After the relative lack of plot in Brothers in Arms, Mirror Dance starts out with a bang and never lets up. Also, it may contain a few of the most heartbreaking lines in the entire series, some of which are heartbreaking after some of the later books. (Contender, Cordelia about Aral: “I think Simon Illyan would still turn himself inside out for you after you were dead and buried.”) This is probably why my notes for this book are just a bunch of frowny faces and the word “ow”. Also, spoilers for this book follow.
Once again, LMB sets up a lot of the themes at the very beginning–in this case, the technical details of cryogenics and the risks of survival. Also, in the title, the image of mirrors that she plays with over and over and over again. It’s not just Mark and Miles, who are the obvious pairing (literal mirror images, at times), but the Vorkosigan brothers and the Barons Fell and Ryoval; Elli and Elena; Mark and Taura; Mark and Elena. All in different ways, all giving different shades of meaning to the story.
I was thinking yesterday that the unintentional theme of this re-read is Cordelia’s Children, and that seems to be borne out here. Mark’s journey from defiantly isolated and family-less to being part–his own unique and perhaps tenuous part–of the Vorkosigan-Naismith family is one of the major threads of this book. Cordelia herself is central to this negotiation, being the one who can accept Mark unquestioningly. (Another candidate for heartbreaking lines, Elena to Mark: “Mark. She’ll mean you.”)
The other major thread is Miles and his slow disintegration as Admiral Naismith. This isn’t finished in this book–that won’t come until Memory–but it’s first forshadowed (“I won’t really begin to worry for his sanity til he’s cut off from the little admiral.”) and then begun. There’s a sense overall through this book of times changing; Bel leaves, Elli Quinn has to step up, Aral has his heart attack. But most of these strands aren’t completely resolved, which explains the unsettled feeling I had at the end of the book.
There aren’t many light points, but I had a moment of foreshadowed hilarity when Simon shows Mark around the ImpSec headquarters. And Mark and Kareen! Yaaaay.
The rest of the time, especially after Miles dies, is a heart-stopping read, both in the “What’s happening now” sense, and in the “How do I stop this from happening?” sense. Basically everyone is in emotional or physical pain (Ivan crying in the gazebo), and it downright hurts to read, even when they’re growing, even when it turns out to be all right.
Gregor is actually one of my favorite characters (Who am I kidding? They’re ALL my favorite characters.) and this book illuminated part of his role in the series that I hadn’t really considered before. For both Mark and Miles, he’s a catalyst of identity, helping them define themselves. In a less positive way, for Miles, perhaps–he’s so much what Miles might have been, despite his loyalties. But his tendency to give people rope sometimes results in them saving themselves, and discovering who they are.
Speaking of saving themselves–the first time I read Mirror Dance, I was too horrified to really appreciate Mark and his choices/reactions. But this read, the conversation between Elena and Mark came across as very powerful. (“I will not allow you to turn my victory to defeat for the sake of your damned…feelings.”) Mark becomes himself, messed up and reactionary as he is, in this book.
So, this is a painful book to read, but it’s extremely well done, despite all my ows and frowny faces. It’s a measure of how well written the series is, that I care so much about all of these characters, flawed though they are.
Actually, I have a pretty clear winner for foreshadowing heartbreakers. This is a spoiler for the end of Cryoburn, so if you haven’t gotten there yet, don’t keep reading: “It had scared the hell out of him, retroactively, this whole cardiac episode. Not that his father must die someday, perhaps before him—that was the proper order of things, and Miles could not wish it upon the Count for it to be the other way around—but that Miles might not be here when it happened. When he was needed. Might be off indulging himself with the Dendarii Mercenaries, say, and not get the word for weeks.” I literally said, “Nooooo!” and shoved the computer away from me. And then cried.