Bujold’s Mirror Dance

I’ve got a big crush on Miles Vorkosigan. He’s got a sense of style that appealed to me as soon as I read Young Miles back in the day. He’s not so silly as to be fearless, but is manic enough to keep getting embroiled in shit and smart enough to extricate himself. Makes for good times.

Mirror Dance (which I read in the Miles Errant omnibus) is the best of the series, combining a Bujold-style people-manipulation story with two good coming-of-age tales. It’s a pivotal book in the series, where Mark becomes his own person and Miles is forced to confront his own mortality.

(Definitely some spoilers below the cut.)

I’ve got a crush on Miles, but I admire the character of Mark, and it’s this book that makes that possible. Mark’s got to marshal resources twice in the book, which is where Bujold’s classic (at least in this series) people-manipulation story shines through. He does so once through deceit, the other through genuine ties and a healthy dose of desperation. Both situations are skillfully handled by Bujold, with clear growth in Mark’s ability to get what he wants and in people’s opinions of him.

Mark’s journey is intricately tied into his process of becoming a person (or perhaps gaining a true “theory of mind”). He visits Barrayar, gains a family, and begins to get a purpose. He struck me as someone who’d read books upon books about people before meeting any, and then had the “joy” of reconciling his book learning with real-world psychology while trying to define himself in the process. Just like plenty of other (typically teen-age-oriented) coming of age stories. Masked under body issues and sibling issues and… Oh. Maybe not so masked.

Here’s a great snippet from the end of the book, after Mark’s been rather worked over:

[Bothari-Jesek’s] face was greenish-white. “I’m… so sorry, Mark.” Her hand touched his, hesitantly.

He seized her wrist, held it hard. […] “Don’t you dare pity me. I won.”

Compared to his cringing in Brothers in Arms, I’m a fan of the grown-up Mark.

Miles’s transformation is different. Ultimately, it’s the other end of the “coming of age”. It’s the “Oh fuck, this shit could be final” kind of coming of age. He hasn’t fully processed it by the end of the book, but it was apparent to me even on my first read that something’s got to change after this. It’s the climax of the series for Miles, in that regard, and is in part symbolized by the break in Miles’s ImpSec cover among high-echelon Dendarii. I find myself only skimming the Miles-recovery parts (the amnesia parts) on rereads of the book, though. His manipulation of people there is much less interesting, because it’s not really new.

There are other interesting tidbits about the book, like Cordelia’s silly role as Oracle and telepath, Ivan-the-person, and the missing resolution to the story. Despite the lack of resolution — or because of it — I want to jump into the next book and find out how Miles and Mark both land (even on my fourth read of the book).