The Warrior's Apprentice - Lois McMaster Bujold

I'm not completely sure how I managed to avoid the Vorkosigan series of books for so long, but I finally succumbed to the hype and picked up this one. Technically speaking, it's the third in Bujold's series, after Shards of Honor and Barrayar (also available in one volume as Cordelia's Honor), but it still stands well on its own.

Our hero is Miles Vorkosigan, son and heir to the Vorkosigan name, who we first meet as he's attempting to join the Barrayaran military. Miles was left disabled by an attack on his mother while she was pregnant with him and so he's both short in stature and subject to brittle bones. However, he more than makes up for his physical shortcomings by a clever and cunning mind, not to mention a significant amount of luck.

When his military career falls at the first hurdle, literally, Miles decides the only way forward is to strike out on his own and, by a long and complicated process, he pretty much stumbles into forming a mercenary army. Through stratagem, and with the assistance of a bunch of supporting characters who travel with him or who he meets along the way, Miles ends up the unexpected leader of a ragtag fleet of ships and has to defend himself against a charge of plotting to overthrow the emperor of Barrayar.

I'd already read other books by Bujold (and enjoyed some of them immensely!), but I'd always wondered just why so many of the Vorkosigan series had picked up awards - well, now I know. The plotting is excellent, the characterisation superb, and the overall writing just drives the story along relentlessly, whether it's intrigues in the Barrayaran court or the intricacies of relationships within Miles' entourage. I'll definitely be reading the other books in this series - the book after this in the series is The Vor Game.