Young Miles is an omnibus containing three stories in the “Miles Vorkosigan” series by Lois McMaster Bujold — the novel The Warrior’s Apprentice, the Hugo award winning novella “The Mountains of Mourning” and the Hugo award winning novel The Vor Game. Although the books in this series are self-contained and not written in any particular order, these three are compiled in chronological order and come after the omnibus Cordelia’s Honor. It is debatable whether the series should be read in order at all and if so, whether to begin with The Warrior’s Apprentice or Shards of Honor, the first book in Cordelia’s Honor. The former is the first book that actually has Miles Vorkosigan as a main character since the two books in Cordelia’s Honor tell the story of Miles’s parents. Having read them both, I would recommend fans of romance begin with Shards of Honor as it is more focused on relationships and very different in tone from the books in the following set, but fans of light, fun adventures would probably find The Warrior’s Apprentice a better introduction to this series.
The Warrior’s Apprentice begins with the failure of Miles to be accepted into the Barrayaran Imperial Military Academy that his father and grandfather both attended. Growing up in a powerful martial family instilled in Miles a desire to serve his planet despite being a dwarf with brittle bones that tend to break very easily. While most of the young men seeking admittance into the academy find the written exams to be far harder than the physical tests, the intelligent Miles breezes through the former but is unable to finish the latter due to breaking a bone while coming off the wall climb. Although deeply disappointed, Miles is soon busy trying to find a way to live up to his paternal history of service in a way more fitting to his abilities (and limitations). Chance and some fast thinking soon find Miles acquiring a couple of irregular recruits, followed soon after by an entire band of mercenaries and the title of “Admiral Naismith.”
In “The Mountains of Mourning,” Miles has finally graduated from the Imperial Academy and is on break before being given his first assignment. When a sobbing woman comes to the front gate wanting to see Lord Vorkosigan the guards are ready to turn her away, but Miles feels sorry for her and knows it is her right to have a hearing before her lord. She explains that her baby girl was born with a slight birth defect (any physical problem is frowned upon in the military society of Barrayar) and was murdered. She seeks justice for the infanticide and Miles’s father sends him to the woman’s town to solve the murder mystery and give whatever judgment he deems fitting.
The Vor Game starts with Miles being assigned his first post as a graduate of the Imperial Academy – Chief Metereology Officer at Lazkowski Base, otherwise known as “Camp Permafrost.” Having never even taken a course on this subject while in the academy, Miles suspects there has been a mistake. Instead he finds that he was placed there as a test; Miles has a long history of problems with authority, and if he can successfully blend in with the hardened soldiers at this camp, a position more to his liking will be waiting when he’s done. Miles certainly finds this a challenge once he meets his abrasive superior officer and of course events lead to more mayhem when he has to resume his role of Admiral Naismith and foil a plot against the Emperor.
The books contained in this omnibus are a lot of fun. It is light reading and very easy to breeze through, heavy on dialogue and humor. There is a mixture of serious storytelling dealing with themes such as oppression and prejudice and light-hearted humor that provides a nice balance between the two.
Miles is an enjoyable character – extremely bright and energetic with a strong mischievous streak. However, the other characters are definitely secondary as Miles always takes center stage with a shining personality that overshadows the rest. His name is in the series title, after all, so I suppose this is not all that surprising.
The Warrior’s Apprentice was a rather fast-paced, entertaining story that was fairly flawless. It is followed up by a more somber tale about a society terrified of people who were different in “The Mountains of Mourning.” It was not all serious, though, and this novella contained one of my very favorite lines in this entire book with Miles’s thoughts about all the young women gathering around and pampering his horse:
God, thought Miles jealously, if I had half the sex appeal of that bloody horse I’d have more girlfriends than my cousin Ivan.
The murder mystery in the novella was not hard to figure out, but I don’t really think the story was about figuring out who did it.
While it was great fun to read, the military adventure The Vor Game was probably the weakest of these stories. It very heavily relied on major coincidences (such as Miles just happening to run into the Empire while not even on their home planet) and the “Camp Permafrost” storyline seemed to only be relevant for introducing the character of the superior officer at this place. At one point, Miles found a dead body in a drain which seemed to be setting the stage for another crime to solve. However, this event proved completely random and was never mentioned again, making it seem very out of place. (Bujold writes in the afterword that originally Miles also found some money but she later changed this to cookies since everyone thought this meant there was going to be a big fun who-done-it story.)
While the series is technically science fiction, these space operas are about plot and character and do not have a lot of gadgets or long explanations of advanced technology. Space is the setting but not the main attraction, so these books may appeal to those who do not normally enjoy the science fiction genre.
Young Miles is a diverting romp through space featuring a clever main character who has a knack for getting himself into (and out of) trouble. It’s thoroughly enjoyable and easy to get into, making it a great read for times when you just want a light story that does not require too much brain power.
Reviews of other books in this series: