The dwarfish, fetally damaged yet brilliant Miles Vorkosigan has more than his share of troubles. Having recently escaped an assassination plot whose tool was a brainwashed clone of himself, Miles has set the clone, Mark, free for a new chance at life. But when he decides to let his clone brother assume his secret identity and lead the Dendarii Free Mercenary on an unauthorized mission to liberate other clones from the outlaw planet of Jackson's Whole, things get really messy. The mission goes awry, Miles' rescue attempt goes even more wrong, and Miles ends up killed and placed in cryogenic suspension for future resuscitation. Then, as if that weren't bad enough, the cryo-container is lost! Now it is up to the confused, disturbed Mark to either take Miles' place as heir of the Vorkosigan line or redeem himself by finding and saving Miles.
"[A]s good a story as ever was offered as science fiction, with Bujold's carefully crafted prose, logical working out of even minor plot points, and inimitable wit all very much in evidence. Deserves the highest recommendation and a hoard of eager readers." (Booklist) "[An] intricate and rousing new installment of the Vorkosigan adventures....Bujold creates a tapestry of variegated human societies dispersed throughout a colorful galaxy. She peoples it with introspective but genuine heroes who seize the reader's imagination and intellect." (Publishers Weekly)
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Love the Vorkosigan series (and particularly Gardners' narrations) and this is one of the best. Looking forward to the release of Barrayar later this year.
Would definitely recommend finishing some of the earlier titles before starting this one - I would start with "The Warrior's Apprentice" and continue in chronological or publication order but whatever you do, make sure to get through "Brothers in Arms" before this book.
A very small oddity with this book - it's like they forgot to edit it in places. Gardner occasionally repeats himself, at times with different emphasis or other times where he had got tongue-tied and re-read a sentence. However, this doesn't detract enough from the book for me to give it less than 5 stars. Enjoy!
Suspenseful and Satisfying Space Opera of Identity
To read the first chapter of Lois McMaster Bujold's Mirror Dance (1994) is to receive a stimulating shock. That's because the previous four novels (in internal chronology) in her entertaining, character-driven space opera series featuring Miles Vorkosigan have all been narrated from his point of view, so that when Mirror Dance begins with the perceptions of a 4' 9" tall guy who's self-conscious about his "dwarfish" stature and large head, we assume that it's Miles. But, down to his last chance, he is too malevolent and hates his body too much and has some major identity issues. Wait! It's not Miles but his psychologically damaged and brilliant clone ("brother!") Mark attempting to pass himself off as Miles so as to lead a squad of mercenaries on a quixotic and dangerous mission to rescue fifty cloned kids from their crèche on Jackson's Whole, a planet of crime syndicate houses. Though the clones believe that their parents will come to get them, in fact their brains will be discarded as medical waste to free up their young bodies to house the brains of aged and wealthy clients. Mark desperately wants his gambit to succeed, because he sympathizes with the clones and wants to strike a blow against the clone body harvesting industry and because he needs to prove himself to be as capable as his charismatic and successful older "brother" Miles in order to form his own identity. Thus whenever one of Miles' mercenaries lights up when mistaking him for Miles, Mark's resentment towards his progenitor grows.
After this disorienting opening, Bujold alternates point of view chapters between the two young men as the clone discovers that leading a Miles-esque mission is not so easy and Miles discovers that cleaning up after his clone ("brother!") is not so easy either. Throughout the novel, Bujold explores identity--through clones (e.g., how a clone feels towards his or her famous progenitor), gender (e.g., how a hermaphrodite receives and resists male or female classifications), torture (e.g., how a person's personality is exposed and fragmented by torture), death (e.g., how people who die and revive may forget who they were), families (e.g., how siblings shape each other's personalities), and roles (e.g., how an emperor plays a simulacrum of an emperor). The book demonstrates how we form our identities by seeing ourselves mirrored in the people around us.
Despite a few hiccupy-repetitions that should have been edited out, Grover Gardener gives his usual engaging reading of a Miles novel. He is Miles and Mark! His treatment of the slurred speech of Miles and the slow speech of Sergeant Taura is particularly appealing.
In her Vorkosigan books, Bujold does not write sublime descriptions of nature, space, or artifacts ala Iain Banks or Alistair Sinclair, but her vision of human nature is at times as bracingly dark as theirs, and she is just as good at creating compelling main characters and political situations. Mirror Dance is the most disturbing, moving, and satisfying of the five books featuring Miles that I've read so far (including Warrior's Apprentice, The Vor Game, Cetaganda, and Brothers in Arms). Although it would be best enjoyed and understood in the context of the previous books, it can stand on its own. Bujold is so good at writing believable characters we care about and want to watch in action that she leaves us wanting even more. I'm looking forward to spending time with Miles and Mark in future books in the series.