Bean’s StoryBy Jennifer Chung
It would be too easy to call Ender’s Shadow a shadow of Ender’s Game, but it’s tempting. Set in roughly the same time and place as the other, Orson Scott Card describes his newest book as a “parallel novel” rather than a sequel to Ender’s Game, the Hugo and Nebula Award-winning book about training a little boy to be the military tactician that would save the earth from aliens.
The term is fairly apt. Calling Ender’s Shadow a sequel would be misleading; Shadow is nothing like the other existing books in Card’s “Ender” series (Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, and Children of the Mind), which take place thousands of years later and seem to be aimed more at... well... grown-ups. The “real” sequels of Ender’s Game are not as universally readable as the book they’re based on, which features scenes of super-intelligent and yet startlingly innocent children practicing the art of war under the guise of games. One of my biggest problems with Speaker for the Dead, in fact, was that I felt vaguely shammed after reading it because it didn’t feel like Ender’s Game. Oh, sure, it featured our protagonist Ender, but still... it was a different book.
But Ender’s Shadow takes us back to the origins of the series. With Shadow, Card has managed to reproduce the child-view that made Ender’s Game so endearing. Perhaps it is because books about children naturally adopt the refreshingly innocent tone of childhood, striking deeply the chords within the inner human soul. Or maybe I’m a sucker for books about children. And ultimately, Ender’s Shadow is an enjoyable book.
Written a dozen years after the novel Ender’s Game, Shadow re-examines the events in the original from the point of view of Bean, a small, brilliant boy who is the only one of 23 infants to escape from a strange medical experiment. It is earth in the future, and humanity has been battling aliens known as the Buggers. The International Fleet is testing and training precocious children to lead and fight the war, and is sending the most promising to Battle School, an orbiting platform in space where they are given the opportunity to demonstrate their potential for leadership in military command.
Living on the streets of Rotterdam, four-year-old Bean -- a character from Ender’s Game -- manages to transform the culture of the brutal children on the street, before being discovered by Sister Carlotta, a nun who recruits for the I.F. children training program. Bean’s test scores are so high that his numbers are initially doubted. He eagerly takes the opportunity to attend Battle School, not to be in the company of other gifted children or even to actually learn, but to get away from Rotterdam and a boy who wants to kill him.
Once Bean arrives at Battle School, he uses his energy to educate himself about his surroundings, and to study Ender Wiggin, who, by the time Bean enters Battle School, is a living legend. Bean, who is even younger and more brilliant than Ender ever was, is continually compared to Ender. He reacts by finding out everything he can about Ender and obsessively avoiding the school legend. Over the course of the novel, however, Bean gets to know and like him, despite living in his shadow, and the originally impassionate Bean even manages to become a truly human character with actual emotions.
Ender’s Shadow feels like an extension of Ender’s Game, even more than feeling like a separate book. Although the novel is about Bean, it lets you watch Ender from another angle. By itself, Shadow includes too many off-the-cuff references to be a good standalone book. One of the largest joys in reading Ender’s Shadow, in fact, is remembering Ender’s Game, catching small cues and watching variations of its events through a newer set of childlike eyes. It’s like reading more Ender’s Game, discovering that you accidentally missed 24 chapters.
Shadow isn’t as good as Game. Ender is a deeper, fuller, more empathic, and charismatic character than Bean, who is almost adult-like at times. But this gives Ender’s Shadow a larger world view than just Battle School though, and Bean’s view imparts more understanding about the events in Ender’s Game.
Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Shadow is available for purchase today, August 31, 1999 for the suggested retail price of $24.95. 352 pp.