The Warrior’s Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold
Synopsis from GoodReads:
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.
So thanks to publication order, I picked this book up instead of the direct sequel to Shards of Honor. Oops. Thankfully, I was able to pick things up without having read Barrayar, so I, at least, am good.
Reading The Warrior’s Apprentice was like reading an old favorite. This is because sci-fi tends to be intersectional, meaning works build on each other, reference each other, assume you know the paths that have been trod and don’t mind seeing subversions/aversions/new stuff, etc. So there are some similar names (especially of worlds) and science-things and themes in here for those who read space opera (aka Navies In Space). But there’s also a lot of originality, because everyone has their own spin, their own underlying reason for why they write, and Bujold is no exception.
In TWA, her main focus is on how a handicapped young man handles being in and of a warrior society that, until recently, would’ve exposed him at birth due to his ‘birth defects’ (the result of his mother being exposed to poison gas while pregnant). Miles starts off apologizing for his physical ‘deficiencies’ only to end up finding his own way forward. To be fair, he does it by lying and lying well – his first lie snowballing into bigger and bigger ones just to stay on top of the forward momentum – but he still does end up much more comfortable in his own skin after proving that he’s not going to be any less than everything he can be, and d*mn anyone who says he can’t.
Yes, he has quite a few flaws, not the least of which revolve around Elena (through no fault of her own, thankfully made clear, yay for female protagonists doing things other than being prizes), but Miles is a protagonist who I found it easy to root for even when I was saying ‘don’t tell that lie, don’t dig yourself in deeper’.
That’s not to say that there aren’t uncomfortable aspects to this story, quite beyond Miles’s thing for Elena (which bothered me quite a bit since we see through his eyes (3rd person, but tight on Miles) and his views of her and ‘her place’ made me very uncomfortable). There is, of course, the whole subplot involving Bothari and Elena that sets off the main action of the story. It’s a difficult subplot, even if – or perhaps especially if – you read Shards of Honor first and know where the whole thing is going and all you can do is watch the massive trainwreck barreling down. However, having read the author’s note in the back of the copy I got my hands on, I agree with Bujold’s point that Bothari is a sympathetic character, for all of his history. He is as much a victim as everyone else involved in his history, and that’s all I’ll say for fear of spoilers.
Overall, despite needing a few more breaks for TWA than I needed for Shards of Honor, I still quite enjoyed TWA, albeit a bit less than the previous book. 3.5 out of 5 stars.