Details: (c) Lois McMaster Bujold 1994; Pub 2008 Baen Books; ISBN 0-671-87646-5
Verdict: Mirror Dance is impressive and thrilling.
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.