The Magic of Brothers: Mirror Dance

Alex and I delve into one of Bujold’s most powerful Vorkosigan novels, Mirror Dance, in our conversational review series on the saga. We previously looked at Cordelia’s Honor (Shards of Honorand Barrayar), the Young Miles omnibus (The Warrior’s Apprentice and “The Mountains of Mourning” and The Vor Game), the Miles, Mystery and Mayhem omnibus (Cetaganda, andEthan of Athos and “Labyrinth”) and “Borders of Infinity” and Brothers in Arms.

Mirror Dance

By Lois McMaster Bujold

TEHANI:

Mirror Dance brings back Mark in full bloom, building on the seriously conflicted character we met in Brothers in Arms and making him the catalyst for a whole new era of Vorkosigan adventures. While Miles is away from the fleet (enjoying some Elli-time!), Mark swings in and masquerades as Admiral Naismith, commandeering a vessel to undertake his own vendetta. With predictably horrible consequences. Which lead to further terrible events, that force Mark to both confront his fears and also step up and become the man he needs to be.

ALEX:

Ohhhh, NOW I understand your comments about Aral and his love for Cordelia! Cordelia’s own dissection of Aral’s predilections – that he prefers soldiers, and that she was attractive because of that … and, although she doesn’t make the connection obvious when she’s speaking to Mark, she therefore solves the problem of children and inheritance. This is a very cold analysis! That Cordelia is fine with it – comfortable, even indifferent – is I guess because of her Betan heritage, which is indifferent towards non-hetero forms of sexuality. I guess, too, that since she fell in love with him at the same time and it wasn’t like she had to convince him to accept her, what does it matter who else he’s attracted to or exactly what makes her attractive? It works, and that’s all that matters.

I had been longing for more Cordelia, so this was an awfully nice interlude on Barrayar, even if it was fraught and difficult!

TEHANI:

Cordelia is fascinating in this book. She’s so pragmatic and stoic about everything that happens, which is totally in character, but makes you wonder how much is going on beneath the surface. I mean, her son is dead and MISSING, her husband has a heart attack and almost dies, she has this new son who is, let’s be honest, somewhat hard to get used to, compared to Miles, and yet, she just copes! And it’s all completely believable. She’s totally my hero.

ALEX:

Yes, Cordelia is much the most self-controlled of the family, and the most accepting too. I love the comments throughout from various people about how they’d have to account to her for what they’d done to or for her son… and they mean Mark, even before he’s met her.

Anyway… I finished this book a week ago and it has taken me this long to write down my thoughts because, well, it was a really hard book to read in many ways. What Bujold does to Mark! Oh my.

I really liked the structure of this book, and was especially appreciative when we found out about the Barrayar dance called the mirror dance. Miles and Mark do indeed mirror each other for much of the book – I will have to re-read at some stage to really see some of the deeper resonances which I am sure are there. Flipping between two characters is obviously not new (hey, I’m a Lord of the Rings fan from way back), but Bujold uses it brilliantly. And again, it’s a different sort of narrative structure from previous books – she really didn’t want to get bogged down.

TEHANI:

The mirror dance is a nice touch and shows how clever Bujold is. I love too the trouble Mark has with interacting with women – if you remember, Miles was very similar in the early books! It wasn’t until Elli that he really began to feel comfortable in his own self with the opposite sex! Hmm. And even then, I suppose he was Admiral Naismith and not himself! So Miles Vorkosigan with women is still a problem (and one I’m enjoying now, in A Civil Campaign – no spoilers!) 🙂

ALEX:

The Miles story is the easiest one, I think, even though he is actually dead for a large chunk – and wasn’t that a shock to the system!

TEHANI:

Shock? What! It was HORRIBLE! It was like Bujold went, oh, well, I’ve got this OTHER character now – we don’t need THIS Vorkosigan any more… ARGH! And then to LOSE him! Elli’s reaction in this was the most heartwrenching – even though she doesn’t want to marry Miles Vorkosigan, she totally loves Miles, and her decisions and actions here are very telling.

ALEX:

Yup, absolutely. I continue to love Elli!

The early part of his story is interesting and all, but it’s the coming out of amnesia that is seriously intriguing, and shows that Bujold knows exactly what she is doing with him. His automatic expectation that people will listen to him – even when he doesn’t know who he is! – and other visceral responses are I think an indication of just how innate all of that is to Miles as Miles. The fact that Mark does not have those responses gives an indication, at least for me, of just how much Miles is a product of his environment.

TEHANI:

Too true! Mark was pretty much a slave who Miles freed, whereas Miles fought for everything he had and forced it to happen through strength of will. Chromosomally identical, it’s fascinating to see their differences here!

The relationship with the doctor is interesting – Bujold doesn’t let little things like ongoing relationships get in the way of the story, does she!

ALEX:

No indeed. Once Miles has a bit of self-confidence – at least as the Admiral – sex sex sex… 😀

And then there’s Mark. When he managed to con Bel (if only briefly) and go off to rescue some clones, I was wondering just how Bujold turned this story into a novel the length it was – I wondered whether it would be like The Vor Game, with what seemed like two different halves of a narrative. But no, things went badly … Miles comes to the rescue and is killed because he won’t abandon his brother, and then eventually Mark is kidnapped in his own attempt to rescue his brother. Ah, mirrors. Before the kidnapping of course we have Mark on Barrayar, and isn’t that revealing and compelling all on its own! I loved the bits with Cordelia and Aral coming to terms with Mark and their different reactions – Aral being more like his own father than he is probably comfortable with – and Mark finally seeing what it might be like to be part of a family. I cannot BELIEVE that on top of Miles dying Bujold then damn near killed Aral, too! And then to have Mark tortured!  … well. The torture was of course a really horrible part of the narrative. Bujold handles it skilfully and sympathetically with regard to Mark, I thought – that is, I didn’t find it gratuitous in description, and the idea of Mark splitting his personalities (just like Miles has done under slightly less fraught circumstances…) promises some very interesting future ramifications.

TEHANI:

Bujold is mean to her people. MEAN. And this book has so many bad things happening to good people, which is different from the past books I think – bad things happen, of course, but not in such numbers to our favourite characters!

It’s very easy to forget that Mark has had a lot of training in a lot of things – he’s not ever going to be Miles, but he was TRAINED to be Miles, and that included a simulcrum of the military training Miles undertook. I liked the scene where Mark almost kills some Barrayans inadvertently, because it reminds us not to underestimate him just because a) everything he’s done so far has been a debacle, and b) he’s not Miles.

ALEX:

It was a very good point, that one – that he may not be Our Miles but he still has a lot of things going for him.

I was so pleased with the way the book finished, too. Miles and Mark on near-equal footing, Mark happy with being – having consciously chose to be! – heavier than Miles … yeah, I can really see this series going some interesting places.

TEHANI:

And now you’re on to Memory. If you thought THIS book was hard to process, just wait!

ALEX:

Oh great!

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