Review: The Warror’s Apprentice

So I finally got around to starting the Vorkosigan saga! Long-standing readers (i.e. the Bandersnatch) will know that this has been one of my reading goals for a while.

The Warrior’s Apprentice is the first novel featuring Miles Vorkosigan, a highly intelligent young man whose exposure to poison gas in the womb has left him with unusually brittle bones. As the novel opens, he’s failing a gruelling physical test to get into the army – the only career he really wants to pursue.

Demoralised by his failure, he embarks on a jaunt to his mother’s planet of origin to find out more about the parentage of his friend and long-time crush, Elena. (Elena is in on the plan and accompanies him, so that’s not as creepy as it maybe sounds.) His desire to help lost souls, though, leads to a concatenation of unlikely events that eventually sees him captaining a mercenary fleet, despite having no military experience and/or credentials.

So the mode of the novel, although you don’t necessarily experience it as such as a reader, is escalation. Things get increasingly more improbable, complicated and/or dramatic. Miles is such a compelling character, though, that this never feels forced or far-fetched; more like a function of Miles’ intelligence, boredom and commitment to finishing what he’s started.

It’s also maybe a function of the cultures that clash in Miles. His father is a nobleman of Barrayar, a planet with a highly feudal society that operates on systems of patronage and values honour. His mother’s planet, meanwhile, is an egalitarian but controlling society: no-one is invisible, which means that no-one can fall through the cracks (and everyone has free access to food and healthcare). As in much military SF, I guess, plenty of drama comes from mismatches of cultural expectations, or from the characters navigating strict rules of etiquette and social engagement.

Did I enjoy it, though? Yes, tentatively? Certainly it’s a lot of fun; Miles is a great character to spend time with (although I suspect that in real life he’d be exhausting). It’s a lighter read than I was expecting given the weighty discussion I’ve read and heard about it. I’ll be interested to read more, though.

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