Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: The Warrior’s Apprentice, Chapters 2-4

Miles is probably never going to see Barrayar the way I do, but he’s not at peace with it this week. Following the debacle of his run at (and subsequent jump off) the Imperial Military Academy’s entrance requirements, Miles is willing to be persuaded of the merits of off-planet travel.

If you’d like to catch up on previous posts in the re-read, the index is here. At this time, the spoiler policy permits discussion of all books EXCEPT Gentlemen Jole and the Red Queen. Discussion of any and all revelations from or about that book should be whited out.


With both his legs broken, Miles returns to Vorbarr Sultana and breaks the news of the end of his military ambitions to his beloved grandfather, Piotr. Early the next morning, Piotr dies. While the funeral ceremonies are in progress, Miles talks to Elena about her mother. They use a secured comconsole to search for her mother’s name in Bothari’s classified service record. Later, Miles talks to his father about his plans for the future. Aral encourages Miles to focus on Vorkosigan District business. He doesn’t push hard for this, however, because he wants Miles to go off-planet to avoid an ongoing Barrayaran political situation. He suggests that Miles visit his grandmother on Beta Colony. Miles suggests that Elena come along; He plans to look for her mother on Escobar en route.


My sympathies this week lie with Ivan. I need to qualify my sympathy with several caveats—He’s an insensitive lout, and I absolutely refuse to endorse his swiving of servants or his sexual harassment of Elena Bothari. Yes, it’s cool to brag about how busy and important you’re going to be as one of many cadets at the Imperial Military Academy, and to bemoan your fate as one of the privileged few selected for this elite institution (and really, while Ivan is going to mature nicely, in this moment he does not appear to be deserving of the honor). It’s also obnoxious, and insensitive to your wounded cousin. All that aside, Ivan speaks for us all—school is terrifying. On behalf of the students and teachers in the south and west, who went back to school last month; in the north and east, returning to school as I draft this blog post; and the scattered remnants who will be hitting the desks after Labor Day, my heart goes out. Ave, those who toil in the knowledge mines. Sapere aude! Come back with your shields or on them.

Ivan is unique in this section. He is the privileged orphan—the one with the Y chromosome, two known legitimate parents, and a Vor in his name. There is almost nothing this kid can’t do. He’s going to run into trouble later, but now, in the very last moments of his summer vacation, he’s got a bottle of wine and a cousin to annoy. The only fly in his ointment is his need to avoid Aral Vorkosigan, lest he be lectured about the evils of doing things he actually quite definitely shouldn’t be doing. There’s a family connection there and all, but let us also reflect—Ivan’s mother has looked to Barrayar’s Prime Minister to correct her son’s faults. Which reminds me that Aral has changed jobs since we last saw him. When Gregor came of age, he laid aside the mantle of Imperial power (like you knew he would because he swore to do it) and took up elected office. I’m not 100% clear on how Barrayar’s Prime Minister is elected—I sort of think I might have been told, I just forgot. Anyway, I assume he was elected by the Counts, or perhaps by the Counts and the Ministers. I think it says something about a politician’s popularity when he rules by Imperial word for 15 years and then they pick him to hold a different key role in government when he’s done. I don’t think it says he was particularly radical during his time as Regent. I imagine he made the Counts feel safe. He declines to use the same voice that defeated the Cetagandans and put down the Komarran Revolt to chastise Ivan, who continues being cluelessly Vor. Also, has anyone else noticed that Ivan seems to be in line for the Imperial camp-stool but not for Vorpatril’s District? That’s not difficult to explain, it’s just a fascinating quirk.

Miles is certainly feeling the envy. His conversation with his grandfather did not go badly, from the perspective of readers who are aware of Piotr’s history of trying to kill Miles. But from Miles’s perspective, it does not go well. Piotr is sad. He offers his sympathy. He says that he expected too much of Miles. That’s not a nice thing to say. He might as well have said “Well bless your heart.” And then he dies the next morning, without getting around to offering Miles his heir’s names. Lots of unresolved issues there.

Miles is indeed at a loose end. Everyone keeps asking what he’s going to do now, while he still has casts on both legs. He’s using anti-grav crutches, which sound like a fabulous invention of which I obviously need a drawing. He doesn’t like them, which is just sad, because how can you not like a thing that has anti-grav in the name? I think he’s projecting his unhappiness with the death of his ridiculous dream onto his cool high-tech crutches. Because Miles’s dream was ridiculous. Yes, the testing requirements of the Imperial Military Academy are also ridiculous, but why should Miles have spent his adolescence dreaming, studying, and sweating to be a soldier? His mother hates that idea. His father is used to it but is also aware that the Imperium holds at least a few other career opportunities. Why did he not dream of being a doctor, like Vaagen, or an engineer, or a pilot? I have an answer to this question, and it is Piotr. This is what happens when you can only see one way to serve. Aral sees another path, but he’s also interested in getting his boy off the planet. There’s a political situation brewing, tension between Aral and Gregor, and Aral wants Miles safely out of the way, like he wasn’t that one time with the soltoxin grenade.

And as it happens, Miles wants to go. He has a massive crush on Elena Bothari, and he needs a delaying action on her father’s plan to find her a husband. I suspect Elena would not have had much difficulty communicating her dismay to suitors, and I hope that she could count on the support of the Vorkosigan clan in exercising veto power over her father’s ambitions for her marriage. I don’t really know. Elena wants to lay flowers on her mother’s grave. This is a simple enough ambition, but neither she nor Miles know where her mother is buried or who she was. It’s secret trawl through the records time! Bothari’s records cover his checkered military career and reveal that Elena came out of a replicator. This is a charming example of exposition for readers new to the series, deftly combined with a scene from Richard III, and with Miles and Elena pretending to make out. She’s pretending anyway. Miles’s pants are a little tight. No info on Elena’s mother, though. Miles thinks that she might be buried on Escobar. He devises a plan to stop over on Escobar en route to his grandmother’s house on Beta Colony, for a patriotic tour of the graveyards where the men his father killed to cover up Prince Serg’s assassination are buried. Miles doesn’t think of it that way, of course, because he doesn’t know what happened in the Escobar War. I know. What will he do after the Escobaran stop-over? His plans for Beta Colony seem a little vague to me.

Miles suggests that he ask Elena Bothari along on his trip. She would benefit from travel, and her father is coming as Miles’s bodyguard and can act as her chaperone. Aral shoots him down—Bothari just saw Miles and Elena kissing, and is distinctly not in favor of Elena and Miles going to space today. Miles suggests that his mother ask Elena Bothari along. Mission accomplished. Miles is going to Beta Colony, and Elena is going too.

And that brings us to Elena. One of the delicious questions of The Warrior’s Apprentice is who the warrior and the apprentice are. Miles begins the process of framing Elena as an apprentice-candidate by pointing out that Elena is tall, physically fit, and has learned a lot about weapons and tactics from her father. Between the two of them, Miles and Elena would make a great soldier. Elena would be the brains and the brawn, and Miles would be the Vor and the biological maleness. Barrayar is not just a society centered on the strong, it’s a society centered on the male. Bujold has dealt, and will continue to deal, with the idea of informal power throughout the series. Women like Alys and Cordelia have all kinds of invisible, informal power in Barrayaran society. Elena is not like them. She doesn’t have their education, their resources, or their experience. She’s at Bothari’s mercy. He’s her father, and he wants to give her the world—but not a world to control, or a world to save. Bothari is a very limited individual; He doesn’t see the prison he’s putting her in. If you didn’t believe Barrayaran culture was brutal before, look what it’s doing to Elena. But hey! She’s going to Beta Colony! That’s sure to be life-changing!

Next week—We fly! In a jump ship, for Escobar and Beta Colony.

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.


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