Anyway, I finished The Warrior's Apprentice today. Before I get into more details, one thing: I kept expecting the title to actually have some relevance to the book, but as far as I could tell, it never connected. Anyone know what it's supposed to mean? Or was it created by the publisher?
This was a fun read. Although it shares its less-mature writing style with Shards of Honor, it had less of a fanfiction-y feel to it, possibly because the worlds and the characters seem better developed. I liked Miles right away. justira had warned me that some people find teenage Miles to be annoying. He certainly is a young male child of privilege -- hard to avoid, when you're the only son of a wealthy and powerful house in a patriarchal, hierarchal society -- but those aspects of his personality tempered a lot by his having grown up disabled. There's a tension there and Miles is keenly aware of it; one of my favorite bits in the book is when someone, perhaps his cousin Ivan, says something wistful about "the old days", and Miles responds by pointing out that, under the old order, he'd have been killed at birth. The balance works, even when he's overcompensated by being theatrical. He feels real to me.
Elena is great, too, as are Baz and most of the mercenaries, especially Thorne, Tung, and Auson, plus the little bit of development we get on Elli toward the end. I wish we'd gotten more time with Thorne -- the concept of a society with a fully-integrated intersex population is a pretty fascinating one. Even if I found the use of "it" as a personal pronoun jarring; I had to pretend it was a translation error. The concept that Miles's habits of picking up strays and bluffing his way through tough situations eventually snowballs into the creation of a mercenary fleet is maybe a little much, but each small step was so believable that I was able to go with it. He also has a real talent for turning enemies into allies, which I expect to become more important over time.
justira had asked me for my thoughts on Bothari. Those thoughts are complicated and not fully formed, and I found his death so jarring that I'm not sure what to make of it. I had fully expected Bothari to be one of the main characters in this series, so I'm still adjusting to the idea that Bujold killed him off so quickly. Also unexpected was Elena marrying Baz -- when a character starts off a series of books secretly in love with a childhood friend, I expect the tension around that relationship to play out over several books, rather than being resolved, unhappily for the protagonist, in the very first one. I'm not complaining, really; I enjoy a good subversion of expectations. But it's still a shift that I have to adjust to in my reactions.
Anyway, Bothari. He is a difficult character, in many respects: a man who has committed horrors, cannot remember the specifics but knows in an abstract way what they were, and has spent the rest of his life trying to atone for them. (Possibly this is just because I watched it recently, but I'm reminded of the Babylon 5 episode "Passing Through Gethsemane".) I find it interesting that Bujold killed off Bothari and Miles's grandfather -- the two people in Miles's life most tied to the old Barrayaran traditions. Clearing the decks for a new order? Maybe.
I have to wonder how thoroughly Bujold had plotted out "Barrayar" before writing this book, because there are call-outs to things that happened in that time frame that are really specific, like the deaths of Vorhalas's sons. So far, I haven't noticed any plot holes caused by jumping back and forth through the timeline; hopefully that stays the case.
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