Monday, 28 April 2014

Ender's Shadow - Orson Scott Card Review

Heads up: I strongly advise reading Ender’s Game before reading this post, as it’ll make a lot more sense. Having read Ender’s Shadow would be a bonus but is not necessary for understanding it. This review is difficult to write without giving spoilers, but as I was so excited to read Ender’s Shadow, I’ll give it a go.
Ender’s Shadow (Orson Scott Card, 1999) describes mainly the events of Ender’s Game, but from Ender’s subordinate Bean’s perspective. Despite this, there is a huge amount of new material in it.

It begins with Bean near starvation as a street urchin, using his brilliant mind and cunning to keep himself alive and eventually get himself into Battle School – no small feat when he’s abandoned before he can walk and gets into Battle School around four.

On the surface, he tends to remind people of Ender – smart even for Battle School; small and young; intentionally isolated from his launch group by the adults; not fond of authority; promoted rapidly – but on the inside, he’s disconcertingly different.

Used to fighting for survival, Bean seems unscrupulous – he will do anything to stay alive. He scored even higher than Ender did on the entrance tests, getting the highest score in the history of Battle School by a wide margin (and at what age, 4?). To put it shortly, Bean is extremely intelligent. And he has few of Ender’s lofty moral ideals, and little to none of his compassion (arguably Ender’s greatest strength). He is eely analytical and excels at extrapolating the information he needs from what little he is told. You might have thought Ender was cautious, suspicious, but Bean blows him out of the water on that front. He won’t even play the fantasy game for fear that the adults will use it to psychoanalyse him (funny, that). I wouldn’t necessarily say he’s self-absorbed, but his survival instinct is incredibly strong.

While I praise Card for having the skill to create characters so seemingly alike and yet so different underneath, I didn’t always enjoy it. When I was reading Ender’s Game  I was quite fond of Bean and had a nice idea of him in my head. He seemed plucky, daring, adventurous, lovable. But here was a story told from his point of view and the author smashed my mental image of him from the last book (which I didn’t appreciate). He came across manipulative, calculating, cold – perfectly content to fade into the background at Battle School until he figures out the adults are expecting him to excel, only getting close to Ender because he thinks it’s his best bet of getting ahead.

Also, while Ender’s isolation leads to him becoming a leader, Bean doesn’t have that leadership quality. Perhaps it’s because he’s lacking in compassion, but whatever the reason, Bean gets ahead much more in his studies than in the Battles. (Although he’s such a genius that he does end up with his own army in the School).

Enough about Bean for the moment. The overarching plot is largely the same, but the timing feels off (which makes sense, as Bean reacts to and prioritizes things differently, but it’s disorientating). I sometimes think Ender may represent humanity’s sense of duty and Bean our self-preservation.

I thought we might see what happens to the other kids (excluding Ender) when they return to Earth, and was disappointed not to. Perhaps that’s in another book in the series – I hope so.

There was a certain subplot about Bean’s heritage that was just very underwhelming for me. I felt that (a) it didn’t really fit with the story (b) it’s not tied up at all in the end, in my opinion.

I was so uncomfortable with the sort of things Bean was doing and finding out towards the end of the book (and even in the middle, with the air ducts). The thing regarding Ender’s Game’s plot twist was manageable, but it seemed like things were shifted around a lot. Anyone who’s read the first book knows that Bean is seen as having a lot of potential and is slated as Ender’s Second for the Third Invasion, that role was really played up in Ender’s Shadow. I was also left confused by the fact that Bean, as far as I’m aware, never had a monitor, nor did any of the street urchins – how could Battle School accept him? The resolution of this book was messier than Ender’s Game, I felt.

I enjoyed reading it, but not as much as Ender’s Game. While the urchin background was interesting and really made me sympathise, I didn’t find it as compelling as Ender’s Game’s main plot or even its Demosthenes and Locke subplot.

All the books in the Ender’s Game series(es?) throw up incredibly interesting questions and themes, so hopefully I can explore some of those in the future. 

PS: I loved the movie, even though it left out so much - what did you think of it? I boycotted it in the cinema because of Card's homophobic behaviour, but I saw it on someone's DVD and really enjoyed it. Plus, Asa Butterfield is fantastic.

1 comment:

  1. Huh, that's interesting that this one tells the story from Ben's point of view. I'm curious, but I can't say this is a priority of mine because I read Ender's Game last year and found I didn't like it much, which was a surprise. The movie was pretty good, though not as revolutionary as the book. But they did well with what they could - it's a hard book to adapt!


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