Miles, newly graduated from the Academy, is brilliant, but he has one teenie tiny problem: he's not a very good subordinate. Miles desperately wants ship duty, and he's told he'll get it...if he can manage to spend 6 months on Kyril Island as the new Meteorology Officer, keep out of trouble, and properly follow all orders given to him. Miles doesn't know a thing about meteorology, but that turns out to be the least of his problems, and it's not long before he joins a mutiny. He had good reasons for his actions, but still, it wasn't exactly what he'd been sent there to do. Count Vorkosigan, Miles' father, and Simon Illyan, Chief of Barrayaran Imperial Security, come up with another job for Miles, something perhaps more suitable for him, and give him one order: do as Captain Ungari tells you.
It doesn't take long for things to go wrong. Miles finds himself separated from Ungari, imprisoned multiple times, cycling between three different identities (Miles Vorkosigan, small-time arms dealer Victor Rotha, and Admiral Naismith), and desperately trying to rescue Emperor Gregor Vorbarra from a clever and seductive woman named Cavilo.
Although I took a break while reading this in order to gorge on movies and TV, I really did enjoy it at least as much as The Warrior's Apprentice. Miles was a bit more grown-up in this one, and had a better idea of just how much trouble he could get himself into.
The story was a little exhausting, it moved so fast. I started off thinking that the entire book would take place on Kyril Island, with Miles learning how to do his new job, attempting to figure out the secret to convincing less-intelligent soldiers to follow you rather than work against you, and trying to keep his commanding officer from making his life miserable. The stuff on Kyril Island was fantastic, and I admit to being a little disappointed that Miles wasn't there longer. I would have liked to see more of him learning to work with regular soldiers, on their level, without a bodyguard and his status as Vor as safety nets. Plus, I enjoyed the dangerous environment.
Miles tried to do as he was told, but the situation kept changing, getting out of control, and basically making it impossible for him obey his original orders without someone dying. Although I wasn't always able to follow the larger conflicts very well and got completely lost during the final space battle, I was able to follow the series of events that propelled Miles through the story just fine. It was exciting to see Miles take on his Admiral Naismith identity again, and it was nice to see how things had changed among the Dendarii Mercenaries. I'll be curious to see whether Miles stops thinking of Elena all the time in later books, now that he's gotten a chance to see her again and realizes that she's very different from the girl he once loved. In this book, she felt less like someone playing at being tough, and more like someone who was actually tough. She also seemed to have a more jaded (but still, I think, positive) opinion of Miles.
I could imagine Cavilo making another appearance in the series, although she might be too greedy and self-serving to ever morph into someone Miles could call an ally. She was a twisty opponent who was so fascinating to watch in action that it wasn't until I finished the book that I realized I hardly knew anything about her as a person. What sort of life had she led, prior to the events of this book? She was clearly used to using her looks, to people seeing her beauty and small stature and underestimating her razor sharp mind.
All in all, I'm still loving this series and looking forward to reading the rest of the books, all of which I now own. While I can't wait to read more about Miles, I think I'll jump back in time and read the books about his parents first – Bujold keeps referencing events prior to Miles' birth, and not knowing all the details bothers me.
Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
- Going Postal (book) by Terry Prachett - Those who enjoyed Miles' cleverness and ability to adapt to changing circumstances might want to give this book a try. The main character, Moist von Lipwig, is a con artist who is forced to become Ankh-Morpork's newest Postmaster. I consider him to be at least as fun to read about as Miles. I've written about both the TV series adaptation and the audiobook.
- 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.
- 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.
- Ender's Game (book) by Orson Scott Card - If you'd like another military sci-fi book starring a brilliant protagonist, 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.