The Warrior's Apprentice - Lois McMaster Bujold

~~Moved from GR~~

The Warrior's Apprentice (Vorkosigan Saga #3, Miles Vorkosigan #1)

by Lois McMaster Bujold

 

Wow, this book was a wild ride. Space pirates, royal princes, political intrigue...it's all here. Better yet, for me at least, the story is full of enjoyable, funny and essentially off-the-wall-crazy characters.


The main character is Miles Naismith Vorkosigan, the son of the Prime Minister who was exposed to a chemical agent at birth that left him a fragile 5-foot midget in a world where imperfections are reviled. Miles has the disadvantages and Machiavellian brains of Tavi from Jim Butcher's Codex Alera, the self-restraint and mentality of Aang from Avatar: The Last Airbender, and the general demeanor of someone who just drank a quadruple espresso. Initially, his gleeful pursuit of a mystery that had the potential to emotionally devastate his dearest friend had me worried he was a sociopath. Then I finally realized that although he is indeed self-centered, he honestly hadn't thought that far ahead and was just clumsily rampaging after answers like a toddler on a sugar high.

It adds up to a character who impulsively throws himself into insane situations, then proceeds to bluff his way into winning the game without ever letting his opponents realize that he never actually held a single card. Case in point: the story starts when Miles attempts to join the military, but fails the physical because a jump in the obstacle course leaves him with broken bones. Clearly the next logical step is to go on a trip to the Beta colony, gather a bunch of outcasts, bluff his way into leadership of a bunch of mercenaries, and start a new career under a false identity as a space pirate. Yup. Most of the logic behind Miles' actions boils down to "it seemed like a good idea at the time." As he comments at one point, "I didn't want them. They just happened in the process of scrambling from crisis to crisis." It's a bit reminiscent of a certain sorcerer's apprentice who is quickly swamped by his own cleverness--where the title comes from, perhaps?--but Miles is rather better at staying afloat. Although his impulsivity is bound to get him into trouble, his craftiness and logic allows him to pull himself out of the frying pan--although often while throwing him into an even bigger fire.

I listened to this on audio, and absolutely loved the narrator and the way he spun the story. However, I think I would have had more trouble had I actually been reading this. Bujold loves decorating every sentence with what I consider a surfeit of adjectives and adverbs, e.g., "There came a double rap upon his door, authoritatively firm, courteously brief.". I also grew to have the same reaction against the overused phrase "smiled ironically" as I did to Jim Butcher's characteristic tic of "arched an eyebrow": every time I heard that phrase, I wanted to trumpet out, "Don't DO IT!", just like Aunt Dahlia's response to "most disturbing, sir" in Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster.

I had this series recommended to me several times, but kept avoiding it. I reasoned that any author who called her Work (I was sure it would be capitalized, and quite possibly prefixed with "Great") the "Vorkosigan Saga" must take herself quite seriously. I'd also heard it called a "Space Opera", and I feared some sort of interstellar love chase. However, I was thrilled to discover I'd characterized this series entirely wrong. It is full of creativity and humor and doesn't take itself seriously in the least. For all that, we have complex relationships between the characters, some clever portrayals of class distinctions, enjoyable cultural contrasts, and quite a bit of political maneuvering. We also have the strong and sturdy Ella Bothari, the rather twisted, psychopathic,and complex Sergeant Bothari, and a whole host of dubious, entertaining, and very fun characters who end up conscripted into Miles' insane plots. I don't feel this book left me with any deep concepts to think about, but for all that, I really enjoyed the ride. I'm sorry I waited so long to find out just how much fun this series is.

 

NOTE: this review was written in an initial burst of enthusiasm after finishing Warrior's Apprentice. Now that I've finished the entire series, I not only wholeheartedly recommend the books, I absolutely insist that any fan of humour, scifi, and a rollicking good story at least try the story.  Personally, after trying them both ways, I prefer them on audio, read by the irrepressible and incredibly entertaining Grover Gardner.