Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Mountains of Mourning (e-novella) by Lois McMaster Bujold

I've finally written a post. Enjoy!

I downloaded The Mountains of Mourning for free via the Baen Free Library. It's part of Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga and comes chronologically after The Warrior's Apprentice. It was 79 pages long on my Nook.

Synopsis:

This takes place 3 years or so after the events of The Warrior's Apprentice (Miles was 17 in that book, and he's 20 in this novella). Miles is on home leave and looking forward to getting a shiny new lightflyer as a graduation present.

His leave is interrupted by Harra, a woman who desperately wants to see Count Vorkosigan, Miles' father. Harra's baby had been born with a cleft palate, and she claims her husband killed her because of that. The village speaker refused to listen to her, claiming that the infant died of natural causes. Harra wants justice, and the Count sends Miles to deliver it.

This will be the case by which the Count shows his people that infanticide will no longer be tolerated. Although Harra is certain she knows who killed her child, Miles keeps an open mind, determined to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the right person has been convicted and punished.

Review:

While I didn't enjoy this novella quite as much as I did The Warrior's Apprentice, it was still a good read. Whereas The Warrior's Apprentice was a wild ride, with Miles piling lies upon lies to get himself and those around him out of trouble, The Mountains of Mourning was more of a mystery story. This time, Miles needed to uncover the truth rather than obscure it.

In a way, Miles was more vulnerable in this novella than I ever remember him being in The Warrior's Apprentice. The villagers already had their opinions about him and why he was there. Although some knew of the story of his birth, others assumed he was a mutant. His investigation brought him face-to-face with the kind of people who would probably have let him die when he was a baby – in fact, he was looking for someone who really did kill a baby for having nothing more than a cleft palate.

Although the difference between this novella and The Warrior's Apprentice took some getting used to – I hadn't realized Bujold switched gears that much even within a single series – once I did get used to it, I enjoyed it. Miles wasn't happy about having his leave interrupted, but he was never tempted to take the easy way out. He did the job he'd been sent to do, thoroughly and properly. A favorite quote of mine from the story, said by Miles to the Speaker who should have looked further into Harra's baby's death:
“'The Count's justice is for everyone, now. Even if they're small. And weakly. And have something wrong with them. And cannot even speak for themselves – Speaker.'” (26)
If you haven't read anything else in this series, I wouldn't recommend starting with this novella – it references characters and events from The Warrior's Apprentice. There are brief mentions of Elena, who Miles still thinks about, and Bothari. Pym, as a replacement for Bothari, was a little disappointing – if he turns up in future books, I hope he becomes more interesting.

One thing that came up briefly in The Warrior's Apprentice and was a big part of The Mountains of Mourning was Miles' relationship with his grandfather. While I knew their relationship was complex and painful, I hadn't realized how much of it went over my head until I read The Mountains of Mourning. It was heartbreaking stuff and gave me a better understanding of how much Miles had riding on what he had thought was his only chance to qualify for the Barrayaran Service Academy.

While I missed the hyperactive, lying Miles of The Warrior's Apprentice, my only real complaint about this novella had to do with the brief moment Miles considered hooking up with one of the village girls. Miles was in a town where one of the inhabitants had murdered a baby with a birth defect much milder than what he had been born with and one or more other inhabitants potentially knew who did it and were covering for that person. That he even briefly considered a one-night stand with one of the local girls seemed pretty stupid to me.

This was an unexpectedly big change of pace from The Warrior's Apprentice, but enjoyable all the same. I've since purchased the e-book version of Young Miles, a collection that includes The Warrior's Apprentice, this novella, and The Vor Game, so expect to see more Vorkosigan Saga posts from me in the future.

Read-alikes:
  • Jhereg (book) by Steven Brust - This is the first book in Brust's Vlad Taltos series (if you want to read them in publication order - in chronological order, Taltos comes first). This one came to mind when I tried to think of works that mix fantasy and a bit of mystery. It's been a while since I last read this, but I think it might be a good fit. The main character is a witch-assassin who has taken a job requiring him to kill a man who stole from the House of Jhereg, and kill him in such a way that no one would ever steal from the House again.
  • Dead Man's Rain (e-novella) by Frank Tuttle - Another fantasy story that includes strong mystery elements. This one also has some family-related baggage, although, unlike the heartbreaking stuff in The Mountains of Mourning, this is more along the lines of "wow, that family is really messed up." I have written about this novella.
  • Anthology of stories set in Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar world - Miles' journey to the village and determination to see justice done made me think of the Heralds in Lackey's Valdemar books. In this instance I'd recommend starting with either Arrows of the Queen (if you're looking for more justice-seekers) or Magic's Pawn (if you'd like more painful family drama), but if you're not up to trying a whole book, you might check out one of the anthologies featuring stories set in Lackey's world (edited by Lackey, but written by other authors). What I was able to find: Under the Vale and Other Tales of Valdemar; Finding the Way and Other Tales of Valdemar; Changing the World: All-New Tales of Valdemar; Sword of Ice and Other Tales of Valdemar. Keep in mind, though, that the anthologies probably assume at least at little knowledge of the original series.

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