Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Review | The Vor Game - Lois McMaster Bujold

The next novel of Miles' section of the Vorkosigan series, The Vor Game was second to face my ongoing determination to review the whole of this series. (I previously reviewed The Warrior's Apprentice here) While The Warrior's Apprentice is Miles' entrance, its sequel introduces us to far more of the series' recurring characters - and the reader to far more of Barrayaran society. If Warrior's Apprentice was Miles' book, The Vor Game is - by contrast - the Barrayaran book.

The first novel left Miles in military academy, but never fear - The Vor Game isn't a school novel, with the tropes that entails. It picks up as Miles is leaving the academy - whereupon, as one of its best and brightest, he gets... A commission as weather officer to Kyril Island, handily nicknamed 'Camp Permafrost' by its inhabitants. Miles can't help feeling that something isn't quite right: but there's a reason. If he gets through six months there, he can be assigned ship duty aboard the flagship, Prince Serg... Unfortunately, there's a small issue with chemical weapons and a just-slightly-insane commanding officer, and Miles is back in trouble. But there's more at stake: Miles must venture back into his former mercenary fleet, the Dendarii, and try to figure out the plotting in the Hegen Hub... Not to mention deal with the Emperor of Barrayar's disappearance. And even 'that idiot' Ivan isn't speaking to him.

A lot of important characters get much more substantial introductions in The Vor Game: from Captain Illyan (the head of Imperial Security - and who, thanks to an implant, really can remember everything) to a far larger part from Aral Vorkosigan himself, Miles' father. As one of - well, the main strength of these novels is characterisation - well, it's a great feature. I'm particularly fond of Gregor, the Emperor, who plays a far larger part: confused, occasionally brilliant, and very conflicted. Not to mention the way Miles has to deal with him - because calling your Emperor an idiot probably isn't such a good idea.

The novel might feature other characters, but nobody can drag Miles from his position as the driving figure. As I mentioned in my review of The Warrior's Apprentice, Miles is one of the most unique characters in SF: brilliant, struggling with physical deformity, scheming - and maniacally digging himself deeper into trouble. His solutions, likewise, are brilliant fun to watch unfold (or to go wrong: we readers take equal pleasure). It's like watching one of Kellanved's plans unfold from the closest perspective possible.

Likewise, there's more plotting and action than you might think possible in a charcter driven novel. Battles, betrayals, and the like take pride of place, and are among the best thought out I've seen in SF. (Then again, I'm not a big military SF fan - so don't think me an authority on this particular aspect). Miles isn't an action hero, however: he has exceedingly brittle bones. As such, expect the action to be viewed from a distance. For fans of close up or heroic action, this isn't your type of book.

Whether you're in need of the character driven, want a more unusual brand of SF, or simply want to see what everyone' talking about, The Vor Game is a worthy addition to the Vorkosigan Saga. It's a lot of fun, introduces a number of important characters, and explores far more of the conflict surrounding the Vor system - Barrayar's aristocracy. And even in SF, that's a rarety. What else can I say? Read The Warrior's Apprentice first, but this is a great novel.

(Seriously, though: what were Baen thinking when they designed the covers for this series? The one I posted for the review is the best of them...)

It's on Amazon here: UK US


  1. Nice review and sum up! I've noticed that several of Baen's covers look static and forced, with terrible fantasy tropes.

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