Lois McMaster Bujold
Completed 10/21/2013, Reviewed 10/23/2013
After loving Barrayar and not really liking The VorGame, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the eighth book in the Vorkosigan Saga, and the third of Bujold’s three Hugo winners from the series. Being on this Hugo quest, I had not read the novel where Mark Vorkosigan, Miles’ clone/brother, is introduced, and I was concerned that there would be little or no character development. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this was not JASO…just another space opera.
Be aware that the synopses of “Mirror Dance” around the internet are not entirely accurate. I regularly saw things like “…Miles faces off with his clone…” or “…Miles confronts his clone…” while prepping for this book. Instead, this book is really about Mark finding his place in the world.
Mark has some serious existential issues. He wants to understand who he is separate from Miles. And very specifically, in an effort to reconcile his past, he wants to rescue fifty clones being developed for the life-extending whims of their evil, rich progenitors. He shanghais a ship from Miles’ fleet by impersonating him and launches his attack. Miles discovers the plan and attempts to help Mark. What ensues is entertaining and thought-provoking.
I love a good existential crisis and I was drawn into Mark’s. Throughout the book, he primarily struggles with the thought he is just an insignificant copy of his smarter, successful, swashbuckling brother. He must also confront the fact that he is no longer a slave to his original purpose for being, to kill and replace Miles and undermine the Barrayaran empire.
I was reminded of Frankenstein, which I had just read about a month earlier, both in its similarities and contrasts. There are times when Mark even refers to himself as a monster. Like Mark, the Frankenstein creature didn’t ask to be created, but now that he is, he has to make sense of the world. In contrast to the monster’s response to creation, Mark takes a higher road, but is still plagued by inner demons.
My favorite chapters were the ones where he meets Miles’, and thus his, parents. This is probably because I was introduced to and loved Cordelia Vorkosigan, their mother, in “Barrayar.” Her smart, sardonic, off-worldly perspective on society adds some welcome relief for Mark and the reader.
Bujold enters some dark territory with this novel. She explores the results of torture and victim reprogramming. There’s a very uncomfortable scene where Mark has his first, though inappropriate, attempt at sexual expression. Later in the novel, Mark experiences dramatic disassociation due to repeated torture. I was impressed that the author took on such serious topics.
Despite my excitement with the ground Bujold covers, I have to admit that I don’t care for her writing style. The characters are still two-dimensional and the prose is, well, not prose. The dialogue is mechanical and the constant exposition becomes tedious. It feels like at least once per chapter, you get a monologue that begins with, “The true story is…”, “Our real mission is…” or “My evil plan is…” It’s the literary equivalent to musical opera’s “park and bark.”
I give this book three stars. It’s good space opera with some strong attempts at depth, but still doesn’t reach the bar set by “Barrayar.”