The Vor Game by Lois McMaster Bujold

(moderate spoilers, major spoilers for prior books in series)

I had intended to read the Vorkosigan Saga in publication order for the experience of seeing Lois McMaster Bujold grow. That lasted as long as it took to discover Miles Vorkosigan, then discover my planned route would not give me more Miles immediately. Once I understood this, I decided it was time to introduce myself to The Vor Game.

I was not disappointed.

The Vor Game opens with Miles having successfully graduated the academy, only to receive a new and more unpleasant test. Instead of getting the prime ship post he is seemingly well fitted for, he has instead been placed as a weather technician in a horrible isolated infantry base. The reason is that Miles’ teacher has decided Miles is too used to getting his own way, and needs to show he can work without that happening. Thus Miles is off to a trial by fire and guess what?

It couldn’t go worse if they tried putting the fire out with oil.

The theme of the book is very much in the title. To be a Vor on Barrayar is to be the inheritor of countless duties and privileges. It’s a big part of what makes Miles so unconsciously used to and successful at getting his own way and an equally big part of what makes him so endearing, as he takes all those responsibilities very seriously. Rescue the Emperor? Take over a starfleet? Risk you career to save a handful of men? Miles charges in before he even realises why. Truth be told, I think this book could be a better exploration of this theme. I expected more of Barrayar’s aristocracy from the title, even when the blurb told me not to. It’s still more than enough psychological and thematic undertying for this caper.

And it really is a caper, or maybe a set of them. Miles is at his best when coming up with ludicrous plans, a Moriarty in depressed altruistic disabled noble form. I think my favourite part is when he discovers said Emperor and instantly charges off to the rescue, but the whole of the take over of the fleet is filled with great moments of cunning and diplomacy. As for the instigating incident that gets him into trouble to begin with? Also great, and with a superb emotional payoff.

Honestly, this is actually my least favourite Vorkosigan to date. It’s the weakest supporting cast, with people popping in and out a little too frequently to form a genuinely great double act. The extent of the Emperor’s problems didn’t quite sit right with me either in that I didn’t see them coming or felt convinced by them, nor did I feel they covered the heavy part of it well.

Despite that, I still think this is an excellent story. It is above all, page turning entertainment of the highest order, but it has its share and more of thoughtfulness too. And now I’m done, I’m thinking of my next Vorkosigan fix.

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