This week’s section opens with Miles sitting in his cabin in his underwear, staring at Bothari’s coffin. He’s overwhelmed—by grief, by the ever-expanding Dendarii, and by the pressures of command. Is there some way mercenaries can do a credit check before signing a contract?
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. We are mere chapters away from The Vor Game and the end of our spoiler embargo, so find a copy of Gentleman Jole and read it now if you need to!
Miles has withdrawn from the Dendarii and even from his own inner circle to the extent that he can muse about the importance of maintaining standards while on detached duty. He tries varying his routine by proposing to Elena, and she somehow does not have any difficulty turning him down, even when he tries to evoke the feudal nature of their relationship. She’s in a crisis of her own—it turns out neither of her parents were what she thought they were, and both of them are highly problematic—but she’s more concerned about the crisis the Dendarii are in, what with the war and needing to get back to Barrayar, or at least to Beta Colony. Elena doesn’t seem too keen on Barrayar at the moment.
As a reader, I have achieved battle exhaustion at this point. I feel like I should care about who shoots who with what, but frankly I don’t. Miles and I are pretty closely attuned on this point. It would help him if most of the Dendarii would drop dead so he could go home. A contentious staff meeting breaks through the fog; Miles pulls out of his fugue state to suggest hitting the Oserans in the payroll. Using a combination of electronic shenanigans and physical raids, the Dendarii steal the Oserans payroll, but leave an electronic trail in the Pelians financial records showing that they have been paid eight times.
Miles is about to join in one of the raids, wearing snazzy customized armor (and proving that almost anyone can be a space marine, regardless of the physical fitness requirements the Imperial Military Academy uses to justify discriminating against applicants it doesn’t like). It turns out that vomiting blood constitutes mission-critical interference with the operation of the equipment, though, so Miles is going to sit that one out. Or, more precisely, lie anesthetized in surgery while the Dendarii’s doctor repairs his ulcer and replaces the nerves in his stomach with a microchip. That sounds really handy. Emperor Ezar had a microchip implanted in Illyan’s head because he wanted a recording device with feet; I don’t see why the Barrayaran military wouldn’t have all of its personnel implanted with microchip stomach nerves. Since I’m ruminating on Miles’s new health problem, I feel compelled to remind everyone that he got it from his dad, who served in the Barrayaran military in two wars, with distinction (and only got demoted once); Apparently Imperial Forces can deal with bleeding ulcers if they like you enough.
When Miles wakes up from surgery, his loyal retainers are on hand to tell him he won the war. Oser surrenders by asking Miles for a job. They join forces. And Ivan has shown up! He makes a pass at Elena and she rebukes him in a way that makes him flinch pages later. Oh, Ivan. Someone got him out of his barracks in the middle of the night and told him he was going on a mission to find his cousin. Ivan did not investigate further. He’s just here! Now! He got separated from the Barrayaran fast courier he was on and then worked his way to Tau Verde on his back. He’s thrilled to discover that he beat the courier to Miles! Maybe he won’t be in trouble! The kid is like a golden retriever puppy—everyone likes him, everyone always has, he can’t imagine why anyone would want something bad to happen to him. If you believe that Ivan is really stupid, this scene affirms your bias. If you think that Ivan is the secret mastermind of his own life, you’re gonna have to do some leg work. He’s just kind of stumbling from distraction to distraction. There was military school (such a grind), and then there were interesting secrets in the middle of the night (the best kind!), and then there was a woman (very educational), and now he’s in space! With his cousin! Good things I know about Ivan right now:
- He loves his cousin, despite their many years of friction.
- He’s loyal to Barrayar.
- He’s nice to look at.
That’s it. I have no confidence in Ivan’s ability to engage in independent goal-directed activity. I don’t think Ivan has any either. But it’s nice to see the big galoot.
Chapter 18 finds Miles sitting on the observation deck contemplating his mercenary fleet and his finances. His internal monologue runs through a fascinating list of banks and other institutions and then moves on—It’s revelation time. As is traditional, Miles’s revelations are brought to him by visitors. His first visitors are Elena and Baz, who I am thinking of as the Ghosts of Christmas Past. With Bothari’s death, Elena’s legal guardianship has passed to Miles. She’s older than him, and he is demonstrably in need of adult supervision himself, but Barrayaran law is creepy. Despite Elena’s insistence that this is unnecessary, Baz asks Miles for Elena’s hand in marriage. He’s all cute and feudal about it, too. It’s very sweet, and Miles should have seized the romantic moment and said yes. Instead, he makes an ass of himself saying no. Elena sends Baz away so she can read Miles the riot act. She is not property, and she can’t believe he’s keeping promises to a murderer. She also expresses incredulity about Miles’s parents having sheltered her father all these years. Miles pleads with her—he wants to marry her himself, she is Barrayar to him. It’s very poetic; Miles is very much in the poetic mode in this section. He talked about Bothari trying to make himself a new truth, and there was a really good line about how never before had so much been owed to so many by one so small. I love an allusion to Churchill. Elena is not so into poetry these days. She is all pragmatism. Which is why she tells Miles that if Barrayar was her right arm, she would take a plasma arc and burn it off.
If Barrayar was her right arm she would take a plasma arc and burn it off.
I read this as a damning condemnation of the status of women on Barrayar, Elena’s personal experiences as a young woman in Barrayaran society, her educational opportunities, her future prospects should she return to the planet, and her feelings about her parents. Elena has a lot to be angry about. She seems pretty confident about her ability to operate a plasma arc, and to serve Miles his ass on a platter. She’s going to marry Baz anyway.
Miles’s second visitor is Ivan—the Ghost of Christmas Present. He’s here to talk about which ship is faster. Miles has some questions for him about other matters, like who gave him his orders, and did he ever see them, and who knew he was leaving the Academy. The Barrayaran fast courier is still missing. It’s easy to criticize Ivan’s idiocy, but I think it’s also fair to point out that in this case he is an avatar for Miles’s own high level of distraction. With That Idiot Ivan here to pointedly overlook things in his presence, Miles finally notices that he’s been overlooking some things himself. Like that he’s being accused of treason as part of Admiral Hessman’s plot to undermine Miles’s father.
Next week: Miles heads home!
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.