Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Following Ender's Shadow and Shadow of the Hegemon, Shadow Puppets tells the story of Peter Wiggin's greatest mistake and how he managed to extricate himself from it. At the same time, Orson Scott Card follows his protagonist, Bean, as he first runs from and then learns to face his greatest fears, not least of which is internal, although it it given external shape in the form of Bean's longtime nemesis, Achilles de Flandres.
In the earlier books in the series, Card followed Peter's rise to the office of Hegemon and Bean's rivalry with the psychopathic Achilles, as well as Achilles' successful attempts to plunge the world into wars following Ender's victory over the Formics (Buggers). As Shadow Puppets opens with Peter, the Hegemon, removes Bean from his command immediately before a mission to rescue Achilles from the Chinese, who have decided that Achilles has become more of a liability than an asset. Peter has decided to make use of Achilles before having him executed. Upon learning of Peter's plans, Bean and Petra decide to leave the Hegemony's employ and put as much distance as possible between themselves and Achilles.
As with the earlier novels in this series, Card traces multiple plotlines in Shadow Puppets. In addition to the crisis Achilles' presence causes for Peter, Card explores the personal relationship between Bean, who is afraid of his genetic alterations and their affects on himself and any progeny he might have, and Petra, whose love for Bean is such that she is willing to deal with those issues. War also plays its role in Shadow Puppets as a revitalized Muslim league, lead by a newly proclaimed Caliph, attempts to push back the Chinese Empire which Achilles helped to found. This latter plot is disconcerting as Card looks almost exclusively at the strategic issues, thereby depersonalizing combat and only paying lip service to the disruption and death it causes. In Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead, it was the realization that no matter how depersonalized war becomes, in the end it still harms innocent individuals that made the novels so powerful.
One of the most interesting features of Shadow Puppets may be the resolution that Card proposes for the Arab-Israeli conflict as a Muslim reorientation of their philosophy on Israel. Similarly, the subsequent creation of a Muslim League which espouses this (and other) reorientations, hints at a variety of difficulties in the situation which Card may, at some future point, choose to address in another novel.
Unfortunately, Card does little to build tension in the novel. Bean's eventual face-off with Achilles is neither climactic nor anticlimactic, but simply an event which occurs. Similarly, the issue of whether Achilles has successfully suborn Bean's second in command, Suriyawong, is never really a question. Part of this lack of tension may also come from the fact that Card has already written about the future of this universe in Speaker for the Dead and subsequent books. Readers who have already visited Ender's story have a reasonable idea of what happens in broad terms. Nevertheless, Card seems to diverge from that world. The Peter Wiggins of Shadow Puppets is not quite the megalomaniac despot depicted in Speaker for the Dead. However, Peter is still young and will, assumedly, grow into the role Card has cast for him.
Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead were both envisioned as novels in their own right, and each came to satisfactory conclusions, made stronger by the relationship to each other. The three books in the current series were clearly planned as a piece, and while entertaining and thought provoking, they don't work as well, taken as a whole or individually, as those first two novels. Instead, Card leaves the reader wondering what happens next and how these books fit into the overall picture. Card has left the door open for future novels focusing on a multitude of characters introduced in both the original books and the current trilogy.
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