Old School Wednesdays is a weekly Book Smuggler feature. We came up with the idea towards the end of 2012, when both Ana and Thea were feeling exhausted from the never-ending inundation of New and Shiny (and often over-hyped) books. What better way to snap out of a reading fugue than to take a mini-vacation into the past?
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Today, Thea continues with the Miles Vorkosigan books, with a review of Brothers In Arms!
Author: Lois McMaster Bujold
Genre: Science Fiction
Publication date: First published in 1989
Paperback: 352 Pages
Miles Meets His Match — Almost.
The Dendarii Mercenaries thought shore leave on old quaint, placid Earth would be a nice change of pace from chasing Cetagandans. But with Miles Naismith Vorkosigan around, things just seem to get complicated. With Miles and his clone both in the same place at the same time, life gets too crazy for even Miles. Good thing Elli Quinn and the Dendarii are on hand to bail him out.
Standalone or series: Story/book 8 in the Miles Vorkosigan saga
How did I get this book: Bought
Format (e- or p-): Ebook (via Baen’s Ebookstore)
Why did I read this book: I *love* Miles Vorkosigan. Very, very much. Even though I’ve only read the first 5 books in the series, I can safely say that wonderful, darling Miles is one of my favorite characters ever – and with that in mind, I have vowed to complete the Vor saga as soon as possible. Thanks to the help of commenters here, I skipped Ethan of Athos in favor of this book.
It’s been a rough run for Miles Vorkosigan – that is, Admiral Naismith – and his Dendarii Mercenaries. After a stint staging a daring rescue from a Cetagandan POW camp on Dagoola IV (Borders of Infinity), Miles – as Lord Vorkosigan – is ordered to report to London, on the nostalgic planet Earth. The trip is a welcome respite for Miles and his small army of mercenaries – docking on Earth means much-needed repairs, and payment for a job well done. Unfortunately, when Miles reports to the Barrayan Embassy, he discovers a surly Komarran commanding officer (who has no knowledge of Miles’ alter-ego and Barrayan ImpSec-sanctioned Dendarii Mercenary team), and no funds to pay for Dendarii expenses. Even worse, because the Barrayan Embassy is a fairly small outfit on a tourist planet, Miles has to wait 10 days before getting his requests out to Barrayar.
Things get complicated when Miles is forced to invent a story about a clone to explain Admiral Naismith’s shockingly identical appearance (things get a little out of hand when the Dendarii soldiers are denied credit and Miles is forced to intervene in a very public way). But that’s nothing compared to what comes after – because Miles’ story about a fictional clone? It’s actually true; part of a revenge plot reaching back decades, and a pointed spear aimed directly at the heart of the Barrayan Empire. With three Miles’ at play – Lord Vorkosigan, Admiral Naismith, and the new impostor – the stakes have never been higher. And, with the future of Barrayar at stake, it is up to Miles – err, the original Miles, that is – to save the day.
The eighth (ish?) book in the Vorkosigan saga, Brothers in Arms is one of the three stories collected in the omnibus Miles Errant – and in the running to be my favorite Miles story to date. Thanks to the advice of folks here (after reading Cetaganda), I skipped Ethan of Athos in order to read novellas Labyrinth and Borders of Infinity before gleefully making my way to this book. And holy crap folks, what a hilarious/sad/comedically complicated ride Brothers in Arms was! Simply put: I loved this book. I loved the return to the Dendarii Mercenaries (following Cetaganda‘s Vor-focus), the return of old familiar faces, and the introduction of some very important new characters (Mark Pierre, more please!). The plotting is wonderfully convoluted, rife with fake-outs and double-crosses and last-minute hijinks (I mean this in the best possible way); the worldbuilding fascinating (as is the continuity for the Vor saga universe); and, most of all, the characters are absolutely awesome.
So, let’s start with the mechanics: Brothers in Arms expands on a few key tensions that have been simmering since the start of the series. We see frustrations with Cetaganda continue here (understandable, given Miles’ recent shenanigans and death-defying prison breakout in Borders of Infinity), but we also see the strain of long-standing resentment from Komarr towards its Barrayan imperial overlords (Komarr’s absorption into the empire is something with which Miles is intimately familiar, given his parents’ roles in the war). On Earth, Miles’ commanding officer is one Captain Galeni, a Komarran who struggles with duty as a Barrayan officer and his deep-seeded resentment of the Vor – especially applicable to Miles, the entitled son of high-ranking Lord Vorkosigan (aka the “Butcher of Komarr”). Komarr’s long memory and thirst for vengeance come to ground in Brothers in Arms, as Miles unwittingly unconvers a diabolical plot to destabilize the Barrayan government in a great bloody coup – a coup led by Miles’ clone.
This noxious and complicated political environment is drawn beautifully by Bujold, and Miles is forced to walk a very delicate balance between loyalty to his family, to Barrayar, to his Mercenaries, all the while being sensitive to the tensions between Cetaganda and Earth, and avoiding all-out-war or rebellion from Komarr. Not bad for a day’s work, even for Miles! Needless to say, I was very impressed with the worldbuilding. Similarly, I was impressed with Bujold’s careful plotting and writing skill in this book as she pulls off an incredibly ridiculous story, involving Miles’ constructed alter-ego Admiral Naismith, a story Miles desperately spins about Naismith being his clone (it’s the perfect cover!) – and then actually discovering that he actually has a real clone. In less skilled hands, this could have been incredibly confusing, devolving into nonsense, but Bujold not only pulls it off – it’s a story that is equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking, and never once does it stop being entertaining.
And then, of course, there are the characters. I think I speak with the majority when I say that I love Miles Vorkosigan. Every adventure that I read with dear Miles is…well, an adventure. He’s quick-thinking, fast-talking, and walks the fine line between utter brilliance and madcap disaster. But I think what I love most of all about Miles – which becomes very apparent in Brothers in Arms – is how much the character grows with every single story in the series. In Cetaganda, I liked that we see a darker side to Miles – a need to be a hero so desperate that he makes some very self-serving bad decisions. In Borders of Infinity and moreso in this book, however, we see that Miles is frightfully lonely, that he’s learning to play the long game (instead of flying by the seat of his pants), and for the first time we see Miles truly reflecting on his actions and how they affect others. This becomes painfully clear with his actions towards Galeni, and towards his clone/brother, Mark.
“I don’t want a clone,” said Miles. I want a brother. “But I seem to have been…issued this one.”
There’s a particularly heartbreaking revelation that comes in this book, when Miles explains how deeply lonely he is and how he knows why his parents never had any other children. At the same time, we also see Mark and how deeply bitter – understandable, given all that Mark has been put through physically and emotionally over his life – Miles’ younger brother truly is. Miles and Mark need each other, I think, and I cannot wait to see how this complicated, love/hate relationship plays out in subsequent books in the series.
Finally – I have rambled for very long indeed – I cannot end this review without expressing my adoration for Elli. Oh Elli, I love you so much. I love seeing Miles in a romantic relationship – but more than that, I love how the brilliant, competent Elli knows exactly what she wants and doesn’t take Miles’ bullshit (mostly) (actually, she reminds me very much of Cordelia, now that I think on it!). I also, in a sick kind of way, love that this relationship is doomed in the long term, but I’m happy to see both of these characters happy in the short term. Basically, this quote sums everything up:
“Oh, love,” she breathed sadly, “you aren’t thinking.”
“I think the world of you.”
“And so you want to maroon me for the rest of my life on a, sorry, backwater dirtball that’s just barely climbed out of feudalism, that treats women like chattel – or cattle – that would deny me the use of every military skill I’ve learned in the past twelve years from shuttle docking to interrogation chemistry… I’m sorry. I’m not an anthropologist, I’m not a saint, and I’m not crazy.”
YES. This. (As much as I love Miles, he still doesn’t really understand women – and as charming as Barrayar seems for a young man born to power, it’s not quite the same for a young woman.)
I finished Brothers in Arms in basically a single sitting, and I admire the new levels of complexity Bujold has introduced with this latest Miles adventure. I will be back very soon for more – Mirror Dance is next on my list.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 1:
His combat-drop shuttle crouched still and silent in the repairs docking bay—malevolent, to Miles’s jaundiced eye. Its metal and fibreplas surface was scarred, pitted and burned. It had seemed such a proud, gleaming, efficient vessel when it was new. Perhaps it had undergone psychotic personality change from its traumas. It had been new such a short few months ago. . . .
Miles rubbed his face wearily, and blew out his breath. If there was any incipient psychosis floating around here, it wasn’t contained in the machinery. In the eye of the beholder indeed. He took his booted foot off the bench he’d been draped over and straightened up, at least to the degree his crooked spine permitted. Commander Quinn, alert to his every move, fell in behind him.
“There,” Miles limped down the length of the fuselage and pointed to the shuttle’s portside lock, “is the design defect I’m chiefly concerned about.”
He motioned the sales engineer from Kaymer Orbital Shipyards closer. “The ramp from this lock extends and retracts automatically, with a manual override—fine so far. But its recessed slot is inside the hatch, which means that if for any reason the ramp gets hung up, the door can’t be sealed. The consequences of which I trust you can imagine.” Miles didn’t have to imagine them; they had burned in his memory for the last three months. Instant replay without an off switch.
“Did you find this out the hard way at Dagoola IV, Admiral Naismith?” the engineer inquired in a tone of genuine interest.
“Yeah. We lost . . . personnel. I was damned near one of them.”
“I see,” said the engineer respectfully. But his brows quirked.
How dare you be amused. . . . Fortunately for his health, the engineer did not smile. A thin man of slightly above average height, he reached up the side of the shuttle to run his hands along the slot in question, pull himself up chin-up fashion, peer about and mutter notes into his recorder. Miles resisted an urge to jump up and down like a frog to try to see what he was looking at. Undignified. With his own eye-level even with the engineer’s chest, Miles would need about a one-meter stepladder even to reach the ramp slot on tiptoe. And he was too damned tired for calisthenics just now, nor was he about to ask Elli Quinn to give him a boost. He jerked his chin up in the old involuntary nervous tic, and waited in a posture of parade rest appropriate to his uniform, his hands clasped behind his back.
You can read the first several chapters for free via Baen HERE.
Rating: 8 – Excellent
Reading Next: Hero by Alethea Kontiss
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Ebook available for all formats via Baen Ebooks