I put off writing this review for two years because Mirror Dance is just that caliber of excellence that I was afraid to even try to do it justice. I wish I could get away with simply gushing and raving. This masterpiece, however, deserves much more than a "This book rocks! Run, don't walk!" and the other usual cliche's.
Once again, instead of a play-by-play plot synopsis I will direct the reader's attention to the true merits of Mirror Dance (not that the plot is lacking in any way, trust me!). First, this is a poignant look into the minds and souls of two men who happen to be genetically identitical, but whose lives have taken jarringly disparate paths. Many have wondered before if Bujold has a degree in Psychology or some other such head-shrinking, she does such a superb and realistic job of getting inside characters' heads. But far from a tour of Psych and Neuroses 101, Mirror Dance participates; we are speared with their hopes and heartaches, dragged into their whirlwind view of the action around them. The moment of truth came for me when I realized that I could actually empathize with a man who was raised by terrorists to become a sociopath, and his painful struggle to rise above his upbringing to be psychologically reborn as a human.
Next, Bujold accomplishes here a rare coup: this is a carefully thought out universe, with laws, advanced technologies, cultures, wars, and moral dilemmas aplenty -- but without overwhelming attention to the logistics and alienness of this future. We can exist with the characters here on their comfortable level of existence and marvel and puzzle just as reaslistically as they without distraction from things that would not appear out of ordinary to them; after all, do we spend time describing mundane things in our minds such as the microwave (which for instance would have seemed fantastic in a novel written 100 years ago, about us here and now)? As Bujold put it in a commentary somewhere else, the technology is always present, just not intrusive.
But best of all, this is space opera at it's pinnacle. Good v. Evil, action, moral dilemmas, all that and Bujold's signature intelligence and wit. Here come the cliche's I just couldn't avoid: roller coaster ride of emotions, makes you laugh and cry, new paradigm for excellence, something for everyone, etc.
What can I say, my words really are inadequate!