Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Book Review: Ender’s Shadow

Author: Orson Scott Card

A while ago I mentioned the book Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card. Although, as I mentioned, I’m not a huge SF fan, I enjoyed it very much. So when I was lent the book Ender’s Shadow, I was looking forward to reading it.

Ender’s Shadow takes place at the same time as Ender’s Game—the cover calls it a “parallel novel”—but focuses on a different character, named Bean. Bean had been only a minor character in Ender’s Game, so I was interested to see what this book would be about. It turns out, in this book, that Bean was actually a fairly major character in Ender’s Game—but only behind the scenes. Ender never knew about it, which is why the book Ender’s Game never featured Bean too heavily.

Whenever you take an existing story and then rewrite some of it in a different book, you’re walking a fine line; there is always the danger of rewriting something in such a way that the first book would cease to make sense, or that you would completely change the meaning. On the other hand, if you’re just retelling the story, then there’s no point to having the second book. But Card does a great job of this in Ender’s Shadow. In this book, we learn that Bean had always been a superior tactition to Ender, and, in some ways, better suited to lead the fleet. However, Ender had something that Bean lacked: leadership abilities. The other leaders, who had to be under Ender’s command, respected and loved him, whereas they would never love Bean the same way. (They respected his intelligence, but not to the point where they’d want to be under his command.)

So Bean’s role is now to be Ender’s second-in-command, just in case anything happens to Ender, and to subtly suggest things to Ender when the occasion arises. Ender never figures out what’s going on, so, from his perspective, Bean is still a minor character. I thought this was a brilliant way to take a minor character from a book, and turn him, retrospectively, into the second most important character in the story.

So I recommend this book highly. In the introduction, the author says that you could read this book on its own, even if you haven’t read Ender’s Game. However, even if that is the case—which it is; I’m not disagreeing with him—I still think you’d enjoy the book even more if you read Ender’s Game first.