Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Series: The Warrior’s Apprentice, Chapters 19 and 20

Last week, Miles had some revelations about Barrayaran politics. This week, Miles says farewell—to his mercenary company, to his friend Elena, and to his childhood—and pays off his debts.

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 will finish The Warrior’s Apprentice next week and start the Vor Game the week afterwards. The spoiler embargo will end with Jole’s first appearance in The Vor Game.

SUMMARY

Miles begins his journey home to stand trial for treason. He apologizes to Elena Bothari for the events of the last section. He begs a death offering from Elena Visconti to burn on Bothari’s grave. Miles, Ivan, and Elli Quinn return to Beta Colony, where Miles deputizes his grandmother to pay his debts and arrange Elli’s reconstructive surgery. Ivan and Miles take ship for Barrayar.

COMMENTARY

Last week, Miles had visitors who brought him news. This week, he turns himself into the Ghost of Christmas Future. Since Miles and Ivan have unravelled the mystery of Ivan’s orders and Hessman’s plot, Miles needs to leave the Dendarii and return to Barrayar to stand trial. It would be awesome if he could redeem some of his mistakes first. He starts by giving Elena permission to marry Baz, not because she needs it, but because it fulfills his promise to her father. To make things right and proper, Miles plays the role of both the Vor Lord and the Baba in an improvisational one-man play that showcases his creativity, sense of humor, and deep Barrayaran cultural roots. It’s definitely not what Bothari had in mind, but Bothari is dead. Miles’s performance satisfies his promise to the Sergeant without allowing him to micromanage his daughter’s life from beyond the grave. Miles has these fascinating moments of grace.

He also has fascinating moments of awkwardness. To put it mildly. His conversation with Elena Visconti is one of these. Begging a former POW for a lock of hair to burn on the grave of a man who raped and tortured her transcends awkwardness. Miles’s belief that he is acting as a mature adult allows him to forget the narrowness of his world view. Burning a death offering for Bothari will put Miles’s soul at rest, and he assumes that it do the same for Elena Visconti. Which is why he kneels in front of her in a corridor, and calls her Trainee while asking her to make this deeply personal sacrifice for a man who featured in her nightmares. That is her rank in Miles’s imaginary mercenary company, but it’s not the most appropriate form of address for this conversation. Ultimately, Elena Visconti decides to talk to her daughter—we see her heading towards Elena Bothari as Miles boards his ship for Beta Colony. Miles concludes that she made this choice because of his persuasion. I am generally skeptical about the ability of 17-year-olds to act as family therapists for the deeply traumatized; I think Visconti might be acting despite Miles’s persuasion. Remember, we don’t know when she found out she had a daughter. It could have been just just after she shot Bothari.

Miles also continues to patronize Elena. He could do worse—he’s not trying to confine her or limit her opportunities—but he sells her a little bit short. As Miles leaves the Dendarii, he promotes Baz to Commodore and puts him in charge of Elena’s education. Miles tells Baz to make Elena his apprentice. That’s not a horrible plan. But Miles would never think of himself as Baz’s apprentice, and Elena has more combat experience than Miles does. Elena needs a mentor, and Baz is Barrayaran and Elena’s husband. While it’s not the only factor involved, I feel this arrangement contributes to problems in the Dendarii command structure down the road.

Miles contains multitudes; He also has a personal impulse towards chaos which he tends to unleash in response to financial problems. Miles’s financial problems are unusually severe for someone his age; He didn’t will a mercenary company into existence because he was having trouble balancing his checkbook. He did it to avoid a foreclosure that would have brought dishonor on his family. And he mortgaged the land to buy an RG freighter because, in Arde Mayhew, Miles recognized another soul in agony over the end of a dream. That totally could have happened to anyone. Ivan and Miles encounter Tav Calhoun in Miles’ grandmother’s apartment building. Elli Quinn shows off her combat skills by taking Calhoun down despite being blinded by her burns—she’s a mercenary, I refuse to be surprised that she’s skilled at unarmed combat. Of course she’s prepared. Calhoun’s threat to have Miles arrested and sent to therapy is a threat to Miles’s plan to stand trial for treason on Barrayar as soon as possible. Only on Barrayar would a suspect rush towards a trial for a capital crime. (And then only a Vor—Baz Jesek didn’t.) I suspect Beta Colony would decline to cooperate with extradition requests in Miles’s case. This is more because I imagine that Beta Colony is a lot like Sweden than because of textual evidence.

Is Miles Vorkosigan a likeable character? That really depends on how you feel about hyperactive teenagers. If you think they’re interesting people to have around, Miles is a treat. If you think they’re fun to watch from a distance as long as they’re someone else’s problem, Miles is going to show you a real good time. If you think they’re terrifying, Miles is why. He’s always going to be a little impulsive, but he will mellow with experience. In last week’s comments, LMB recommended “Mountains of Mourning” as a starting point for readers who find teenaged Miles overwhelming. I think “Borders of Infinity” is another good starting point—it puts Miles in a situation where his personality is his only available resource.

Next week—Miles faces the Council of Counts and Ivan throws himself at a needler!

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.

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