book for free from the publisher.