Brothers in arms

Brothers in arms / Lois McMaster Bujold

That ain’t no clone, that’s my brother

I’ve been having trouble deciding what I want to post about next so I’m just gonna go back to the Vorkosigan series.

Brothers in arms is set more or less directly after the novella Borders of infinity (as opposed to the book of the same title), and is the first in a series of five novels that are fairly closely linked. Borders of infinity is itself the catalyst for this “set”, but it’s not strictly necessary to have read the novella for the rest of this to make sense.

Brief plot summary

After [events of Borders of infinity], the Dendarii Free Mercenaries are forced to stop on Earth for repairs. Problems arise when Miles, technically part of the Barrayaran military hierarchy, is assigned to a desk job while his nominal commanding officer waits for approval to release the funds to cover the repairs to the Dendarii fleet.

Separated from his troops, Miles is forced to conspire with his cousin Ivan to make contact with the Dendarii to prevent mass desertion, mutiny, bankruptcy, and/or the repossession of the fleet by their creditors. All the while, Miles is forced to attempt to reinforce the crumbling wall between his two identities.

So how is it?

It’s not my favorite book in the series but it’s definitely a solid one. Along with The Vor game, it’s one of the books that doesn’t stand out from the rest of the series. It has kind of a “business as usual” feel, so while it’s an incredibly important volume for the series, it’s not the best volume of the series.

Where Brotheres in arms really shines is in context with the rest of the series. The characters introduced in this volume are of fundamental importance to the next four volumes. Miles continues to develop, and this is the point where the conflict between his two personae really comes to the fore and becomes a driving factor. Miles’s struggle between the adolescent-fantasy-come-to-life of the Dendarii free mercenaries and his responsibilities as Lord Vorkosigan is the emotional core of this book, reflected in his concerns about his own sanity, facing his father’s reputation as the “Butcher of Komarr”, and his relationships with other characters, especially Ellie Quinn.

The main volumes in the Vorkosigan series are really all about Miles growing up. Brothers in arms does a good job of showing the growing tension as Miles feels the (largely self-imposed) pressure to grow up and become a more productive member of Barrayaran society.

It’s kind of a struggle not to give too much away here. I’ll say this: Brotheres in arms is a book about identity. Multiple characters struggle with defining who they really are, in defining an identity that acknowledges problematic family history and/or upbringing while still not being defined by it. Some charactesr let themselves be defined by bitterness and hatred, others try and may or may not succeed at overcoming.

Read on its own, Brothers in arms is a fairly standard entry in the series – certainly better than your average military sf/space opera, but not an amazing standout. Taken together with the books that follow, it’s part of one of the more well developed character arcs in “light” fiction.

Brothers in arms is also the last adolescent adventure for a while. The direct sequel, Mirror dance, deals with issues of abuse and mental illness far less obliquely than previous volumes. Memory also deals with some seriously heavy themes, although the issues involved are less traumatic than those in Mirror dance. Komarr & A civil campaign return the series to a slightly more lighthearted place, but they aren’t really adventure stories. Those four novels are, in my opinion, the best in the series by far and are some of my favorite books of all time, so they are definitely worth checking out. But if, as I’ve mentioned above, the series is really about Miles maturing and becoming an adult, the next four books are where that theme comes to a climax and Important Matters are resolved.


A note on Cetaganda

I reread Cetaganda recently, and want to follow up on my initial review:

Not only does Cetaganda have direct links with Captain Vorpatril’s alliance, it also directly references the events of Ethan of Athos, one of the other non-Miles-centric volumes in the series, which I didn’t notice the first time around. (I haven’t re-read Ethan of Athos, either, so there’s that. I’m planning on doing so soon, I’ve just been concentrating on the “main” novels for now). I enjoyed it more than I did the first time around, but the chronology still bothers me. In terms of character development, it’s probably the last of the “totally immature Miles” books, so moving it after Borders of infinity would weaken the overall arc. I guess I’d just like to see a post-Borders of infinity and post Cetaganda novel featuring the Cetagandans. There’s some really interesting material there that I hope doesn’t go unused, as the sequel hooks left at the end of Cetaganda have thusfar gone unfulfilled.

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