Mirror Dance and Memory by Lois McMaster Bujold

It’s odd that although these are two of my favourite Bujold books, I always skip the first few chapters of each of them when I am re-reading. It’s because I know the main character is going to make an absolutely enormous mistake, and I just can’t stand seeing it happen. So I tend to pick up Mirror Dance at Chapter 12, when Mark arrives on Barrayar (after everything that could possibly have gone wrong has done so); and Memory at Chapter 7, when Miles is discharged. I know in both cases there is good stuff in the earlier chapters (not to mention things highly relevant to the plot!) but I just can’t subject myself to the pain of watching Mark and Miles dig their own graves.

Once the mistakes are made, though, and the books move into “recovery” mode, I love them. In fact, both of these are books that I will occasionally get off the shelf just to read one of the “good bits”. (I also do this with A Civil Campaign – which I also can’t re-read the first few chapters of.) They seem to have more depth than the earlier books in the series, though you probably need to have read at least some of the earlier books in order to fully understand these ones.

Mirror Dance is the first Miles book where there is a non-Miles perspective character. And I actually find the Mark sections of the book (after the excruciatingly painful first few chapters) far more interesting than the Miles bits. In fact, I find the Miles sections pretty dull.

I’m not totally convinced that Mark is the same character I first met in Brothers in Arms – he seems much more brisk and efficient there than he does in Mirror Dance. However, that’s more of an issue when I’m re-reading Brothers in Arms – the Mark of Mirror Dance is the same as the one in Civil Campaign. And I guess you can justify the change partly by saying that you only see him from the outside (Miles’ perspective) in Brothers in Arms, and also that he has spend the intervening time hiding out, and without Galen driving him, so it does make sense that he’d seem a bit more adrift than he did in the earlier book.

I think one of my favourite scenes in the book is the one where Mark overhears Cordelia and Aral talking – I particularly love Cordelia’s analysis of Ivan as only playing the fool, and Aral pointing out that Ivan has been like that all his life, and her interpretation would make him “a fiendishly Machiavellian five-year-old”. And the bit earlier in the book where she points out that “Miles thinks he’s a knight-errant. A rational government wouldn’t allow him possession of a pocket-knife, let alone a space fleet.” Cordelia really enriches this book, even though her part is relatively small (though still bigger than in any of the earlier books except Cordelia’s Honor).

Memory is my absolute, all-time favourite Vorkosigan book. The detective story and Miles’ personal growth are really well woven together, so the book is neither too depressing nor too lightweight. Fun minor characters are either introduced for the first time (Martin, Ma Kosti and Zap the Cat), or developed from earlier books (Duv Galeni, and also Illyan – not that he was previously underdeveloped). And it has so many wonderful scenes: Ivan taking over and moving into Vorkosigan House, the trip back to Silvy Vale, Illyan’s illness and Miles’ management of it, the “wrestling with temptation” scene, the Assault on Cockroach Central, and the confession to Gregor. Some of these scenes are fun, some moving, some powerful – all of them really good to read and re-read.

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