Lois McMaster Bujold – The Warrior’s Apprentice
Read By: Grover Gardener
Length: 11h 07min (309 pages)
Genre: Science Fiction
Started: 18 August 2010
Finished: 31 August 2010
A cripple and a
smart-ass: only one of those
matters in deep space.
Summary: Miles Naismith Vorkosigan was left crippled after a poison gas attack on his mother when he was still in the womb. In reality, he’s lucky to be alive at all, but gratitude doesn’t always come easy when one’s bones might break from a hard push, especially when one is growing up in a culture that places a high premium on physical prowess in boys. Add onto that a father who is a Count, a high-ranking military officer, and former Regent to the Emperor, and you have one young man eager to prove himself not only in his father’s eyes and the eyes of his peers, but also in his own estimation.
The Warrior’s Apprentice opens with Miles at seventeen. He’s aced the written portion of the entrance exams to the Barrayaran Military Academy, but a miscalculation during the physical test results in disqualification… and two broken legs. Disheartened, Miles heads to Beta Colony to visit his maternal grandmother, taking with him his bodyguard since birth, the implacable but haunted Seargent Bothari, and his daughter Elena Bothari, a beautiful and spirited young woman who is stifled by the limited opportunities that Barrayaran culture offers her gender.
However, Miles is barely on Beta Colony long enough to unpack before he manages – completely by accident – to take command of a ship and its pilot, and get them a mission smuggling weapons past a blockade to a much-besieged planet. Soon, without knowing quite how it happened, Miles finds himself in charge of an entire mercenary company. Despite washing out of the Military Academy, and despite not planning for any of this, he must quickly learn the realities of what it takes to be in command, and he must do it the hard way: on the battlefield.
Review: Well, it’s official. Lois McMaster Bujold has officially cemented herself into the hallowed ranks of my favorite authors. Has this woman written anything that isn’t great? She writes fantastic high fantasy (The Chalion series), she writes great fantasy romance (The Sharing Knife series), and she writes crazy-compelling sci-fi/space opera (The Vorkosigan Saga). The way she does it is that she’s not writing genre fiction at all; rather, she’s writing intensely sympathetic and real characters caught up in fascinating situations… they’re just fascinating situations on worlds other than Earth, is all.
Miles Vorkosigan is certainly an interesting character – which is good, considering he’s the focus of many more books after this one. Does he replace Cordelia (Miles’s mother, and the heroine of Shards of Honor and Barrayar, the preceeding two books) at the top of my Bujold-ian Fictional Character Crush List? No, not quite, but that’s a tall bar to clear. I enjoyed watching Cordelia deal with the deeply ingrained Barrayaran sexism more than I enjoyed watching Miles deal with the deeply ingrained Barrayaran disability-ism, but that may be because as a non-disabled woman, I found her plight more immediately recognizable than his. To Miles’s credit, however, he spends hardly any time whining or moping about what others perceive as his disability. He gets frustrated, of course, when he comes up against its limitations, but he only descends into self-pity once, and that very briefly, so he remains hugely likeable. Contributing to that likeability is his intensely snarky sense of humor and his sharp intelligence, coupled with enough youthful naiveté to keep him from veering into the land of the insufferable know-it-all.
The story itself is very quick-moving – perhaps too much so, at times – with circumstances flip-flopping multiple times within a single chapter, leaving both Miles and the reader a little befuddled as to how things had gotten to their present state. Still, it’s woven together pretty neatly, and contained some serious shocks that I did not see coming. The space battles were more numerous than I would ordinarily prefer, but Bujold writes them well enough that I can follow the action, and she typically focuses more on the people and less on the laser cannons, which I always appreciate. I was also impressed when I realized that this book was originally published before Barrayar, even though it takes place later in the internal chronology of the series. Either Bujold was planning well ahead when she wrote this book, or else she’s got a deft hand at retconning previously established details, because the disparity between publication and chronological order is seamless.
Grover Gardner’s narration was wonderful as always, although it was a refreshing change to hear him reading a book with a male protagonist. He does an excellent job distinguishing characters by voice, and between his efforts and Bujold’s dialogue, I had no problem telling who was who, even among the more minor characters, despite the fact I could rarely keep all of the sci-fi-ish names straight. 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: Overall, I enjoyed the heck out of this book, exactly as I was expecting to. While it follows well from the two books that came before it, this is the first book with Miles as a protagonist, so it would also work just fine as a stand-alone novel… or, more likely, as the introduction to the series as a whole, because I suspect that anybody who reads one will be as charmed as I was, and want to pick up the rest.
Other Reviews: Really? No one?!? If you’ve reviewed this book and I missed it, leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.
First Line: The tall and dour non-com wore Imperial dress greens and carried his communications panel like a field marshall’s baton.
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