The Warrior's Apprentice

by Lois McMaster Bujold

Cover image

Series: Vorkosigan #3
Publisher: NESFA Press
Copyright: 1986, 1997, 2001
Printing: 2001
ISBN: 1-886778-27-2
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 309

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While this is the third book in Bujold's Vorkosigan series, and you do pick up some useful background material from reading Shards of Honor and Barrayar, this is the first book of the series focusing on Miles rather than on his parents. Bujold does a good job of filling in the necessary background, and this book is quite readable without the previous books.

Miles is the son of a famous Barrayaran military commander and lord and a former Betan explorer ship captain, stunted and given brittle bones in the womb by chemical weapons. The book opens with him flunking out of the entrance exams for the prestiguous military academy by jumping off a wall in the obstacle course and breaking both of his legs. Short, ugly, and deformed in a society that values physical appearance rather highly, he manages, through endless coincidences, manic energy, and personal charisma, to end up running a mercenary company by accident.

The Cordelia books bothered me in several different ways (although Barrayar was better). I was expecting to have the same problems with The Warrior's Apprentice, but despite a light tone and a plot driven by ridiculous coincidences, this story swept me right along and ended up being a lot of fun. This isn't a serious space opera; it's a comedic farce (as explained in the excellent introduction) based on a simple deception rapidly spiralling out of control.

The biggest problem I had with the earlier books was the flippant tone, which robbed much of the emotional depth from the story despite very serious things happening. The Warrior's Apprentice avoids this problem in large part by being clearer that what's going on is meant to be light and funny. It's serious for the characters involved, but even they are caught up in the absurdity of the situation. I found it easier to kick back and get drawn into the building complexities, as Miles tries to balance on top of the ever-increasing pyramid of deception and alternates between terror and the thrill of adrenaline.

While some of Miles's background and personality (and ability to be a little smarter than everyone else in the book) sounds like the self-insertion of the Cordelia books, it doesn't come across that way in the story. The annoying too-perfect aura that surrounded Cordelia is gone, and I enjoyed Miles's sardonic observations more than Cordelia's non sequitur absurdities.

Bujold does a good job at filling in the reader on what's gone before without being annoying, and the pacing and readability of the prose are excellent. This is excellent space opera farce. You do have to read it as that, though, since otherwise the coincidences and authorial manipulation of events are a bit much, and the places where Bujold tries to deal with more serious subjects (like Elena and his father) fall flat since there's no surrounding emotional depth to draw on.

Not a book to reach for when you're looking for something serious, but recommended for what it is.

Followed in series chronological order by The Vor Game.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2005-08-16

Last modified and spun 2014-12-21