Book Review: Mirror Dance

Mirror Dance, by Lois McMaster Bujold

In theory, a mirror dance should be an immensely simple matter. All one has to do is mimic the moves of one’s partner, subtly influencing and reading responses in an elegant metaphor for the tangled and indirect process of courtship in general. As it would happen, this metaphor, and the butterfly-inducing feeling that results from an enjoyable dance with a lovely and interested young woman [1] is one of the rare happy moments in a book that chooses to focus mostly on the grim and dark way that people stare into the darkness within them and wrestle with their demons and deal with their brokenness in the search for wholeness and even greatness.

Even more so than the rest of the Miles Vorkosigan series so far, this was a tough novel to read [2]. The novel was by no means a bad one (and it deserved its length of about 550 pages), but it was emotionally a very difficult read because the suffering of the characters was so intense and I could relate to it so painfully well. In reading this novel and its searching pathos and searing emotional trauma, it struck me that writing must be some sort of therapy for Mrs. McMaster Bujold. This novel is told in the divided perspectives of Lords Miles and Mark Vorkosigan, and the multiplied personalities that both exhibit in the face of intolerable torment and pressure suggests that for her (as well as certain other people I know), writing forms a major form of dealing with one’s personal struggles. Given the detailed struggle that this book entails, the author clearly has intimate personal experience with suffering either in her own life, the life of loved ones, or both. The fact that I could relate so intimately and painfully as well ought to suggest my own knowledge of such matters also.

The novel itself deals in a thoughtful and emotionally searing way with the damages of a great many people. Mark pretends to be Miles (again) in order to pursue a quixotic private agenda against a cloning corporation on the libertarian planet of Jackson’s Whole and when Miles comes in to rescue him, Miles ends up dying from a needle grenade and being hastily brought back to life and suffering the amnesia and loss of physical and mental acuity that comes from such horrific experiences. Meanwhile, Mark faces up to his fears and travels to Barrayar, afraid of embarrassment and punishment, only to find a loving and curious Count and Countess Vorkosigan ready to love him as a long-lost son. During the midst of the time of father-son bonding, though, Aral Vorkosigan suffers a heart aneurysm and is hospitalized pending a heart transplant, leaving his wife to reflect upon the brokenness of herself, her suffering husband whose health has been ruined by his lifetime of service, and her suffering sons. Of course, when Mark goes back to rescue Miles, he himself ends up captured and tortured for several days, finding his own schizoid personality fragmenting under the pressure, and threatening the love and wholeness he seeks.

The heart of this book, in all its suffering and torment, is found on page 533, when Mark reflects on his experiences by saying: “”You have to understand,” he told her. “Sometimes, insanity is not a tragedy. Sometimes it’s a strategy for survival. Sometimes….it’s a triumph.” Sometimes the only sane response to a world that is completely insane is some sort of insanity. This particular book also raises provocative question as to how much of our service our societies and our institutions can demand, and at what point do they have to either provide for the well-being of their people or be held responsible for their corruption. For we are broken people in broken institutions and broken societies striving for wholeness and goodness and greatness, and yet passing on a legacy of brokenness to those that come after us. If not a religious book, this book is full of that longing for the Kingdom of heaven in the heart of mankind in a fallen universe filled with the torment and corruption of sin, and occasionally a spark of divine justice. Long may that spark burn.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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