In the Shadow of Ender’s Game
Shadow Puppets is the Latest Installment in Ender’s Earth SagaBy Kevin Der
Written by Orson Scott Card
368 pages, Tor Books, $25.95
See the name of the author Orson Scott Card and most people will think of Ender’s Game, arguably the greatest science-fiction novel ever written. The sequel Shadow Puppets, next in the Ender’s Earth series, continues the story of Bean, the brilliant kid who fought alongside child genius Ender to destroy the alien buggers. While previous books in the series have been about children in military situations, Shadow Puppets is not the rich portrayal of boys and girls engaging in the warfare of Battle School but rather a convincing study of the dynamics of global politics.
Bean, once an undersized yet gifted boy in Battle School, has grown into a young man whose priority in life is now building a family with his wife Petra, also a Battle School graduate. Bean is reluctant at first to have children, since he possesses a certain engineered genetic abnormality, called Anton’s Key, which grants extraordinary intelligence, and does not wish his offspring to have it. Both he and Petra know that any baby with Anton’s Key would be in danger, as Bean himself once was when he was young. However, he and Petra eventually decide that they want children and attempt to create test-tube babies without Anton’s Key in a laboratory.
Their plans are disrupted, however, by Bean’s lifelong archenemy Achilles, who wants to use their children for his own benefit. He formerly held Petra captive for months while he tried to seduce her and furthermore murdered Bean’s childhood mentor, a nun. In Shadow of the Hegemon, Achilles also used his powers of manipulation to gain power on a global scale. He first infiltrated the Russian government and then successfully engineered a war between India and Pakistan, ultimately helping China become the one dominant power in Asia. Now, the Chinese finally realize that Achilles’ actions serve only himself, and imprison him before he can betray them.
Meanwhile, Bean’s ally Peter Wiggin, Ender’s brother, tries to regain the world power he once had as Hegemon. Peter foolishly believes he can trust Achilles, and frees him from the Chinese in order to use him. Very quickly, Peter becomes yet another person to understand that Achilles is in fact using him, and must scramble in order to avoid his own destruction. Peter’s parents, John and Theresa Wiggin, are two characters who deservingly receive a great deal more attention in this book. While in the past the two separated themselves from the world-changing actions of their children, the Wiggins now must do what they can in order to save Peter’s life as well as their own.
Orson Scott Card creates his characters with so much realism that he attracts readers from so many different venues. We hope for Bean and Petra’s success as much as we yearn for Achilles’ death. The theme of parenting is a driving force in the book, as many characters realize that their fundamental obligation is to their children. In one instance, a character must give loyalty to either his family or his country, and the author perfectly captures the anguish in the man’s mind as he makes this decision and lives with the consequences. Overall, the story is aptly developed and leaves room for another well-written sequel.
Yet, as good as Shadow Puppets is, it lacks the vigor of previous books in the series. There is not as much action and excitement, and the amazingly detailed characters from Battle School seem to have lost some of their pull. Bean, in particular, does not display his extraordinary mind nearly as well as he did in the past two books. Even the book’s conclusion, however satisfying, does not end with the forward momentum that closed Ender’s Shadow.
Nevertheless, Shadow Puppets is still a very good read. Had Card surpassed his past books, it would have been quite surprising, given how remarkable they are. Perhaps one reason is that the premise of the Battle School is inherently more exciting than that of Earth. At any rate, for those of you who enjoyed Card’s prior novels, you will probably like Shadow Puppets. And if you haven’t read Ender’s Game, do so. Right now.