Review: The Mountains of Mourning by Lois McMaster Bujold

Series: Vorkosigan Saga
Published by: Phoenix Pick
ISBN: 1612421857
ISBN 13: 9781612421858
Published: 1989
Pages: 102
Format reviewed: ePub
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Related Reviews: Reading Challenge: Vorkosigan Saga Project

The next in our Vorkosigan read-through is a novella, a weighty one that won the Hugo Award for Best Novella (1990), Nebula Award for Best Novella (1989), and the SF Chronicle Award for Best Novella (1990) – so even though it’s short, hopefully I’ll have a few paragraphs of discussion handy!

We meet Miles again, now newly graduated from the Academy and having earned the rank of Ensign Vorkosigan – however at times as we see in this novella, still far out-ranking even though who’ve reached the 20-year mark of the militia because of who his father is, and the duties that come with the title. It’s one of these duties which suddenly eats up the remaining ten days of his home leave before he’s granted his first assignment, which means a quick trip to Vorbarr Sultana with his cousin, Ivan, and the purchase of a new lightflyer are thrown by the wayside.

The duties require Miles to act as Voice for his father, travelling back with a woman, Harra, who has come to them for justice for infanticide, to the mountain district (hence the title). Her baby was born with a harelip and a cleft palate, and being from a more old-fashioned part of the once quite savage Barrayar, the baby is killed for being born less. There was a new clinic Harra wanted to travel to with the baby for an operation – when she had recovered from the birth – but that option was taken from her. And now it’s up to Miles to investigate the old-fashioned way (ish, he has a few technical advances) to find out who the criminal is, and what the punishment should be. Harra swears it was her husband, Lem, and though the community lacks for communication technology Miles is used to taking for granted, Lem has gone into hiding by the time Miles arrives, and almost every person there expects Miles has come to kill him – fairly or no.

This is an interesting novella, and packs the punches you may expect from Bujold, especially when it’s backed up with three of the biggest awards our genre has to offer. What’s good about this is that things are never simple, and Miles (poor Miles) never has an easy go of things. The ignorance, prejudice, and downright insulting nature of the community are put on for show at both a shindig that kicks off one night basically in his honour, and then also when he gives his Speaking (verdict). There’s an attack on Miles’ life, on his horse (the only one remaining from General Count Piotr Pierre Vorkosigan’s personally trained stock), and disrespect shown for the elite in general. And yet, Miles takes things slowly (even when he doubts himself), and goes to extra lengths to instruct, inspire, and lead people to seeing himself and his family, their cause, justice, and the truth in a better light. He doesn’t always succeed which is always good – some minds will never be changed after all, but Miles is truly an inspiration for his ability to interact with people, and his determination to be and do the best he possible can.

A highly enjoyable novella I didn’t put down for a second, and I can’t wait to read the next in our reading challenge, The Vor Game.

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