The Magic of Memory: Miles hits bottom

Alex and I see Miles hit rock bottom in Memory, in our conversational review series on the Vorkosigan saga. We previously looked at Cordelia’s Honor (Shards of Honor and 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, and Ethan of Athos and “Labyrinth”), “Borders of Infinity” and Brothers in Arms and Mirror Dance.

Memory

By Lois McMaster Bujold

TEHANI:

Well, where to start? I think this is one of the most powerful of the Vorkosigan books, for so many reasons. Having said that, it’s probably one that suffers for being read in chronological order, because it follows Mirror Dance, which is just brilliant and so emotionally draining!

ALEX:

I finally feel, with Mirror Dance and Memory, that here are books that I could really imagine reading again. I mean, I loved Cordelia’s books a LOT, and can imagine re-reading the entire series over the years, but these two felt like a massive step up in … complexity, I guess? In narrative depth, maybe. I’m quite sure that I have missed some of the subtleties going on, which I will enjoy on a second read. I quite liked this after Mirror Dance, because while it’s emotional and fraught it’s quite different – and this is another demonstration of Bujold’s complexity as an author, which I keep being impressed by.

TEHANI:

Memory is very confronting in its own way, where Miles deals with the fallout of having died, and the long-term consequences of this. It leads him to not only bring about his own downfall, but brings about a massive life change, leaving us, the reader, to come to terms with what could Miles possibly DO after having lived such a wild ride to date. No way could he sit at home just being Count’s heir!

ALEX:

Oh yes, I knew that no way was he going to end up being the lad-about-town with Ivan.

You know, when I said I thought Miles would take Illyan’s job, I didn’t want him to actually leave the job…

TEHANI:

I know! Illyan has been such a staple of Miles’ (and Aral and Cordelia’s) life, it’s hard to imagine how the Empire will run without him!

Fortunately, Bujold doesn’t leave Miles on the shelf, and so he embarks on a new vocation, one which gives him even MORE power and authority than he had before, more than even he could have imagined. It’s a very sweet scene when he steels himself to beg Gregor for a post-discharge promotion to captain, and is given an Imperial Auditorship! Not thinking big enough for once!

ALEX:

I realised when he was granted those powers that of course, this was really the first book in which Auditor powers had been explained at all … but I never thought, from the conversation at the ballroom, that Miles would end up having those powers, even temporarily! I loved the scene with Miles putting ALL of his medals on, including the Cetagandan one – and that it made Miles Vorkosigan feel like he actually had some worth, apart from Miles Naismith. I think this has been the most intriguing part of Miles’ character arc so far: that he has genuinely divorced Naismith and Vorgkosigan in his head, that the latter is jealous of the former … exactly how that would impact on someone of barely thirty is a bit horrifying, actually.

TEHANI:

That’s such a good point – Cordelia mentioned in an earlier book that she worried for Miles’ sanity if he ever had to give up the little Admiral. Here, we have to worry too, because it’s not something he copes with immediately (and I love that Ivan, poor Ivan, has to deal with this).

Memory gives us a chance to see more of some backstory characters – Miles comes home to Barrayar and this means we get to play with Ivan, Lady Alys, Gregor and of course, Illyan. I love how Bujold draws her people together, and how we learn more about them over time. Lady Alys starts out as a young wife way back in Barrayar, and look how far she’s come (and still further to go!) past the overbearing mother/aunt of Ivan and Miles’ early life.

ALEX:

I like that Bujold keeps the supporting cast so consistent, with new people only brought in when necessary and quite appropriately. Also, I just knew where things were heading as soon as Illyan described Lady Alys as a reliable woman. Ha! Old people making out! Hilarious. Bujold likes pairing off her minor characters, which makes Ivan and Miles look very left out! I mean I know Miles Naismith is ‘with’ Elli, but it’s clearly not going to be a permanent relationship, which Miles certainly longs for and even Ivan may be sort of interested in… Also, POOR GALENI. Having your ladylove stolen by the Emperor has gotta hurt. I was pleased that they made Gregor and Laisa’s relationship gooey but also sensible – and that both Galeni and Gregor came out well, which sometimes doesn’t happen when there are love triangles.

TEHANI:

It’s also fun to see Miles assemble his own household. It really is the first time Miles has had to be a grownup, running a house, dealing with cooks, cleaners and all the daily minutae of this. He is, as always, very clever at getting good people, recognising in others what they may not have seen in themselves, and I think this is lovely to see in a domestic setting.

ALEX:

Domestic Miles! I loved it! And the fight to keep Ma Koti was a really awesome little side-play.

TEHANI:

The plot in Memory is a twisty mystery, with the usual red herrings and wrong turns, which forms the backbone of this change of life story (not just for Miles, for Illyan as well, and to a lesser extent, the Dendarii and Elli Quinn). Bujold again demonstrates her mastery of writing in yet another form.

ALEX:

For me it was one of the classic “I bet it was him ooh no he’s let off the hook ooh maybe it WAS him!” mysteries, and cleverly done too. I was VERY sad about what happened to Illyan.

TEHANI:

I love this book, which lays Miles bare, to possibly his lowest point, and forces him to reinvent himself. A definite favourite!

ALEX:

Yup, it’s ranking up there for me too.

 

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