Sunday, August 18, 2013

"Vorkosigan Saga" reread: "The Warrior's Apprentice" by Lois McMaster Bujold

When I was in high-school and library was my only source of books, and very limited one, "Vorkosigan Saga" by Lois McMaster Bujold was one of the series that I would read every year or so, including also ASoIaF, "The Lord of the Rings", "Hyperion Cantos" and few others. Since I refocused myself on buying new books I haven't reread these books, which means some 10 years. But Bujold has published two new books in series recently and before reading them, I decided to reread all previous books. This is not going to be a classical reread when I read all books in one go, but instead an occasional reread, one book every few months. Also, I mean to include only the main books in sequence

In "The Warrior's Apprentice" we start the story of Miles Vorkosigan, the main protagonist of the series. A victim of unsuccessful assassination attempt on his parents, Miles was left physically deformed and undeveloped, which is considered a great shame and disadvantage on his planet Barrayar. Barrayar is very strict society, based I would say partly on Soviet Russia and partly on Medieval Europe, and quite militaristic. They have a feudal system and until few dozen years they lived as in medieval times (consequence of prolonged isolation from other human cultures), but recently they again acquired means to interact with other planets. This, of course, caused many changes on their culture which is now a mix a feudal society and high technology democracy (swords and spaceships). It is understandable that as a freak and invalid Miles is feeling awkward in his surrounding, especially as heir of famous noble family, distinguished by its past victories. Additionally, Miles' father is former Regent of Barrayar Empire and current Prime-Minister. After failing to join the Imperial military academy (both his and his father's and grandfather's dream), Miles is feeling like having no reasons for life anymore. To past the time and to help his childhood friend to see some of the world (universe), they travel to Beta Colony, his mother's home-planet, where they will more or less blindly wander into an adventure including space mercenaries and civil war on another planet...

Books in this series always have interesting plots, even though they are driven primarily by Miles' characters. Such is this one: after using his cunning and intelligence to pull himself and his followers from one trouble, Miles usually manages to entangle to another, more dangerous one. Add to this his basically chivalrous nature (especially toward women and weak) and the fact that his family is one of the crucial members of his culture, you can surmise that these plots are pretty vivid. Nevertheless, Bujold's writing makes all this feel natural and consistent. 

Point of view is third-person, but it reveals much of Miles inner working, which is probably one of the biggest appeals of the series. It relies very much on his hyperactive behavior and his byzantine plots. Other character will get more (much more) place in further books, but in this one we focus mostly on Miles and more-or-less only superficially get to know other characters. Miles presents a very interesting plot, with his physical deformities but great mind. His motivations are also very intriguing - even though his society hates or dismisses him, all his life he tried to become a part of it. This will prove even more the focal point of series in later books.

As I mentioned, setting is SF, with advanced military technology, worm-holes for space traveling and other wonders. On the other hand, we have Barrayar, which is such an antique society (it is considered almost barbaric by others). Later we will get to know other, even more quaint places. Bujold made a very successful mix, drawing both fans of SF for the setting, and fans of fantasy for the plots and characters. Because, in essence, replace technology with magic and you get a classical fantasy book. Technology never gets much background explanation and this makes it still feel fresh (even though some of the books were written 20 years ago).

I remember these books as very easy and fun read. So I was left a bit surprised how dark this first book actually is - and further books are even darker. Sure, we get a happy end (or a kind) in every book, but main characters do die or suffer irreparable damage. And they deal with it. Innocent and weak also suffer and our protagonist is not always able to save everybody. So, a pretty realistic books - not gritty but not sunny also.

So, as a start of the series, "The Warrior's Apprentice" is a very good book. Interesting, with flamboyant main character but also with a dose of realism, with solid setting, it is a book I would recommend to anybody, not just fans of specific genre. One of my favorites...


  1. I love Vorkosigan. I want it to be a bigger pop-culture thing. But at the same time I don't want ti to become mainstream. It seems to be a wonderful secret still.

  2. Well, I wouldn't say it's a secret, since a lot of people know about the series. But yes, you are right about not being a hyped series.