Character motivation is kind of important

I am currently listening to The Warrior’s Apprentice by Lois Mcmaster Bujold, and though it is competently written and the characters are distinct and likable, I am having a hard time getting into it .

The problem is it’s difficult to care about what’s happening when you don’t know what the characters want.

The story starts with the protagonist, Miles, a dwarf (smaller person, not the fantasy variety) who is the son of a general or some other important person, and is a kind of royal figure himself (a minor lord, in fantasy terms). Miles is failing to get into military school because he can’t pass the physical tests.

Okay, good start, our hero has a problem to overcome.

But then the story seems to go off the rails. When taking a trip off-world to visit relatives, Miles randomly buys a ship by mortgaging some land, and starts hiring all kinds of people and getting into massive debt doing it–and agrees to a mission to transport some weapons through a military blockade into a war zone. Because… why?

Is he desperate for cash and thus willing to risk his life (and the life of his body-guard’s daughter, who he seems to have a thing for) to get some? Well, as was made clear earlier, he is a Lord, with important relatives. He shouldn’t be wanting for money. Is it just for some adventure? Maybe, but even the slightest hint that he intended to seek adventure and try to escape from his boring life beforehand would have been helpful.

Instead he’s just doing all this crazy stuff, and no one in the group is saying a single contradictory word even though all their lives are in danger because of it. Baffling.

It’s very very hard–much harder than you’d expect without experiencing it–to get into a story when you have no idea why the characters are doing the things they are doing. Now that Miles and co. are getting into trouble with mercenaries and fighting and so on, the story is more engaging because we can see the clear motivation of wanting to live. But the overall goals of the characters are still a mystery to me, and that is a big problem.

I hope it becomes clearer in time, because the more stories I read, the less patience I have for them.

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