Reasons for reading it: I am absolutely starving for more of this series by now, and it was the next one in order.
How it came into my hands: My ever-wonderful Beau lent it to me.
Mirror dance is amazing even by the high standards of the rest of the series. I did something I never do, which is read through the last two thirds in one mammoth five-hour session; I literally just could not put it down. I generally don't have the attention span to sit and read continually for more than an hour or so at a time, so it's a pretty exceptional book that grabs me that much. Partly there's an incredible level of plot tension (I pretty much knew everyone was going to survive just by position in the series, but I was immersed enough to be scared anyway), and partly because I cared so very much about the characters.
Like several in this series, MD folds in the middle; the first section with Mark's botched raid on Jackson's Whole could be a separate story on its own, though one with an unusually grim ending, and then the much longer sequence with Mark's redemption and eventual heroic outcome, the bit I read all at one sitting. But both halves are really amazingly good and you couldn't have one without the other. Actually, for the middle of a series, MD is an impressively unified whole. You do meet characters from other parts of the series, but I think this would work better as a stand-alone than almost any of the others.
The other thing that's amazing about MD is that it tackles the kind of topics that I very much do not want to read about. It has a child rape from the rapist's POV, and a long, detailed section about torture. But Bujold handles these very well, and with a lot of sensitivity; the rape is necessary to illuminate character, and she shows an amazing ability to convey, on a really visceral level, the worst torture you could possibly imagine, without ever descending into pornographic detail of the sort that both offends and detracts from the horror of simply providing an outline. The only comparable "good" torture scene I can think of is the ending of 1984 where O'Brien breaks Winston Smith. I feel a bit odd commenting about the handling of a character who deals with trauma by fragmenting personalities; the fact that it rings true with other stuff I've read (incluing personal accounts) only means that Bujold is at least as well read as I am. But as far as I can tell, this is done sensitively and non-stupidly.
The one thing that I did have some quibbles about was the stuff about Mark's eating disorder and all the business about weight gain. I'm not sure why I am bothered by that when I'm prepared to suspend disbelief for things like uterine replicators and revivifying corpses and *eyeroll* brain transplants. I think it's because those things are all presented as being science fictional ultra-high tech, whereas the physiologically implausible stuff around fat is presented as if it were supposed to be realistic.
It's really great to have some more of Cordelia and Aral, especially giving some insight into their maturity; old married couples don't get enough attention in most of literature! I also really, really liked the fact that Miles' amazing network of people he can absolutely trust breaks down here. The fact that Quinn and Thorne are in love with him starts to interfere with their ability to act efficiently at critical moments, in contrast to the earlier books where their unquestioning and unfailing loyalty gets him out of all kinds of tangles. There's a whole lot of the thing that is one of Bujold's major strengths: discussing love and family and what those things really mean.
The plot covering Mark's redemption and discovery of himself is seriously one of the most amazing pieces of characterization and bildungsroman I've ever come across. Really astounding.
The good news is that papersky is discussing the whole series on Tor.com. Very cool to have her insights into the series, though on a slightly negative note she's not really tagging her posts properly, so you just have to look through the site to be able to find them. Several are on the front page at the moment, though, including MD.
I'm really looking forward to your thoughts on the next one. I did quite like this one. I like the way actions have consequences. I also like the way characters grow and develop. They change because of the experiences they have, and they also tend to mature over time. They still act like themselves, but older, more mature versions of themselves, more or less. And she writes so much of the lifespans of several characters that you get this lovely effect of seeing how their life experiences shape them, in both good and bad ways. That's not easy to do, and it's really only something that can come out later into the series.
But I was so pleased to see Aral and Cordelia again. It's so nifty seeing them when they're older and their lives are a bit calmer. Only a bit, since their family seems to encourage something quite other than calm.
I need a new book in the series! It's a shame I've read all the ones that exist so far, as far as I am aware.
Although I did know Miles wasn't going to stay dead, because of course there are later books in the series that feature him, I wouldn't put it past Bujold to make him not fully recover mentally and lose some access to his past. So although I was reassured by the end of Mirror Dance, I'm rather hoping that Memory is going to show Miles handling some form of impairment as a result of his resurrection.
One of the delicious parts, for me, of reading Memory when it came out, was that the entirety of the advanced information of what was in the book was, quite maddeningly, the words, "Miles hits thirty. Thirty hits back." Far be it from me to deprive you of that pleasure by confirming or denying your suppositions or in any way spoiling the surprises.
I wasn't asking you to spoil me, and indeed thank you for being so good about not commenting on my speculations. I was just trying to share the anticipation squee! I have to tell you, I'm so glad that cartesiandaemon has the complete set and is happy to lend them, if I had to go and track the sequels down before I could read them I'd be absolutely fuming by now.
Oh yes, you've really pinpointed what makes the series so impressive. When people do stupid things, they and people around them suffer, they don't just get away with it because they're the hero and their intentions were noble. The danger feels very real. And yes, I love love love the long-term character development, that being done so brilliantly is enough to get me over my strong prejudice against long series.
Oh, yes. Mirror Dance is great. The one personal downside with it that I have is that I find it near impossible to read the first few chapters, in which Mark carefully, thoughtfully, thoughtlessly walks into destruction. The contrast between his fleet homecoming and Miles' so perfectly illustrates the differences in attitude between the two and foreshadows what's going to go horribly wrong. It's agonising writing.
Oh yes, the sense of impending doom is just incredible, isn't it? papersky compared that opening section to a Greek tragedy, and it really is. And the alternating Miles / Mark chapters at the beginning could be gimmicky, but actually work really well.
I would say that the Vorkosigan series has many of the same strengths as the Chalion series, even though it's SF / space opera rather than historical fantasy. What it doesn't have is religion, but it does have fantastic characterization and world building and it's generally tighter plotted than the Chalion trilogy, if anything. And it's in the region of about 20 novels, ranging from very good to mind-blowingly excellent. So yes, lots more material!
Well, I think it's realistic that someone who was tortured with food withdrawal as a kid would have a messed up attitude to eating and body image. But the underlying assumption seems to be that if you consume more calories and stop exercising, you can magically control your weight, and also it veers a bit towards assuming that anyone who does get fat must be stupid and lazy if they don't have an obvious psychological condition and messed up metabolism like Mark. It's true that people do express surprise at how quickly Mark puts on so much weight, and there's that handwavy reason that he has the genetics of a big guy but the physical size of a dwarf. (In the Chalion books, Bujold associates fatness with disorder and therefore with the Bastard, which again, I'm slightly uncomfortable with, though obviously there are worse examples out there of assuming that people only get fat if they have no self-discipline.)
Ok, yeah I can see that Mark's rapid weight gain is unrealistic. (At some point it's mentioned that he could control his weight with drugs, not sure in which book -- but I don't really think that makes the weight gain less problematic.)
Well, it could be quite a bit less wonderful than Mirror Dance and I'd still be excited about getting to read it. *hug* I'm impatient for your views about MD too, especially the mental health and trauma recovery stuff; but maybe you need me to have read Memory in order to be able to discuss that without spoilers.
I think Mirror Dance is a very powerful portrayal of a mode of trauma and recovery which is within the range of what real people do and somewhat different to the shape within that range with which I am most familiar; one of the things Rose is informed by is wanting to point up a contrast with how Mark's basement gang do things, particularly at the level of how distinct they are.
I love Mirror Dance with a passion, I think it's the strongest of the whole series, particularly for how we get to see Aral and Cordelia.