April 5, 2012

Book Review: Ender’s Shadow

Lance Cpl. Sean Dennison
Desert Warrior Staff
Photo Courtesy of Barnes and Noblex

“The history of the world is but the biography of great men.”

So wrote 19th century writer Thomas Carlyle and what Orson Scott Card exemplified in Ender’s Shadow, a parallel novel to his seminal hit Ender’s Game and book five of the Ender Saga.

Ender’s shadow is Bean, the short, sarcastic but unquestionably brilliant soldier introduced in Ender’s Game as part of Ender’s Dragon Army. Shadow reveals that Bean was not only part of Dragon Army, he was Dragon Army.

I was already intrigued by the mythos of Battle School, the space training program used for preparing children to become officers against a vaguely explained alien invasion. In this novel, Orson expands the layout of Battle School, how students are selected, indoctrined and how they fight, as well as the Enderverse as whole.

Bean is first seen as a struggling orphan in the streets of Rotterdam, before being begrudgingly assimilated into a gang of street urchins due to his intelligence. Cue Achilles and Sr. Carlotta, the former a crippled orphan with angelic actions hiding serpentine intention, the latter an unorthodox nun responsible for screening the two for Battle School. Bean is hesitant until he witnesses Achilles kill a fellow Oprhan, at which point he decides that, for his own survival, he must surrender himself to the International Fleet.

The novel parallels the trials and tribulations of Bean to Ender for a good portion of the novel, until a turn of events propels Bean and Ender into their respective destinies.

One of the most pivotal scenes in the novel involves Bean creating the roster for Dragon Army, until the end of a novel, a platoon that has been laughed out of existence due to its cursed luck. Bean debates, argues and decides who will be in the army with only his own inner tactician as a reference point. This is by far one of the most telling chapters in the series, as far as the Battle School goes: Card answers questions readers have regarding what goes into an army, and how a group of children from different corners of the world file together in one cohesive unit.

All goes well for a while, Bean’s brilliance going unnoticed because no one knows it was him who brought Dragon together.

And then Achilles shows up.

The tone for Shadow is far darker then Ender’s Game. Like the original novel, almost every character antagonizes the protagonist. In this novel, the antagonist is terrifyingly fleshed out (Achilles sociopathy, already well-defined in this novel, is taken further and further with the subsequent Shadow series). The adults, shady presences in  the first novel, are shown to cover a spectrum of human nature, making them even more troublesome to define as friend or foe.

Ender’s Shadow should be recommended in tandem with Ender’s Game. The novel is important, if anything, in that it shows a maturation of Card’s writing style and hints at the geopolitics for which the Shadow saga would be known for.

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