The Warrior's Apprentice, by Lois McMaster Bujold

>> Wednesday, May 14, 2014

TITLE: The Warrior's Apprentice
AUTHOR: Lois McMaster Bujold

PAGES: 320

SETTING: Futuristic
TYPE: Sci-fi
SERIES: #3 full-length novel in the Vorkosigan series

Between the seemingly impossible tasks of living up to his warrior-father's legend and surmounting his own physical limitations, Miles Vorkosigan faces some truly daunting challenges.

Shortly after his arrival on Beta Colony, Miles unexpectedly finds himself the owner of an obsolete freighter and in more debt than he ever thought possible. Propelled by his manic "forward momentum," the ever-inventive Miles creates a new identity for himself as the commander of his own mercenary fleet to obtain a lucrative cargo; a shipment of weapons destined for a dangerous warzone.

I've mentioned before that many years ago I tried to get into this series. I read Shards of Honor and then, skipping Barrayar, started The Warrior's Apprentice. I can't remember why I didn't finish it. It may have been I was busy and my mind was on something else, it may have been that I needed to have read Barrayar first, it may have been that it just wasn't the right time in my reading life for me to meet Miles. All I can say is that this time around, it was a great success. I adored this book.

We meet Miles again at 17 (we had a glimpse of him as a child at the end of Barrayar). He's managed to get authorisation to go through the rigurous tests to get into the Barrayaran military academy, in spite of his physical limitations. For those who haven't read the prequels, his mother was exposed to toxic gas while carrying him and this affected Miles' bone and muscle growth. He is small and misshapen (he describes himself as looking like a shrimp) and his bones are fragile. Anyway, Miles has whizzed through the theory tests, and all that stands between him and his goal is the physical test, a sort of obstacle course. He fails it. Since he never wanted to use his Prime Minister father's influence to get into the academy, and being able to serve his country has always been his dream, he's dejected.

Feeling depressed and at a loss, Miles agrees to go visit his maternal grandmother in Beta Colony, far away from his home planet. It's meant to be a trouble-free assignment for Sargeant Bothari, Miles' bodyguard, so much so that he allows Miles to convince him to bring his daughter Elena (with whom Miles is completely infatuated). But this is Miles, so the assignment is not trouble-free. It's trouble-plagued from the very start, as Miles ends up acquiring a semi-derelict freighter by intervening in a confrontation as soon as he lands on Beta Colony. Paying for the freighter requires transporting lucrative cargo, and before he knows it, Miles is stuck far away from home and in a bit of a sticky situation. How to get out of it? Well, keep going forward and getting deeper and deeper into trouble, until the only way out is to power through to the other side!

I'm tempted to say Miles absolutely makes this book, but while he's a brilliant character, I liked Shards of Honor and Barrayar just as much. I think it's just Bujold's characters in general that are fantastic. They are so completely and fully human, so real and flawed and brilliant at the same time. Miles is extraordinary, and Bujold managed to make me believe in him completely, so much so that whenever he pulled off something completely outrageous (and there are several instances here), that didn't give me pause. I just went "oh, that's so Miles".

There's so much to love here. There's the poignant events related to Bothari and Elena and the secrets in her past (I was completely shocked at one point, so shocked I had to stop reading for a little while), there's the secondary characters, all of whom are incredibly well-drawn, there's the humour (I laughed out loud many, many times), there's the fully believable worldbuilding, which is all done in shades of grey, with no simplistic side-taking. It's an exhilarating book to read, that's the best way of describing it.

I'm so glad there's so many books ahead of me in this series. Guess that's the silver lining in having waited so long!



Sun,  14 May 2014 at 14:14  

It was my first VKS book and I fell instantly in love. I remember that my inner accountant felt especially satisfied that Miles went after the payroll. And I disliked Elena almost the whole book, unreasonably but I can't help it.

Looking forward to read your reviews for the rest of the saga.

Li 14 May 2014 at 18:43  

Ah, I loved this book. Heck, I loved the whole series (as I keep on saying!) - I know it sounds impossible, but they keep on getting better!

Maybe it's time I do a re-read...

Rosario 15 May 2014 at 07:21  

Sun: Hahah, I loved that! That was something I especially loved, the combination of the completely extraordinary and the mundane. There's one scene, after Miles has taken over pretty much the entire fleet, against all odds, and he's addressing the troops. It's this incredibly audacious strategy and he's amazed that he's pulling it off. And then someone adds if they keep their benefits if they join his mercenaries, and completely throws him. I was laughing out loud.

I liked what Bujold did with Elena here, too. I liked that she had her own interests and didn't give them up because the protagonist was infatuated with her. And it was clearly just infatuation.

Li: I'm so happy to have all those books to read. I've heard really good things about particular books (like the one where Miles gets his romance), so I'm tempted to speed up to get there, but I'll do my best to ration them out!

Fernande,  15 May 2014 at 16:02  

I'm sure I've said before how much I loved this series, and I understand why you'd want to ration them, but my advice is to read them as fast as you can get your hands on them (your own forward momentum as it were) and then you can later reread them more slowly. They're as interesting and amusing and moving second time round as the first. And it's fun knowing a particularly good part is coming and savouring the lead up to it..

Rosario 17 May 2014 at 10:33  

Fernande: Oh, I'm so tempted to do that! Especially to get to A Civil Campaign. I'm so glad Bujold has quite a big backlist :)

Bona Caballero 7 September 2015 at 23:15  

I followed your advice and started reading this series. I've already read Shards of Honor and Barrayar and liked both of them. Now I'm with this one and I don't know why, but I have problems following the story, I don't feel compelled to keep on reading. Don't get me wrong, I like what I'm reading. But it's just a very easy book to put it down and start doing something else. I like it but less than the previous ones, which quite surprises me, because I've read wonderful reviews of this book. Up until this moment, it's just a 3 stars for me.

Rosario 12 September 2015 at 11:27  

Bona: I'm not sure what to advise on this. A few years ago I read Shards of Honor, liked it, and then read The Warrior's Apprentice and felt just like you. I didn't dislike it, but it was meh, and I had no interest in continuing. This was back in 2006-2007. And then I started reading the series again last year and it gripped me. I felt really compelled to keep reading and I've been loving it. So I'm not sure whether to say, keep reading, it gets even more gripping, or to tell you it's probably not the right time for you to read this and wait a few years and try again.

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