Miles Vorkosigan graduates from the Barrayaran Military Academy with expectations of ship command, so he is disappointed with the assignment of meteorologist to an arctic training camp. But his tenure in the snow-covered north is cut short when he narrowly averts a massacre between the trigger-happy base commander and mutinous recruits. Miles is reassigned to investigate a suspicious military buildup near a wormhole nexus. Reviving his undercover persona as mercenary Admiral Miles Naismith, he expands his routine information-gathering duty into a rescue mission when the Emperor of Barrayar disappears. Miles must use his negotiating skills to avoid a showdown between powers competing for control of the wormhole, while searching for the Emperor and watching his back for the arctic base commander seeking bloody vengeance.
This is a book very definitely divided into two parts. They are linked and they are not equal halves, but the tone and setting and many of the secondary characters are different between them. The first half of the book takes place at Camp Permafrost, a crappy arctic training base that Miles is assigned to after he graduates from the military academy. I started reading The Vor game needing a laugh and while the opening section isn't maudlin, it's also not laugh-out-loud funny. It was compelling nonetheless and set up the second part of the novel. I can see why it was also published as a standalone story before the book's publication (in the afterword Bujold talks about the welcome fee from selling it to Analog as "Weatherman", but I found myself wondering how the ending would have worked...).
The latter two thirds or so of the novel takes place in space after Miles is transferred to ImpSec, the more covert branch of the Barrayaran military. The theme of Miles's insubordination continues as a somewhat dull mission becomes more exciting after a chance encounter and with the return of Admiral Naismith. This second part of the book was much funnier, with a lot of the humour coming from the reader (and Miles) knowing more about various social contexts than the characters in them. Much hilarity ensued, especially near the end.
This book stands alone quite well and I wouldn't ban someone from reading it out of order. That said, it does build on what has come before it, especially The Warrior's Apprentice, which sets up the Dendarii mercenaries, so I recommend reading at least that book first. In fact, my copy of The Vor Game is nestled inside the Young Miles omnibus, containing The Warrior's Apprentice, the novella Mountains of Mourning and then The Vor Game and a sizeable afterword, a worthy edition if you don't already own the novels.
4.5 / 5 stars
First published: Baen, 1990
Series: Yes. The Vorkosigan Saga, sort of book 4. At any rate, read after The Warrior's Apprentice.
Format read: ePub in the Young Miles omnibus
Source: Purchased from Baen several years ago