Friday, May 13, 2016

The Warrior's Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold

This is the book that introduced me to the world of Lois McMaster Bujold, and which has forced me to buy every sequel that she's published over the last few decades.

Son of Count and Regent Aral Vorkosigan and Cordelia nee Naismith Vorkosigan, Miles has some big shoes to fill, especially when you add in the riding boots of his Grandfather, Piotr. He has put everything he has into successfully passing the entrance exams for the Imperial Military academy, and the story begins with the tragedy of him washing out of the physical portion of the test after shattering his legs trying to leap tall buildings...or at least an obstacle course wall.

Mentally cut adrift, he determines to take a trip to Beta Colony for a visit with his maternal grandmother, dragging along his childhood friend, Elena, daughter of the dour and faithful Sergeant Bothari, his batman. He hopes that they'll be able to solve the mystery of who Elena's mother was by poking around in cemetery records there, since that knowledge is still classified burn before reading on Barrayar, tied up as it was with Prince Serg's disastrous armada and glorious death (Read Shards of Honor).

We learn very nearly all we need to know about Miles in the first hour or so on Beta Colony, when he pokes his nose into something that is most definitely none of his business, and ends up rescuing a pilot, Arde Mayhew, and buying a ship by mortgaging part of his inheritance - some radioactive swampland. From this point forward the tale skips from frying pan to fire and back - repeatedly. Along the way, he also picks up a Barrayaran deserter, Baz Jesek, who is stranded offworld, and to keep him from being arrested, swears him in as his personal armsman, tying up the diplomatic teams of both planets in a snarled mess.

In order to pay off the mortgage on the ship, Miles takes on a dubious cargo of "agricultural equipment", which is to be delivered to the losing side in a planetary war, past a blockade maintained by a mercenary fleet. Miles plays the role of a devil may care mercenary a bit too well, and we begin to wonder if his personality is splitting at the seams. When they encounter the blockade, all is going reasonably well, the cargo is well concealed, and the shakedown bearable, until the leader of the boarding party decides he needs to take a hostage, too - Elena.

When Miles and his companions reach their breaking point moments later, they overwhelm the bored and out of shape mercenaries, then turn the tables, boarding the mercenaries ship and taking command. When faced with the need to keep the mercenaries, who outnumber them, too busy to launch a counterattack, Admiral Naismith and the Dendarii Free Mercenaries are born!

Simply one of the best, most entertaining stories I have ever read...and re-read...and re-re-read.

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