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The Warrior's Apprentice
Lois McMaster Bujold
Narrated by Grover Gardner
Blackstone Audio, 11 hours, 7 minutes

The Warrior's Apprentice
Lois McMaster Bujold
Lois McMaster Bujold was born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1949. She attended Ohio State and later worked as a pharmacy technician at the Ohio State University Hospitals. She has two children and now lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her first novel, Shards of Honor, was completed in 1983 and published in 1986. Her first professional sale was a story in 1984 to Twilight Zone Magazine. Falling Free was her first Nebula Award. Since then she has won another Nebula, and 4 Hugo Awards.

Lois McMaster Bujold Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Barrayar
SF Site Review: The Sharing Knife: Beguilement and The Sharing Knife: Legacy
SF Site Review: The Miles Vorkosigan Saga
SF Site Review: Paladin of Souls
SF Site Review: The Curse of Chalion
SF Site Review: The Spirit Ring

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Nicki Gerlach

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Miles Naismith Vorkosigan was left crippled after a poison gas attack on his mother when he was still in the womb. In reality, he's lucky to be alive at all, but gratitude doesn't always come easy when one's bones might break from a hard push, especially when growing up in a culture that places a high premium on physical prowess in boys. Add onto that a father who is a Count, a high-ranking military officer and former Regent to the Emperor, and you have one young man eager to prove himself -- not only in his father's eyes and the eyes of his peers, but also in his own estimation.

The Warrior's Apprentice opens when Miles is seventeen. He has aced the written portion of the entrance exams to the Barrayaran Military Academy, but a miscalculation during the physical test results in disqualification and two broken legs. Disheartened, Miles heads to Beta Colony to visit his maternal grandmother, taking with him his bodyguard since birth, the implacable but haunted Seargent Bothari. Bothari's daughter, a beautiful and spirited young woman who is stifled by the limited opportunities that Barrayaran culture offers her gender, also accompanies them.

However, Miles is barely on Beta Colony long enough to unpack before he manages -- completely by accident -- to take command of a ship and its pilot, and get them a mission smuggling weapons past a blockade to a much-besieged planet. Soon, without knowing quite how it happened, Miles finds himself in charge of an entire mercenary company. Despite washing out of the military academy and despite not planning for any of this, he must quickly learn the realities of what it takes to be in command, and he must do it the hard way -- on the battlefield.

Well, it's official: Lois McMaster Bujold has cemented herself into the hallowed ranks of my favorite authors. Has this woman written anything that isn't great? She writes fantastic high fantasy (The Curse of Chalion series), she writes great fantasy romance (The Sharing Knife series), and she writes crazy-compelling sci-fi/space opera (The Vorkosigan Saga). The way she does it is that she's not writing genre fiction at all; rather, she's writing intensely sympathetic and real characters caught up in fascinating situations -- they're just fascinating situations on worlds other than Earth, is all.

Miles Vorkosigan is certainly an interesting character, which is good, considering he's the focus of many more books after this one. Does he replace Cordelia (Miles's mother, and the heroine of Shards of Honor and Barrayar, the preceeding two books) at the top of my Bujold-ian Fictional Character Crush List? No, not quite, but that's a tall bar to clear. I enjoyed watching Cordelia deal with the deeply ingrained Barrayaran sexism more than I enjoyed watching Miles deal with the deeply ingrained Barrayaran disability-ism, but that may be because as a non-disabled woman, I found her plight more immediately recognizable than his. To Miles's credit, however, he spends hardly any time whining or moping about what others perceive as his disability. He gets frustrated, of course, when he comes up against its limitations, but he only descends into self-pity once, and that very briefly, so he remains hugely likeable. Contributing to that likeability is his intensely snarky sense of humor and his sharp intelligence, coupled with enough youthful naïveté to keep him from veering into the land of the insufferable know-it-all.

The story itself is very quick-moving -- perhaps too much so, at times -- with circumstances flip-flopping multiple times within a single chapter, leaving both Miles and the reader a little befuddled as to how things had gotten to their present state. Still, it's woven together pretty neatly, and contains some serious shocks that I did not see coming. The space battles are more numerous than I would ordinarily prefer, but Bujold writes them well enough that I can follow the action. Plus, she typically focuses more on the people and less on the laser cannons, which I always appreciate. I was also impressed when I realized that this book was originally published before Barrayar, even though it takes place later in the internal chronology of the series. Either Bujold was planning well ahead when she wrote this book or else she has a deft hand at retconning previously established details, because the disparity between publication and chronological order is seamless.

Grover Gardner's narration was wonderful as always, although it was a refreshing change to hear him reading a book with a male protagonist. He does an excellent job distinguishing characters by voice, and between his efforts and Bujold's dialogue, I had no problem telling who was who, even among the more minor characters, despite the fact I could rarely keep all of the sci-fi-ish names straight.

Overall, I enjoyed the heck out of this book, exactly as I was expecting to do. While it follows well from the two books that came before it, it would also work just fine as a stand-alone novel or, more likely, as the introduction to the series as a whole. I suspect that anybody who reads one will be as charmed as I was and want to pick up the rest.

Copyright © 2010 Nicki Gerlach

Nicki Gerlach is a mad scientist by day and an avid reader the rest of the time.  More of her book reviews can be found at her blog, fyreflybooks.wordpress.com/.


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