Tuesday, August 30, 2022

45. The Warrior's Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold (#3 in the Vorkosigan saga)

This third book in my foray into the Vorkosigan saga has given me a good idea of why it is so popular.  This was a really fun read!   I was wavering about staying with this series but The Warrior's Apprentice has convinced me to stick with it.  There is a certain lightness to it that I suspect is indicative of the time it was written (1986) and makes it lack the rigour and narrative "realism" we get in 21st century sci-fi.  There are some early coincidences as well as some victorious tactics (like when they figure out about taking over the enemy's remote control combat suits) that felt a bit too easy. As I read on, the propulsive narrative and sympathetic characters made those slight hiccups of believability acceptable.  I also suspect that the style and narrative decisions will evolve as I make it through the series.

This book starts out with Miles Vorkosigan failing out of the Barrayan military academy in the physical test (he was poisoned in the womb in the first two books and is thus stunted with super weak bones and he breaks both his legs jumping off a wall that he should have climbed down).  At a loss what to do, he travels to the Beta Colony, with his bodyguard Bothari and Bothari's beautiful daughter Elena (whom Miles loves) to visit his maternal grandmother.  Here is where the random events get a bit wild.  He eavesdrops on some officials having an argument, gets involved and ends up buying an old ship (and its bereft captain) that was about to be scrapped.  He also, in a similar bit of luck, runs into a Barrayan deserter who just happens to be an excellent ship's engineer.  With just these two, Miles and the Botharis take on a mission to smuggle weapons to a distant planet locked in a civil war.  It all felt a bit far-fetched.

But once they get to the distant planet, the fun really begins. There is challenge after challenge, starting with trying to get through the blockade, manned by a mercenary force.  Immediately, Miles is put to the test, as the customs officers decide to take Elena back with them as a hostage (and probably worse).  His quick thinking and Bothari's ass-kicking get them out of this jam but lead them into a deeper one.  Each step of their adventure, the challenge gets more difficult and Miles demonstrates his leadership and strategic instincts.  He slowly accumulates assetts, but also all built on a small white lie that ends up him first impersonating and then becoming the admiral of a fake mercenary force.  The whole thing grows wildly out of control, yet also successful as more people become his followers and he slowly starts to turn the tide of the civil war.  As this is going on, we also get bigger narratives of Elena's birth and complex internal politics back at Barraya, where Miles' father's enemies are using his disappearance to make a move.

I ended up staying up late to finish it.  This is an easy and entertaining page turner.  The only issue is that it can be hard to find these books used, but that will allow me to pace myself.  I am making a note here that it is okay for me, nay recommended, to go back and read the wiki on the plot for this book before I read the next one, so that I am up to speed.

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