Author: Lois McMaster Bujold
Details: (c) 1986 Lois McMaster Bujold; Pub 2003 Baen; ISBN 0-7434-3616-4
Verdict: The warrior's apprentice is a thoroughly good read.
Reasons for reading it: I enjoyed the first pair in this series, and was keen to read more.
How it came into my hands: cartesiandaemon has been helpfully lending me big piles of books so that I don't have to get impatient waiting to find the next in the series!
It's possible that there exists some book about a wise-cracking space pirate that I wouldn't enjoy, but it would have to be a lot worse than The warrior's apprentice. As well as being well written, tWA has a lot more depth in terms of subplots and political intrigue than a generic space opera, but it succeeds on the level of an exciting story where the hero escapes by the skin of his teeth from a series of increasingly dramatic confrontations. The characterization is very good, and extends to the entire large cast with all the minor characters plausible and rounded. The balance between Miles' exciting space adventures and the political background back on Barrayar and how the two aspects intertwine is also very successful.
There was a point where I felt the story was getting a little bogged down with Miles coming up with brilliant tactical schemes to defeat overwhelming military odds and the plot not really advancing. But at almost exactly that moment the narrative jumped up a gear with all kinds of exciting subplots and a new level of danger that wasn't immediately tractable to Miles' cleverness and people skills. I felt very much engaged in the story, and there's a whole range of emotions, not just everything turned up to eleven with military type excitement. The opening scene between Miles and the old Count is magnificent, and the Bothari arc is also a real high point of emotionally effective writing. It occasionally gets a little gory, but not enough to put me off an otherwise thrilling story.
It's very hard not to like Miles as a character. I like the fact that he succeeds by being intelligent, but also lucky, and that in spite of the plot hinging on his incredible brilliance, he does make mistakes. I also like the fact that he's disabled, and this is important to the story but it's not even slightly the only element of his character. There are a few minor elements in the Cordelia books where disability issues are well handled, so it's not surprising that this works well in tWA. I am not saying it's the most perfect portrayal of a disabled character ever, but it stays right out of the standard clichés and offensive approaches, mainly because it makes Miles a person rather than a symbol of disabled people in general.
If I have any quibble, it's that the epilogue seemed unnecessary. It spoils an otherwise highly satisfactory ending by adding one more scene to show that Miles is a highly intelligent military strategist and very good at dealing with people. But although there are minor flaws in tWA, it is highly enjoyable as well as being intelligent and complex, and I can quite see why Bujold has such a cult following.