Review of THE WARRIOR'S APPRENTICE by Lois McMaster Bujold
Washed out of the entrance examination for his planet's military school, Lord Miles Vorkosigan decides to visit his mother's planet, Beta. It should have been a quiet time... a bit of romance with Miles's long-time crush Elena, daughter of his bodyguard/armsman, perhaps some sight-seeing. But Miles is a magnet for trouble. He happens onto a hostage situation and ends up with an ancient and inefficient freighter, discovers a deserter from the Barrayar army, and decides the only way to pay for his new friends is by smuggling war materials through a blockade.
From there, things get...complicated and Miles discovers he's an admiral in a completely fictitious mercenary organization. At least, the organization is completly fictitious at first, but Miles, with the help of his small group, sets about turning them into a real force. Never mind what he'll tell his cousin, the Emperor about his violation of the laws against building a private army
Author Lois McMaster Bujold (see more BooksForABuck.com reviews of SF/F by Bujold) creates a convincing future society and wonderful characters in the taciturn and cruel Bothari, the intriguing Elena, and the physically stunted Miles. Even her minor characters are differentiated and well-drawn, clearly the heroes of their own (possibly unwritten) stories.
The strength of Bujold's story-telling is in the characters. Her space battles are sketches rather than richly drawn out, but Miles, and we, care about the losses as much as we do about the outcome and this is what makes her story-telling so strong.
THE WARRIOR'S APPRENTICE is part of Bujold's massive Vorksigian series and really the launch book in Miles's story (the earlier novels detailed his parents). If you aren't familiar with Bujold and her Vorkosigan universe, you've missed a key part of recent SF as Bujold has won a Nebulas, Hugos and other awards with this series. Originally published in paperback, this novel is available for free in electronic format (see below).
You may download this entire novel, in multiple eBook formats, from the Baen Free Library.
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