Thursday, June 25, 2015

Review:: Ender's Shadow, by Orson Scott Card

Title: Ender's Shadow
Author: Orson Scott Card
Series: Ender's Shadow, #1
Format: Hardcover
Rating: ★★★☆☆

I remember being excited as a kid when I saw this in the "New" section at one of the University of Texas libraries. I remember my mother and I thinking it was pretty decent. And that's the feeling I get from it now. It's okay, but doesn't stand up to the later Ender books, like Speaker for the Dead or Xenocide. It also deals with religion very differently, which isn't surprising to me.

The whole point of the Ender's Shadow series is that Orson Scott Card realized there was a lot more story to tell, especially considering the rather large time jump between Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead. Originally, he'd planned to let another author pen the series, but as he delved into the idea, he fell in love with it too much to give away.

Ender's Shadow follows the story of Bean, one of the children that was part of Ender's Dragon army. The story starts with Bean's early childhood as a starving street kid. We learn that he's incredibly smart, both in intelligence and street smarts, which we see through him saving a crew of kids on the street (partially to save himself) and when he gets taken under the wing of a nun who wants to educate him.

When he's on the street, Bean comes across his own Peter. He convinces Poke, the leader of the crew, that in order to survive, they need protection from one of the "bullies." When they take down Achilles, Bean sees that the best end for all of them is to kill Achilles to make a statement. He's too dangerous alive.

Instead, Poke shows mercy, and pretty much takes over the crew, turning them into his "family." But when another bully who was brought down by Achilles in the line for the soup kitchen is released from the hospital, Achilles tells everyone he must flee. Bean leaves and sees Achilles kiss, then kill, Poke. He then realizes that Achilles plans to pit the murder on Ulysses, the other bully, in order to better sway the street kids to his favor.

Bean also realizes that he will never be safe from Achilles.

When Bean eventually gets into Battle School, he's treated like Ender was originally. Unfortunately, coming after Ender, he's also constantly compared to him. So what Bean has to do is separate himself from Ender, to prove that he's his own man. He uses a lot more subterfuge than Ender to make this point, creating a teacher account to go into those records and crawling around in the vents.

In the end, we find out that Bean is somewhat the mastermind behind choosing the members of Dragon Army, and so in many ways, the success to that experiment.

All-in-all, the plot is kind of fun if you were invested in Ender's Game more than the later books and is clearly written for that audience. Nothing is really that subtle or profound. There are no real moral statements to be made, beyond the obvious. Obviously Bean comes in contact with Achilles again and bests him. Obviously Bean is shown to have great potential. None of this is shocking or really tells us that much beyond the plot of the story.

What was kind of surprising to me is the way religion is treated in the story. Almost all of Orson Scott Card's books have somewhat flirted with religion. Ender's Game had the least of it, actually, even though the reason Ender exists is because his father was a Catholic and was looking for an excuse to have a third child. Speaker for the Dead dealt heavily with religion and religious morality with the Catholic nature of the colony and the idea of bringing religion to the uneducated aliens. Xenocide and Children of the Mind both dealt with religion as well, though in a heavily negative light.

In Ender's Shadow, though, religion is shown to be flawed as an institution (the nun in the story doesn't think she'll be taken back by her sisters after her work) but beautiful and profound to the individual. The religious morality isn't a hit over the head, but it certainly is more constant, albeit downplayed, throughout the entire work.

It's not uncommon for the Mormon church to push successful authors to show more religious viewpoints in their works over time. I almost wonder if that's what's happening to Orson Scott Card. While he was overtly religious in some of his other works (re-writing the Book of Mormon as scifi, anyone?) the Ender series was his bread-and-butter, and didn't really examine religion in a positive light.

Mostly, I found Ender's Shadow to be a fun, but simplistic read. After reading it, I don't expect to get much out of the other novels. However, considering Ender's Game was a completely different read than the later books, maybe they'll up in complexity over time.

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