Thursday, March 17, 2011

Amaranthine Review: Ender's Shadow

Ender's Shadow is being dubbed as a parallel novel to Orson Scott Card's Hugo and Nebula Award-winning Ender's Game. By "parallel," Card means that Shadow begins and ends at roughly the same time as Game, and it chronicles many of the same events. In fact, the two books tell an almost identical story of brilliant children being trained in the orbiting Battle School to lead humanity's fleets in the final war against alien invaders known as the Buggers. The most brilliant of these young recruits is Ender Wiggin, an unparalleled commander and tactician who can surely defeat the Buggers if only he can overcome his own inner turmoil. Second among the children is Bean, who becomes Ender's lieutenant despite the fact that he is the smallest and youngest of the Battle School students. Bean is the central character of Shadow, and we pick up his story when he is just a 2-year-old starving on the streets of a future Rotterdam that has become a hell on earth. Bean is unnaturally intelligent for his age, which is the only thing that allows him to escape--though not unscathed--the streets and eventually end up in Battle School. Despite his brilliance, however, Bean is doomed to live his life as an also-ran to the more famous and in many ways more brilliant Ender. Nonetheless, Bean learns things that Ender cannot or will not understand, and it falls to this once pathetic street urchin to carry the weight of a terrible burden that Ender must not be allowed to know.
[from Goodreads]
   
Rating:   3 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience:  Sci-fi fans, especially those new to or unsure about the genre
High point:  Learning more about Ender's story
Low point:  I didn't find Bean a very sympathetic MC
Reader maturity:  10+

Though I'm not usually a sci-fi fan, I raved over Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. I thought the writing and the plot and the characters were all incredible. Ender's Shadow? Not so much. Oh, it was still good. Orson Scott Card is immensely talented, and I was in awe over the details that meshed between the two novels. (They take place over approximately the same time frame, but they're from the perspectives of different characters.) What I didn't like is Bean. Ender's Shadow follows Bean, who is himself following in Ender's shadow.

Bean lacks Ender's humility and humanity. While he's smarter than anyone else, including Ender, he was missing the key component that makes a good commander--and an interesting main character, at least in my opinion.  Bean was so cold and calculating, I just couldn't root for him. Bean is brilliant and talented, but I'm Team Ender all the way! Ender is apparently what made Ender's Game for me so without him Ender's Shadow felt like a more normal sci-fi novel (that's an assumption since I've never finished a "real" sci-fi novel).

On the plus side, I was really interested in Bean's backstory, and it was cool to get to see Ender's classmates in their final battles, as well as the thoughts of some of them that we never got to see from Ender's point of view. The author did a great job of weaving Bean's side of the story into the existing web of Ender's life and explaining how a lot of the events came to be.

If you really enjoyed Ender's Game, Ender's Shadow is worth a read, especially if you're already predisposed to liking sci-fi. Even though I didn't like it as much as Ender's Game, it's still well thought out, well plotted and well written. Just as a side note, I've been told by several people that they enjoy this line of sequels (starting with Ender's Shadow) more than Ender's line of sequels (Speaker for the Dead, etc.).

Title:  Ender's Shadow
Author:  Orson Scott Card
Genre:   Science Fiction
Year:   1999
Book Source:  Received as personal gift

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