In case the cover doesn't make it clear, this is a science fiction novel. I think it might be the fourth book in Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga (according to the series' internal chronological order), and the first one starring Miles Vorkosigan.
An attempt on his mother's life while he was still in her womb left Miles Vorkosigan with brittle bones. Even so, it has always been Miles' dream to qualify for the Barrayaran Service Academy and begin a military career, just like any other Barrayaran male. For someone of Miles' intelligence, the oral and written exams are a piece of cake. The physical tests are another matter. After he breaks both of his legs while taking part in an obstacle course, effectively failing the physical portion of the examination, it seems to Miles as though all his hard work has been for nothing. He's 17 years old, and he has no idea what he's going to do with the rest of his life.
With nothing better to do, Miles visits his Betan grandmother with his bodyguard, Bothari, and his bodyguard's daughter, Elena, in tow. It's not long before Miles finds himself in possession of a jump ship, a jump ship pilot, a Barrayaran deserter, and a desperate need for more funds. Miles concocts a plan to make the money he needs by bringing a shipment of weapons into a war zone. When things get out of control, Miles layers lies upon lies and gradually finds himself in command of more and more ships and soldiers, all of whom think Miles is a high-ranking officer in the Dendarii Free Mercenaries. Except the Dendarii Free Mercenaries are just something Miles made up, and Miles has no money to pay any of his new recruits.
It looks like I've found another series to glom onto – this book was lots of fun, and I can't wait to read more, particularly more about Miles.
I absolutely loved Miles. He had an insane amount of energy and drive. He was highly intelligent and usually had a good grasp of his strengths and weaknesses. However, he wasn't superhuman, and the way people reacted to him could still affect him. He hated that so many people, even some of his own family members, doubted he'd be able to accomplish much within Barrayaran society, and it hurt when he couldn't make his father and grandfather proud by qualifying for military service. Just about every stranger who met him took one look at him and assumed he must be a mutant, due to the effect his badly healed bones had on his posture.
Although Miles failed the physical portion of his qualifying exam at the beginning of the book, he proved himself to be 100% awesome over and over again throughout the rest of the story. Faced with more than any one person could possibly deal with, he delegated work and projected an aura of confidence and control. His “lie first, figure out how to deal with the consequences later” policy simultaneously saved him and got him into more trouble. It was the story equivalent of watching someone run very fast down a flight of stairs – exciting, a little horrifying in its potential for massive failure, and fast-paced enough that it was sometimes hard to keep track of the lies and how Miles was managing to keep everything together.
The one thing I found frustrating about Miles was his crush on Elena. I admit, I was so nervous about how things would go between the two of them that I looked up spoilers. Even without the spoilers, it wasn't hard to figure out that Elena was falling in love with someone else, so my biggest worry was how Miles would react once she rejected him. As sharp as Miles was when dealing with all the “Dendarii Mercenaries” stuff, he seemed to miss everything where Elena was concerned – it was sometimes hard to remember that he was only 17, so I suppose that served as a reminder.
The book's biggest weakness, I think, was its world-building. It sometimes felt like world details were being made up as needed, in much the same way Miles lied in the spur of the moment and then made the lies fit together later on. There were quite a few times when I wasn't really sure what was going on and had to just allow my love for Miles to carry me along. Because I did love Miles so much, any confusion on my part mostly didn't bother me.
I definitely plan on reading more of this series. I want more hyperactive, clever, poker-faced, lying Miles, and I'm also interested, to a lesser degree, in Miles' parents. The Mountains of Mourning, chronologically the book (novella?) right after The Warrior's Apprentice, will probably be what I read next. Then I'll need to decide whether to buy more of the series in e-book form or in print. I have a feeling I'll be getting the e-books first (yes, Baen won me over) and then keeping an eye out for used print copies. More and more of my reading seems to be done on my e-reader anymore, but I'd like to have print copies around as "back-ups."
Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
- Artemis Fowl (book) by Eoin Colfer - The relationship between Miles and Bothari reminded me a lot of the relationship between Artemis and Butler. Like Miles, Artemis is very intelligent and often underestimated. Butler is there to be Artemis' brawn, but he's also the one person in the world that Artemis can completely trust. Don't let the fact that this book has fairies in it scare you away.
- Ender's Game (book) by Orson Scott Card - If you'd like another sci-fi book in which a lot of responsibility is placed on a young male protagonist's shoulders, you might want to try this. Ender, like Miles, is intelligent and a skilled leader. He deals with loneliness and fear and has few people he can rely on.
- Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion (anime TV series) - I haven't seen all of this, but I've seen enough to give this one word of warning - Lelouch, the main character, is more on an anti-hero than a hero. He's brilliant and, after acquiring the power of Geass, becomes accustomed to lying to everyone in order to manipulate others into doing what he wants. Geass gives him an extra level of control, giving him the ability to force others to obey his orders. Those who'd like a different take on a brilliant, lying sci-fi "hero" might want to try this.
- Trading in Danger (book) by Elizabeth Moon - I haven't read this. Actually, I don't think I've read any of Moon's books. I added this to the list because it's the first of a military science fiction series (Vatta's War) described on Wikipedia as being similar to Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga. From the description I read, it sounds like this book also starts off with the main character returning home in disgrace, only to then end up in the middle of a war.