I figure it’s about time for another Vorkosigan post. Since this is the beginning of some relatively major changes in the series, I’m going to be throwing pretty much the whole thing under the cut. If you have already read Brothers in arms, or don’t care about having that book’s major plot twist spoiled, then read on.
I’ll sum up what’s below here:
Mirror dance is in some sense a direct sequel to Brothers in arms. It introduces some major twists into the series and represents the beginning of a huge turning point in the life of Miles Vorkosigan. It’s also the darkest Vorkosigan novel up to this point. Beyond its interest for the series, Mirror dance elaborates and expands on many of the continuing themes of the series – especially the way the series portrays and examines mental illness.
Mirror dance is also the necessary precursor to Memory, widely considered the best novel of the series. Anybody who enjoys the series should read Mirror dance, but like Memory it’s fairly dependent on the previous volumes and as such isn’t really a good entry point into the universe.
Brief (extra-brief) plot summary
Mark Pierre Vorkosigan, the clone brother of Miles, impersonates “Admiral Naismith” in an attempt to free the clones destined for brain-transplants from Jackson’s Whole. Things do not go well.
So how is it?
It should come as no surprise to those who have read my previous posts that I think this book is pretty great. I’ll talk about why I think it’s great in a minute, but first I’m gonna say that Mirror dance is definitely above average when compared to the other works in the series.
So why is Mirror dance good? Part of it is related to the book itself. Bujold disrupts the “standard” Vorkosigan saga structure with this one. While it’s a book about Miles, he’s not the POV character for the majority of the book. It’s a relatively minor thing, but it’s enough to prevent this one from feeling like “yet another Vorkosigan book”. Part of it is how well Mirror dance builds on the events of Brothers in arms. A major part of it is that, at its heart, the Vorkosigan saga is built entirely on character development, and in Mirror dance there is plenty of character development. Mark especially becomes well established as a fully-rounded character in his own right, quite distinct from Miles, despite their shared genome.
Thematically, Mirror dance goes into darker territory than before. While previous installments have alluded to issues like suicide or sexual assault, Mirror dance is more direct. It’s still a long ways from Terry Goodkind or George R.R. Martin – there’s no gruesome lingering over details and it’s mostly implied rather than stated outright.
That Bujold doesn’t spend pages and pages recounting the torture and abuse some characters experience is a strength in this context. While the hyper-detailed approach has its merits, I think sparing the reader the grim details helps to emphasize the psychological impact and effectively avoids fetishizing the experience. Mirror dance deals heavily with the way people cope and attempt to overcome truly horrifying experiences, and it is successful partially because it focuses on the people rather than the experiences themselves.
It’s a good book, I like it, but it’s definitely overshadowed by the next one in the series. It’s also not a starting-off point (Brothers in arms would be better, although not ideal) and so it’s not particularly valuable as a potention book recommendation.