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Lois McMaster Bujold – Mirror Dance

May 3, 2011

38. Mirror Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold (1994)
Vorkosigan Saga, Book 10

Read my review of book:
1. Falling Free*
2. Shards of Honor*
3. Barrayar
4. The Warrior’s Apprentice*
5. The Vor Game
6. Cetaganda
7. Ethan of Athos*
8. Brothers in Arms
9. Borders of Infinity
(stars indicate stand-alones/starting points)

Read By: Grover Gardner
Length: 18h 07m (592 pages)

Genre: Science Fiction

Started: 02 March 2011
Finished: 10 March 2011

Where did it come from? From Blackstone Audio for review.
Why do I have it? Vorkosigan saga, hooray!

If you’ve spent your life
as a copy, how do you
become your own man?

Summary: To the Jackson’s Whole geneticists who created him, he’s a perfect clone, a work of art. To the Komarran terrorists who raised him, tortured him, and trained him, he’s the ideal assassin. To Barrayaran Imperial Security, he’s a dangerously unknown quantity and potential threat. And to Miles Vorkosigan, he’s a wayward younger brother. But who is Mark Vorkosigan, really?

As Mirror Dance opens, Mark has been laying low since the events of Brothers in Arms left him free to pursue his own desires. At the top of that list of desires is freeing his fellow clones from Jackson’s Whole, saving them from their terrible fate as brain-transplant recipients, and proving himself as much of a hero as his own clone progenitor/older brother Miles. In order to stage this kind of operation, however, Mark has to pose as Miles, and briefly “borrow” some of the Dendarii Mercenary Fleet. This part of the plan goes off without a hitch, and soon Mark, Bel Thorne, and a squad of Dendarii commandos are on their way to Jackson’s Whole.

Once the raid actually starts, however, things rapidly start going downhill. Security forces are alerted, the clones don’t want to be rescued, and Mark’s team is pinned down without means of escape. To make things worse, older brother Miles comes swooping in to save the day — only to get shot through the heart by a stray bullet. In the aftermath of the raid, Miles realizes that while he, the clones, and most of the Dendarii have gotten safely off the planet, the cryochamber that contained Miles’s corpse somehow got lost in the chaos. Now Mark must not only find Miles’s body — and hope against hope that it can still be repaired and resuscitated — but he must also learn to find his own place in the universe: no small task for a clone whose entire life has been built around someone else.

Review: Is it wrong that what is now my favorite Vorkosigan Saga book is one in which Miles himself is mostly absent? Because Mirror Dance is told primarily from Mark’s point of view, and it was truly, truly, excellent from beginning to end.

Actually, I suspect that the fact that Mirror Dance focuses so heavily on Mark is a large part of what makes it so good. At this point in the series, readers have had five books to get familiar with Miles: how he thinks, how he speaks, how he acts. So by giving us a new lead character who is so like Miles, and yet so different, Lois McMaster Bujold really gets the chance to showcase her talent for character development. Mark is fascinating in the ways that he resembles Miles, and in the ways in which they differ radically, despite their identical genes. Bujold sells it well, giving them each a distinct personality, so that there’s never any question about who’s who. Even in the opening pages, where the character’s identity is purposefully left vague, there’s a clear sense of something being not quite right with Miles — because of course, it’s not Miles, it’s Mark.

Grover Gardner’s narration of the audiobook should also be given due credit here. I’ve said in the past that he has become the voice of Miles in my head, but I’m going to have to amend that: he’s now officially the voice of Miles and of Mark. He manages to create a voice for Mark that is so similar to that of Miles, yet at the same time, completely distinct and recognizable. It adds a fantastic layer on top of Bujold’s already masterful character development.

As interesting as I found the Miles/Mark dichotomy, there were a number of other things about Mirror Dance that were equally memorable. I particularly loved the parts of the book that featured Mark on Barrayar, trying to navigate his way through his newfound family and the responsibilities that come with it. It was wonderful to see Aral and Cordelia having major roles in the plot again, and heartwarming to watch their distinct ways of interacting with Mark. I also liked the chance to see Barrayaran society — so familiar after all of the previous books — through the eyes of a relative outsider.

Mirror Dance is without question the darkest of the Vorkosigan Saga books so far. It’s got a heavy psychological aspect to it, and there are some nasty remnants of past horrors in Mark’s psyche that get brought to the surface, not to mention parts of the plot that are not exactly light fare. Still, it’s not unrelentingly dark; one thing Miles and Mark share is a dry wit, so there are a fair few funny spots scattered throughout, and a sense of family, and of duty, and of hopeful possibility that runs underneath it all. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Mirror Dance is not a stand-alone novel by any means; at the very least, it needs to be read after Brothers in Arms. But it’s so good that it would be worth reading the rest of the Vorkosigan Saga just to get there.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: The row of comconsole booths lining the passenger concourse of Escobar’s largest commercial orbiter transfer station had mirrored doors, divided into diagonal sections by rainbow-colored lines of lights.

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