Brothers in Arms, by Lois McMaster Bujold

>> Tuesday, March 03, 2015

TITLE: Brothers in Arms
AUTHOR: Lois McMaster Bujold

PAGES: 352

SETTING: Futuristic
TYPE: Sci-fi
SERIES: 6th full-length title in the Vorkosigan series

If his enemies would just leave him alone, Miles Vorkosigan (alias Admiral Naismith) decided bitterly, the Dendarii Free Mercenary Fleet would collapse all on its own. But his enemies were plotting a more deadly fall.

For some unexplained reason the Dendarii payroll is missing and the orders from the Barrayaran Imperial Command are being delayed by Miles's superior, Captain Galeni. What connects the impeccable insufferable Captain Galeni and the Komarran rebel expatriates on Earth anyway? But the most deadly question of all before Miles is more personal: are Miles's two identities, Admiral Naismith of the Dendarii and Lieutenant Lord Vorkosigan of Barrayar, splitting apart along the lines of his divided loyalties? And who is trying to assassinate which version of him?

When Miles unravels the answers, then the complications really begin.

Right, let's catch up with the Vorkosigan books. I'm up to Memory now and probably won't be able to hold on much longer before reading even further, so best post a couple of reviews before they all become muddled in my mind.

It's not long after the rescue mission told in the wonderful Borders of Infinity, and Miles and the Dendarii mercenaries decide to make a pit stop on good old Earth. There are some necessary repairs to be made, plus, Miles thinks it's a good idea to be somewhere he can keep away from the Cetagandans.

Turning back into Lord Vorkosigan, Miles reports to the Barrayarran embassy. He just needs money from ImpSec for repairs and to pay his people, but the highest-ranking ImpSec officer, who happens to be a Komarran, isn't particularly impressed with him. The payroll, which Miles expected would be there soonish, is taking much longer than it should, and Miles suspects shenanigans.

And, this being Miles, he's constitutionally unable to just wait quietly. Before long he's managed to get into the public eye and is having to come up with a story to explain just why Admiral Naismith looks so similar to Lord Vorkosigan.

This was great. It's a bit of a farce, with people (not quite literally, but almost!) going out one door and in through another, mistaken identities and ridiculous plots and mad chases. And this starts a run of books that deal with the issue of identity in a way that I found fresh and very thought-provoking. The schizophrenic nature of Miles' dual identity comes to the forefront here, and the most implausible tall tales come true in a delicious way. I don't want to give away anything, but this starts a relationship that I've loved in the following books, and that succeeded here in being really intriguing and having great potential. And in addition to identity (or rather, as an extension to identity), Brothers in Arms has some interesting things to say about fathers and sons and how the former can shape the latter. This is when this light romp becomes something a bit weightier, and it works.

What else? Oh, we get some great scenes. There's Miles out-bullshitting a journalist, Miles on Fast-Penta, Ivan bamboozled, and we also find out some more about the complicated history between Barrayar and Komarr, last seen by readers in Aral and Cordelia's books. We now see more about what's been going on since, with Komarr being part of the Barrayarran Empire but many people there still considering Aral The Butcher of Komarr. Again, more on this in later books, and this lays the base very nicely. Oh, and we're introduced to Miles' Komarran commanding officer, Captain Duv Galeni, who is a particularly good character here and only becomes even better later.

We also get a nice romance between Miles and Elli Quinn here. Miles had previously succeeded in staying away from her (non-fraternisation rules seemed like a good idea when he came up with them), in spite of her obvious interest, but things change here. I like Elli Quinn very much and obviously, I love Miles, but the two of them as a couple don't really do a huge deal for me. I mean, they are clearly fond of each other, but it's just as clear that this isn't a huge, life-long love, no matter how much Miles tries to tell himself otherwise.

I highly recommend this one. Just one thing: be very cautious when reading descriptions of the Vorkosigan books, especially this one and the ones after. Too many people who love these books seem to think that no one's reading the series for the first time, so spoilers are just fine. And big spoilers, too. Even the blurbs are sometimes an issue.There's a big thing we find out here that I would have loved to have been a surprise, but no such luck (someone posted a review of an earlier book that said "of course, Miles' so-and-so hasn't yet shown up here". Cheers for that!). It didn't ruin the reading experience, or anything, but it would have been nice not to know!

MY GRADE: A very strong B+.


Fernande,  3 March 2015 at 14:36  

Great review, Rosario, thanks. Even though I've listened/read the series twice now, your review makes me want to go back and read this one again! Also, just wanted to say thanks for your review of Station Eleven. It was wonderful.

Darlynne,  3 March 2015 at 15:30  

Except for the first, the books I've read have been out of order, so those spoilers are my own fault. I knew I was safe reading your review and thank you for reminding me of how much fun this series is. Where to find the time for books I know I will love?

jmc 5 March 2015 at 00:46  

Brothers in Arms is one of the series that I seldom reread, but your review makes me think I should reread it now.

Re spoilers, I think part of the problem is that the series has been around so long that old readers forget there are new readers. And, also, the fact that the books were not written in chronological order meant that even readers in real time were sort of spoiled.

Rosario 5 March 2015 at 06:53  

Fernande: I'm so glad you enjoyed it, it's one of the books that's really stayed with me from last year. Janine had a really good review of it at Dear Author recently; have you seen it?

Darlynne: I'm very glad I've been able to read these in order, although sometimes you can kind of see the way Bujold got better with time, only to go back and read an earlier novel. I've really been taking my time over these and enjoying reading them one a month, but I can feel myself speeding up now!

jmc: Having now read the books after this one, I can understand why people would be more interested in rereading them. But Brothers in Arms definitely has its good points :) And yes, that's probably it on the spoilers, but it doesn't make it any less frustrating!

CD,  5 March 2015 at 20:25  

Aside from BARRAYAR and THE VOR GAME, I rarely reread any of the earlier Vorkosigan books despite the fact that they are great by any objective standard. The later ones just stand out more. However, I love your reviews for reminding us of how much fun the early stuff is. For one thing, I think I have to reread BROTHERS IN ARMS if only for fast penta scene...

BTW, have you finished MEMORY yet? If you have, I can tell you that KOMARR will appeal to the romance-reader in you ;-).

Rosario 6 March 2015 at 07:03  

CD: It's definitely worth rereading, I think, but having read Memory now (yes, I've finished it, and I'll be starting Komarr as soon as I finish my current audiobook), I can see why those later books are the ones you go back to.

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