Aliens, Humanity, and Parallel Novels—Oh My!

In the future, mankind's only hope in a desperate war against an alien species is its children. The young and brilliant are shipped to Battle School in Earth orbit to learn the skills needed to lead Earth's defense force. But what happens when the Battle School instructors, the Earth governments, and their fellow students become the most dangerous forces that they must learn to fight? Author Orson Scott Card questions once again whether or not saving humanity leads to the destruction of what makes us human. He returns to the Ender universe with a parallel novel—a novel takes place at the same time as the original Ender's Game. The hero is the young genius that Ender met in Battle School: Bean. Bean earns his name in the hellish streets of Rotterdam where Poke declares that he isn't even "worth a bean." Well, is he? And is Ender's Shadow as good as its predecessors?

The novel begins with the haunting misery of Bean's childhood. Card approaches such misery from the perspective of a child so brilliant, that he learns to control his world out of necessity. Will such tendencies propagate into a dictatorial outlook? How does his humanity battle itself? One can't be sure after reading Ender's Shadow. Bean's psychology is given a few logical glances and then disregarded in lieu of the advancing plot. Card is capable of far more philosophical engendering than he infuses into Ender's Shadow. What was more of a disappointment was the careful dance Card initiates in attempting to save his former novel from that most horrible of fates in the artistic world: the remake. Bean seems to have trouble escaping the shadow of Ender from Card's earlier novels—as the title might suggest. Card seems aware of the possibility for this detraction; the text tries too hard to make both Bean and Ender the simultaneous heroes of the plot. The characters should speak for themselves; but too often, Bean is speaking for Ender in an attempt to reassure the readers of Ender's Game that Ender's accomplishments will not be diminished. It would have been preferable if Card left Ender's legacy alone, and concentrated more on what could be the fascinating new hero of a new book.

Does Ender's Shadow escape the gravity of Ender's Game? Card makes a good attempt at separating the two novels while retelling essentially the same story. As always, his prose is superb, his skills of characterization are immense, and his insights into the minds of children are luminous. Card's ability to write a fast-paced, intellectually stimulating parallel to a former work is astounding. Bean is worth a bean after all. Despite its shortcomings, Ender's Shadow is worth reading whether or not you have read any other novels from the Ender Universe.