Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Brothers in Arms

This week, the Vorkosigan reread embarks upon Brothers in Arms, a book that I remember as being a madcap screwball comedy. Brothers puts Miles in the unusual position of having to switch back and forth between his roles on short notice, while also dodging the Cetagandans who are out to assassinate him in his persona as Admiral Naismith. This is one of the places where the differences between reading order and writing order are very obvious – after Cetaganda, the Cetagandans really should be capable of spotting Lieutenant Lord Miles Vorkosigan in the wild. But of course, Cetaganda was years away, unless they know some of the things that Miles is about to learn. Brothers also introduces two characters who will go on to play enormous roles in the rest of the series – Mark and Galeni.

This reread has an index, which you can consult if you feel like exploring previous books and chapters. Spoilers are welcome in the comments if they are relevant to the discussion at hand. Comments that question the value and dignity of individuals, or that deny anyone’s right to exist, are emphatically NOT welcome. Please take note.

The book’s first two chapters take us back to the end of “Borders of Infinity.” The Dendarii fled Dagoola IV with the Marilacan POWs who would form the nucleus of the Marilacan resistance. The Cetagandans pursued, calling for Naismith’s head. Barrayar’s role in the prison break is known only to a very small number of people, as it came very close to constituting an act of war. The Dendarii need safe harbor to repair equipment, get medical treatment for their wounded, and collect their pay. Accompanied by Elli as his bodyguard, Miles checks in at the Barrayaran embassy in London. The embassy wasn’t expecting him, and they can’t write him a check for eighteen million marks to cover the Dendarii’s payroll and expenses, so they add him to the embassy staff and wait for further orders.

We knew that Elli was infatuated with Miles from Ethan of Athos, where her feelings were so obvious that even Ethan noticed. Miles’s feelings about Elli have not been explored as thoroughly. In “Borders of Infinity,” Miles fell for a Marilacan prisoner. In “Labyrinth” he hooked up with Taura. In the Borders frame story, Elli is waiting for Miles at Vorkosigan Surleau, but that happened after Brothers in Arms. As this book opens, Miles is deeply smitten and is questioning his commitment to his professional boundaries.

My favorite cover for Brothers in Arms is the Alan Gutierrez version.

Gutierrez puts Elli front and center, looking audacious and confident. It’s clear that whatever is going on in this book, she and Miles are in it together, and it’s going to be a darn good time. Their body language speaks mostly of their longstanding friendship, while also hinting towards their growing romance. Gutierrez does a better job with Elli here than he did with Elena on the cover of The Warrior’s Apprentice, and I love that painting too. I’m not even going to complain about Miles and Elli’s uniforms being the wrong color. They look great in black leather, which, although I’m almost positive this wasn’t the artist’s intention, reminds me of the cat blanket they will buy in chapter three.

Other artists tended to de-emphasize Elli and the romantic elements of the story. The NESFA press edition is mostly blue, which is usually my thing, and it focuses on a pivotal moment near the London sea wall. Some of the major players in the more dramatic, completely unromantic, moments are arrayed like the cardinal points of a compass. Elli is peripheral to the action, back to the viewer, rappelling ungracefully down the wall. I feel vaguely offended on behalf of Elli’s rappelling skills.

The Kindle edition offers up more of its trademark glorious abstraction, using silhouettes to create a mystery about who the titular brothers are – is the line of soldiers Dendarii or Barrayaran? But I’ve read the book, so I know that this is a red herring and this image isn’t grabbing me anymore.

For the Croatian edition, Esad Ribic went with spaceships.

Elli is a little bit in the background of the first couple chapters of the book as well, as Miles settles into life at the embassy. Ivan is on hand to offer cousinly mentoring on embassy life, and company for two-a-day workouts at the gym. Galeni, Miles’s current CO, is a terse, professional presence. Miles is sympathetic to the problems he would encounter if Miles let the Cetagandans kill him on Galeni’s watch, but has bitten back a crucial question, “Whose son are you?” Miles’s tendency to see his keen investigative instincts as bad manners is going to present a lifelong struggle.

Next week – the impecunious Dendarii set fire to a liquor store! And Miles meets with his accountant.

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.

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