>> Sunday, March 08, 2015
..The exciting follow-up to Brothers in Arms. Miles Vorkosigan is in trouble. His brother, a cloned stranger formed from tissue stolen from Miles when he was a child, wants to murder and replace him. Unfortunately, Mark has learned that without Miles, he is... nothing...
This was the book that proved beyond all reasonable doubt that I'm putty in Lois McMaster Bujold's hands. At regular intervals she had me exclaiming out loud "no, no, NO!", and telling myself she'd gone too far, and that I wasn't going to follow where she was leading, but every single time, I did. I totally did. And I loved it, more than any of her books up to now.
I'll back up a little bit. Right, plot. You might have noticed that the description above is particularly cryptic and uninformative. To be honest, it was a bit of a job to find anything suitable at all. I'm starting to sound like a broken record now, but spoilers can be a real problem with this series. The blurb on goodreads, for instance, is a bit of a blow-by-blow description of most of the plot! I'll try to do better. Be warned, though, that below are spoilers of the previous book.
Mirror Dance starts with Mark, Miles' twin brother (as Miles sees it)/clone (as Mark does), implementing his plan to assume Miles' identity to free a big group of clones from the same House in Jackson's Hole that created him. The clones are destined for a cruel fate: they have been commissioned by aging powerful people who intend to have their brains transplanted into the bodies that are a younger version of themselves. The brains of the clones simply get dumped. Mark intends to save them from this fate they simply don't know is coming. And right away, I was blown away by Bujold's deftness at psychological characterisation. Mark tells himself he's being heroic, but it's just as clear to the reader that what's mostly driving him is the desire to prove himself to his hyper-successful sibling. Anyway, things go wrong, very, very wrong. And Mark finds himself in a situation where he really must prove himself.
Example #1 of the many times when Bujold took me kicking and screaming in a direction I didn't want to go came a little while after the botched rescue operation, when it had become clear that Mark was going to be a principal POV character in the novel. Initially I was basically "hmm, ok...", but then came a scene when I felt his behaviour had put him completely beyond the pale (it involves a big-boobed rescued clone who looks quite grown up but whom Mark knows is actually really a child). There was absolutely NO WAY I was going to root for that vile little prick. I absolutely, definitely wasn't, and I really resented having to spend any time in his POV. Right until I started caring about him quite passionately and desperately interrogating my friends who've already read the rest of the series about whether Mark was a POV character in any future books.
Because this book is really about Mark coming into his own. Oh, there is a fair bit of Miles as well (and I really enjoyed that, too), but for Miles Mirror Dance mainly sets up the conflict in the next book, the wonderful Memory. This one is about Mark, about him coming to terms with his origins and his history and his family and really, mainly with himself and who he really is. It's funny and exciting and an absolutely gut-wrenching and heartbreaking book, because Mark's journey and his struggle to build his shattered identity isn't easy. But it's definitely worth sticking it out.
Some of my favourite sections take place in Barrayar and concern the relationship between Mark and his parents (merely biological parents when they first meet, closer to real parents after a while). We get quite a bit about Cordelia and Aral and see how they’re doing as a couple and parents, which was nice in its own right. I particularly enjoyed Cordelia’s open-eyed, completely unidealised view of Miles (and Mark), which reminded me very much of Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody and her expert management of Ramses.
The more I read of this series the more amazed I am at Bujold's talent and psychological acuity, and the more I kick myself for not picking this up sooner. Well, I don't know, maybe I needed to grow up a bit before I appreciated this properly. I must say, though, in the spirit of trigger warning, that some sections are very tough to read. This might be spoilerish, but you probably do need to know before you start that there is some really, really upsetting and awful torture, both violent and sexual, and it happens to a character we really care about. It’s not narrated in real time, but what we’re told is pretty graphic. It really upset me, and it was yet another section that made me furiously angry at Bujold as I was reading it. Having finished the book I see why she wrote it the way she did, and I agree it was necessary for the book to work as well as it did. Also, I think my acceptance stems from this character ending the book in a good place, with a hopeful outlook for his life, getting the help he needs.
MY GRADE: An A.