Saturday, November 10, 2018

Brothers in Arms Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: Lois McMaster Bujold

Publisher: Baen Books
Genre: Space Opera, Science Fiction
Series: Vorkosigan Saga Book Five (Publishing Order)
Pages: 338

(Contains Spoilers for Vorkosigan novels 1-4 in publication order).

Admiral Miles Naismith has arrived on Earth fleeing retribution from the Cetagandans and looking to rest and repair his fleet. In London at the Barrayaran embassy Miles returns to his birth identity of Miles Vorkosigan and once again must begin balancing both roles he plays. But when assassination attempts begin, keeping his identities secret becomes even more difficult than Miles could have imagined.

This is the point where reading in publication order seems to get tricky. Miles is 24 now, and a number of different stories and adventures have happened between The Warrior's Apprentice and this one. So there are mentions to events in books that I have yet to read, but none of these mentions get into too many spoilers.

Only a few Dondarii know that Admiral Naismith is really Miles Vorkosigan and this includes Elena Bothari, her husband, and Elli Quinn. As the Dondarii have been taking up covert operations for the Barrayarans, even unknownst to them keeping Miles's identity secret has been essential for the group and his survival. The Cetagandans have finally had enough and appear to doing everything they can to uncover his identity. 

Balancing his Vorkosigan/Naismith identity schtick is one of Miles's biggest conflicts in the story. As his Vorkosigan duties hamper his personal desires to be a legitimate Admiral of a fleet and begin a serious romantic relationship with Elli Quinn, and previously Elena Bothari. 

The other conflict and the adventure side of the story is discovering who is trying to kill and expose him. This draws in his new superior at the Barrayaran assembly, Captain Duv Galeni, a Komarran who had family killed in the infamous massacre on his planet when it was under the charge of Miles's father. It also draws in Ivan Vorpatril, who happens to be conveniently stationed at the embassy and is every bit of trouble he's always been. 

The assassination plot draws on a lot of the past and really helps with establishing the worldbuilding by presenting a clearer portrayal of the actual political situation in the Vorkosigan world. The history of Komarr in the conflict between Cetaganda and Barrayar is explored in depth and the role of Miles's father in the massacre there is, too. It also introduces a new character named Mark, whose existence will certainly change a lot of dynamics within Miles's own life.

Brothers in Arms does an excellent job of expanding the world, but as a moment to moment story I found it lacking. At least compared to The Warrior's Apprentice. When Miles has to shift to his Vorkosigan identity the plot can really drag. And after doing this for seven years I'm still wondering how the Cetagandans, as powerful as they're supposed to be, and as publicly as Miles has been as Naismith, haven't figured out who he is. Miles's continuing decision to abide by Vorkosigan customs becomes more and more puzzling as it constrains and restricts his life. This becomes especially true when Mark is introduced. 

Overall like Cordelia's Honor the plot jumps around a lot. Even though years aren't passing in between the action, a lot of the early parts of the plot feel a little too contrived as they try to insert action to keep the readers interest while trying to put certain pieces in motion for this story, and presumably future stories. I preferred the slow escalating build that occurs in The Warrior's Apprentice. But the main villain in this story isn't even introduced until midway through. By the time we reach the climax there has been too little build up to get the emotional reaction I thought the author was going for. Brothers in Arms is still an enjoyable entry in the Vorkosigan Saga, even though it comes across as scatterbrained at times.

Score: 7.3

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