Young Miles by Lois McMaster Bujold
Young Miles by Lois McMaster Bujold is the first omnibus edition in the Miles Vorkosigan Adventures series (there is a book before this one, but with a different protagonist). The omnibus contains three stories: The Warrior’s Apprentice, The Mountain of Mourning, and The Vor Game. As so many other books before, this was a recommendation I found through the fantasy community over at reddit. Books with intelligent protagonists were being recommended, and after reading through three of the omnibuses I can say that I’m very glad to have picked up this series.
What drives this story forward is the intelligent protagonist Miles Vorkosigan, the child of a Vor-Lord, the nobility of the military system on the planet Barrayar. Victim of a toxic attack against his father as an unborn child, he is deformed, short, with brittle bones that break from very little force. In a society that loathes “muties”, he has to find his own way. As the heir of his father and very close in the succession to the throne of the Barrayaran Empire, there are certain expectations. Miles doesn’t want to live any different because of his disability, but to succeed, he has to work harder and do more than others. His strong will and stubbornness drive him forward at a near crazy rate.
The story revolves around Miles who fails to get accepted into the Barrayaran Military Academy because of his brittle bones. He goes for a vacation to his mother’s home planet, Betan, to spin a tale of fast money that crashes at the first contact with mercenaries, only to have Miles rise from the ashes as a full blown mercenary admiral, weaving a web a lies to keep his recruits at his side. Miles walks a very fine line, where every misstep can have disastrous outcomes, and no one could have prepared him for.
Miles is driven and reading the story about him feels like running from one scene to the next, a marathon without stops, but in a good sense. The intelligent Miles stumbles from one incident to the next, saving himself and his followers with his quick wit and only driving deeper into a swamp of mercenaries and war. It’s a blast to see Miles scramble around to keep his web of lies intact, and see him grow more and more into his adopted role.
The narrative features Miles as the only POV-character and you get to see much of his worries and fears, as well as his brilliant deductions and planning. The single POV makes it easy to follow Miles and his reasoning, and to like his character, because you are naturally close to him. He has a likable personality and is easy to identify with. On one hand he’s the driven and highly intelligent Miles he shows to everyone around him, on the other hand he’s a broken character that suffers more than he lets on under his disfigurement and the strain his new role puts onto him. He leads soldiers and their deaths, though not unexpected, drive him into dark spaces of the mind. He can only save so many, and even the best planes can have casualties, but every death weighs heavy on his consciousness.
This close POV means that he’s the only character we get to know much about. The others are interesting characters too, but they are always a step too far away for the reader to get to know them better. The book is essentially a One-Man Show – a very good one too – even though Miles leans hard on his subordinates and friends.
The setting is interesting. The vast universe the author creates is visible even in the small scale conflicts the protagonist is involved in in the beginning. It is a universe inhabited only by humans, but depending on what planets they originate from there are noticeable differences. Especially Barrayar, the world Miles comes from, is very interesting with its military style society and tradition. The animosity people show towards Miles because of his disability linked with his high standing in society and as a potential heir to the empire is interesting to see. You can understand how that animosity affects Miles and understand his desire to change his home planet and its people.
This is a book for everyone that likes intelligent and resourceful protagonists. There is plenty of action in the books, but I like the series because Miles rather looks for different solutions instead of using violence whenever possible. His is the “Ask questions first, shoot later”-policy, but that doesn’t mean that he shies away from using force when all else fails. One of the small problems with this sort of series is that I was a bit annoyed that Miles could never get credit for the incredible things he did. I understand why that is impossible, but it still bugs me a bit.
Reading this was a great experience and I bet you can understand why I instantly ordered the next two omnibuses after finishing Young Miles when you read the book yourself. Try the book out yourself, you won’t regret it!
I forgot to add this warning as I’d planned: Be careful when you read the blurbs on amazon or on the back of the books. Amazon spoilered something minor to me, that I already suspected, but the back of Miles Errant, the third part, had a major spoiler I wish I hadn’t read.