Reviewed by Steven H Silver
In 1986, Orson Scott Card published the novel Ender's Game about a young boy who became the savior of the human race. Card has since followed Ender's adventures in three other novels and a short story, all of which are radically different in feel from each other. Card now returns to the original material with Ender's Shadow, described as a parallel novel to Ender's Game.
Although set at the same time as Ender's Game, the new novel focuses on Bean, a peripheral character from the original book. Card shows Bean's early life as a street urchin in Rotterdam and his selection to attend the Battle School where he will eventually meet Ender. Once Bean is in his position, Card divides the narrative to follow Bean's advancement at the school as well as Sister Carlotta's Earthbound search for clues behind Bean's tremendous abilities and intellect.
Perhaps one of the most intelligent decisions Card made when writing Ender's Shadow was to focus his attention almost entirely on Bean, rather than Ender. Although Ender is mentioned from the moment Bean arrives at the Battle School, he doesn't appear as a character until nearly halfway through the novel. This gives Card the opportunity to build Bean as a strong character in his own right and examine his situation. Even after Ender makes his appearance, the novel focuses on Bean and Ender's participation is always on the sidelines.
Card imbues Bean with more talent, knowledge and ability than a four-year-old (as Bean is at the beginning of the novel), no matter how precocious, should have. Card does provide an explanation for his abilities and intelligence. Even with Card's rationalization, Bean hardly seems to have been in a position to have gain the experience to support his intelligence. The knowledge that he manages to acquire without any assistance (ranging from analytic skills to multilingualism) seems to be extreme for one so young and with Bean's social placement.
Nevertheless, Bean is an extremely likable character. An underdog throughout the entire book, Card clearly shows his skills in a way that doesn't make him come across and an obnoxious child. The reader finds himself rooting for Bean and wondering whether or not Bean will ever learn his own worth, for even when Bean realizes his intelligence, he does not feel that anyone else values him. His attempt to gain his comrades acceptance (not friendship) is really an attempt to come to terms with himself.
When I began reading Ender's Shadow, I made a conscious decision not to re-read Ender's Game first, to see whether or not the new novel stands on its own (it has been at least a decade since I've read Ender's Game). I'm happy to say that, although there were times I was wondering how incidents were dealt with in the original novel, Ender's Shadow can be read without any knowledge of Ender's Game. Moreso than any of the other novels in the series, Ender's Shadow stands on its own quite well.
While Card tackles some major issues in Ender's Shadow, ranging from brutality among children to their exploitation by the adults who are supposed to protect them, these themes are not done with a heavy hand. A reader who is only interested in the plot can easily ignore them while readers who look for social commentary will have plenty to digest.
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