If you read what critics write about contemporary fiction, you’ll run across the term bildungsroman from time to time. It’s a German word signifying a novel about an individual’s formative years or spiritual education. Which is a pretty good description of at least the first half-dozen or so books in Lois McMaster Bujold‘s award-winning Vorkosigan Saga. The series consists of sixteen novels to date and seven novelettes or novellas that fill in the blanks of the unfolding story. And The Mountains of Mourning, an award-winning novella that slots in just after the fourth book in the saga, is a perfect example. In a true sense, this short story helps illuminate Miles’s formative years and spiritual education.
The tale opens with a chance encounter in the countryside. Nineteen-year-old Miles is on home leave after gaining his ensign’s epaulettes from the Imperial Academy. He’s looking forward to an excursion with his cousin Ivan when he comes across a disheveled young woman seeking entry into the castle where his father, the illustrious Admiral Count Vorkosigan, holds court. Miles’s plans are upended when his father commands him to accompany the woman back to her home village days away through the rough country of the Vorkosigan lands. His assignment: to learn the truth about the woman’s claim that her husband killed their baby in her crib.
The Mountains of Mourning (Vorkosigan Saga #4.1) by Lois McMaster Bujold (2011) 83 pages @@@@@ (5 out of 5)
Winner of the Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novella
An award-winning novella about Miles’s formative years
After two days on horseback, Miles, the woman, and the two men accompanying them reach her village, Silvy Vale. There, Miles quickly becomes enmeshed in the affairs of a traditional peasant society, wracked with superstition and ignorance. Using his wits—never in short supply in Miles—he skillfully navigates the suspicions and dangers of the village. And, of course, he solves the murder, learning invaluable lessons about himself along the way.
For further reading
I’ve included all the novels in this series in The pleasures of reading the complete Vorkosigan Saga.
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