Author: Lois McMaster Bujold
Stand alone or series: One of the many books of the Vorkosigan Saga—this is the first introduction to the main protagonist, Miles Vorkosigan so even though it is not chronologically the first book in the saga, it’s probably the best starting point!
Summary: (From amazon.com)
Between the seemingly impossible tasks of living up to his warrior-father’s legend and surmounting his own physical limitations, Miles Vorkosigan faces some truly daunting challenges.
Shortly after his arrival on Beta Colony, Miles unexpectedly finds himself the owner of an obsolete freighter and in more debt than he ever thought possible. Propelled by his manic “forward momentum,” the ever-inventive Miles creates a new identity for himself as the commander of his own mercenary fleet to obtain a lucrative cargo; a shipment of weapons destined for a dangerous warzone.
Why did I read the book: I have read and really enjoyed Lois McMaster Bujold’s Sharing Knife books, especially for her smart writing style and characterizations. The Vorkosigan Saga comes highly recommended for SciFi fans, and after hearing Li rave about Miles, I finally decided to give the books a chance.
Miles is Vor—that is, he is a Lord, of the military variety. On Barrayar, a monarchical planet ruled by an Emperor and a somewhat archaic caste system centered about the military, Miles Naismith Vorkosigan is trying to make a career for himself, following the footsteps of his illustrious military diplomat father (and grandfather, and great grandfather, and so on and so forth). Problem is, Miles is at a distinct disadvantage. While pregnant with Miles, both his mother and father were the victims of a poison gas attack (one of the hazards that come with being a political diplomat). Both parents survived relatively unscathed—but the legacy of the attack leaves Miles at a physical disability. He is short (under five feet tall), and his bones are extremely brittle. So while it may seem that Miles has the classic hero thing going for him (privileged, wealthy son of an admired military lord), he is referred to by other characters as a mutant because of his dwarf-like stature and less than dashing appearance. Instead of knocking Miles down, however, he is determined to make a name for himself as a military man, and to make his father proud.
Thus, Warrior’s Apprentice opens with Miles ready to take on his final admission test for the Barrayar officer training Academy. While the other young men consider the hard part (the extensive written exams) mercifully over and view the final test—a physical exam by means of an obstacle course—as a breeze, Miles is nervously sizing up the course. The written tests are nothing for Miles and his quick mind, but the physical exam is an animal of an entirely different color. Paired off with a tall, extremely good looking young man (who looks down at Miles skeptically), Miles is grimly determined to kick some ass. Unfortunately for Miles, his brittle bones get the best of him once more—and he is unable to finish the obstacle course as he suffers two broken legs after trying to dismount a climbing wall.
With this failure, Miles is forced to kiss his dreams of becoming a military officer goodbye, and now faces an uncertain future with one looming question: What Next?
At the suggestion of his parents, Miles decides to take a vacation in his mother’s home world, Beta colony. With his trusty armsman (family friend and bodyguard to Miles) Bothari and Bothari’s daughter Elena, Miles sets off to contemplate his future…and on Beta he sees a window of opportunity. Miles stumbles across a down on his luck, heavily in debt (and drunkard) pilot who is about to lose his ship. On a whim, Miles intervenes and purchases the ship, and takes the pilot under his protection as a sworn armsman. With a new (er, sort of) ship and a ragtag crew (Miles manages to take another armsman on as an engineer who interestingly is a Barrayar military deserter), Miles embarks on a half-cocked scheme to turn a Betan buck as a blockade runner—using his newfound ship and crew to deliver scramblers to the Felicians, a small section in Tau Verde IV that is on the losing end of a war.
As you might expect, things don’t go very smoothly when trying to blockade run in a warzone.
Miles soon finds himself in far over his short head. Under attack from mercenaries, Miles and his crew manage to physically best and outwit the boarding attack party…but there’s a more serious problem in Miles’ immediate future. Even though they managed to defeat the small group sent to commandeer the ship, the much larger mercenary base ship remains. Taking a couple hundred prisoners with a crew of less than 10 isn’t a viable option—and so Miles ingeniously comes up with a new plan. Because of his stature, bone structure, and his medical history of multiple injuries, Miles’ age can either be placed at his true age as a young man of 18, or he is oftentimes mistaken for someone much older. He uses his appearance, and his quick wits, to his advantage. Pretending to be a high ranking officer of a DIFFERENT fleet, Miles calls the mercenary crew to an assembly, and introduces himself as “Mr. Naismith” of the Free Dendarii Mercenaries—and that he is taking over the ship and will be examining all the existing crew members for their eligibility to join the Dendarii fleet. In a wonderful sort of comedy of errors, Miles not only manages to earn the respect of his newfound mercenary brothers, but also sees his fleet continue to grow with new recruits and blockade running victories—his rank quickly rises from the safe address of “Mr. Naismith” to the elevated title of “Admiral Naismith”.
In addition to his quick-witted Dendarii prowess, Miles also discovers that there is a nefarious plot afoot back in Barrayar, where some villain is scheming to unseat Miles’ father, Miles himself, and all other successors in his path to power. Using his newfound confidence and biting intellect, Miles must save his father, discover the villain, and prove that he is much more than an Academy washout.
I absolutely adored this book. Miles Naismith Vorkosigan might not be a traditional brawny hero, but his dogged determination, his self-deprecating sense of humor, and quiet confidence win your heart. Ms. Bujold crafts this space opera flawlessly, primarily through her strong characterization. Besides the charmingly wonderful Miles, the characters of Elena (the love of Miles’ life–thus far), and of his bodyguard and friend Bothari are fantastic. The plot moves quickly as Miles tackles the endless problems presented in front of him, and he learns what it means to be completely responsible.
Notable Quotes/Parts: Oh where to begin! I loved every second of Miles’ thoughts–whether he be down in the doldrums over his Academy failure, daydreaming of how to make Elena his bride (and then immediately countering that daydream by reasoning that with his less than handsome appearance, he would seem to be the monster villain kidnapping the beautiful princess), sweating while trying to keep the house of cards Dendarii Mercenaries intact, and so on and so forth. It was ALL good.
Additional Thoughts: I adored the hero of this space opera, and the decision Ms. Bujold took in making him a short, slightly hunched, brittle-boned man. All the other conventions are followed (rich, great family, legacy of a famous father and grandfather to live up to), save for his appearance. It’s amazing how important appearances are–especially in terms of these characters. When the hero is your typically handsome or decent looking guy with all his parts working as they should be, the thoughts that readers are privy to focus on other issues. In Miles’ case, because of his disability, the focus is on how others perceive him, how to tackle stairs when you’re trying to walk on two broken legs, how to win a girl’s heart without scaring her away…It is a wonderful, refreshing psyche to experience.
Verdict: I absolutely loved it. Cannot wait to read more of it. I heart Miles Vorkosigan!
Rating: 9 Damn Near Perfection
Reading Next: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Fray