The Vor Game, by Lois McMaster Bujold
This novel, which is the sequel to The Warrior’s Apprentice  was the second one of Bujold’s novels (aside from Barrayar ) to win a Hugo Award for best novel. In my estimation, the best parts of this novel are the beginning and the ending, while I find most of the middle section to be a bit weak myself. Without giving away too many details, I can relate very well to a young lord unsuccessfully trying to keep out of trouble in some remote exile location, as happens in the beginning of the story, while also relating very well to a young man improvising in the face of danger while hungry for the love of a wonderful woman and the respect and admiration of his father. These parts of the novel, from a character perspective, were the most enjoyable.
It was the middle section that I found problematic, largely because it seemed as if Miles was a bit whiny and indecisive, imprisoned over and over again, momentarily blinded by his attraction to a lovely and dangerous woman. It’s not as if I can’t relate to the feeling of being trapped in a bad place and trying to find some way out of it with little but cleverness and resourcefulness and grim determination, but it is not so pleasant to dwell on such subjects in nominally escapist literature, which is what this novel certainly qualifies as. After all, it is not particularly enjoyable to read about analogous problems in literature that one deals with in one’s own lives, albeit with a somewhat more exotic locale with slightly larger geopolitical stakes. What is fascinating, though, is the way that this novel resolves its many tensions in such a way that an honorable, if imperfect, young man manages to retrieve success from what seems like certain disaster in a way that elegantly solves a variety of problems and manages to create peace out of great suspicion thanks to a powerful common enemy.
At its heart, this is a novel about the downsides of political games, including the vulnerability of people to flirtatious charms as well as the resentment that follows from perceived favoritism and the way that some people have to suffer in order to prove points to others. Whether one is dealing with utilitarian space stations or desolate weather stations, along with the way in which Miles struggles with finding and keeping his boots on. I’m not sure what sort of symbolic meaning the loss of his boots have, but any time the same thing keeps happening over and over again, I tend to look for some significance in it. This does not mean I always know what to make of it, but clearly patterns are something I enjoy pondering, even if those patterns seem somewhat minor. For those who enjoy a tale of adventure and do not have the same sort of tendency to relate a little too well to the protagonist’s difficulties, this would be undoubtedly a riveting and exciting read with a rewarding ending. That alone is worthwhile for a few hours of enjoyment.