Card, Orson Scott. 1999. Ender's Shadow. New York: Tor.

Reviewed 02 September 1999

Ender's Shadow (cover) Go see Kurosawa's masterpiece Rashomon. This is part of the Rashomon of Ender Wiggin's story. Only part, and a flawed part at that, but certainly worthwhile (if not up to the standard of Speaker for the Dead).

There are very few plot surprises after the first fifty pages or so, because we've been there, done that. This novel is the Xenocide (Ender's Game) from Bean's viewpoint. Thus, as far as plot and structure go, there are no surprises once Bean gets to the Battle School. (I'm not going to spoil the first part of the book; suffice it to say that I found Bean's Rotterdam a lot more convincing and plausible than did John Clute.)

But, just like Rashomon, plot is not the point. Viewpoint and character are the point. This is what sets Ender's Shadow apart from M'Caffrey's crosslinks in her Pern setting. Unlike M'Caffrey, Card successfully immerses both himself and the reader in a point of view truly different from that of Ender's Game, yet not inconsistent with the earlier-written book. The differences in narrative facts are the subtle changes of a maturing writer, not of literary arteriosclerosis.

Nonetheless, Card is unable to overcome a serious conceptual difficulty that he wrote into Ender's Game. The entire structure depends upon the Buggers' home world being the farthest from us. In other words, the Buggers did not expand in a sphere; they expanded in a line, or at best a narrow cone, pointed directly at humanity. Bean reasons out so much else that one must wonder why he didn't question this problem.

The other problem with Ender's Shadow is the choice of viewpoint. Ender's Game established a very tense triangle of Ender, Colonel Graff, and Valentine and Peter. Bean is outside the triangle, and can only see one—perhaps two—legs of the triangle. Maybe this is supposed to imply that nobody really knows the whole story. But, if that's the underlying theme, Colonel Graff is still a better viewpoint, and one whose story demands telling more than Bean's. Bean is, in the end, merely another exceptional child-soldier. This makes the whole narrative quite lopsided. The real mystery and story that begs to be told is implied in this passage:

   They were career military officers, all of them. Proven officers with real ability. But in the military you don't get trusted positions just because of your ability. You also have to attract the notice of superior officers. You have to be liked. You have to fit in with the system. You have to look like what the officers above you think that officers should look like. You have to think in ways that they are comfortable with.
   The result was that you ended up with a command structure that was top-heavy with guys who looked good in uniform and talked right and did well enough not to embarrass themselves, while the really good ones quietly did all the serious work and bailed out their superiors and got blamed for errors they had advised against until they eventually got out. (170)

Thus, the real genius in Ender's career before the Xenocide isn't Bean. Neither is it Ender, or either of his siblings. It's Colonel Graff. Given this (all too accurate) view of the military, how did Colonel Graff—who clearly understands what's going on far better than any other adult—get to be a colonel, and manage to get himself assigned to the Battle School project? That is the story that begs to be told, the leg of the triangle that will support and not merely repeat Ender's Game.

As an irreverant, and probably irrelevant, aside, it's interesting to see that Card credits Peter Paret's anthology of military writings for his foundation. Paret's anthology does gather some decent materials in decent translations (except for Clausewitz, which is quite badly translated). However, even for something within the conservative military culture, Paret's selections and abridgements are relentlessly conservative.

Finally, I can't resist a shot at the marketing "genius" who insisted on this title. I don't voluntarily miss the front end of a one-and-one. Card's preference for Urchin is correct. Bean is not Ender's shadow. The title change actually serves no rational customer-marketing purpose. New customers aren't going to pick up this $25 book; they're going to get the $3.95 commemorative mass-market paperback and start at the beginning. Card's fans, and those familiar with Ender's Game, don't need the cue; heaven knows that the rest of the cover is splashed with enough other references to it. No, the only people who need the cue are bookstore buyers who have not read Ender's Game and are largely unfamiliar with Card's work. People just like the marketing "genius" who insisted on the title change. Rather a circular argument.

Overall rating: 3 stars
Very good.
Card's style and writing have matured since Ender's Game, a very fine book in its own right. Ender's Shadow has been written into a bit of a corner, because this "new" viewpoint character isn't quite far enough from Ender's. We need Colonel Graff's story, and more-detailed accounts of Valentine and Peter, before worrying about seeing things from the viewpoints of other children at the Battle School. Without those other legs of the triangle, it falls over.


A Powell's Books Partner

  • You can buy this book on-line through Powell's Books. At this writing, it's available as a hardback.
  • the fine print first (you'll need to replace "{at}" with "@" on the address line). Please come back soon.
  • Return to Savage Reviews
  • Return to The Savage Beast (est. 1215): Literary Reviews and Resources on Speculative Fiction
Intellectual Property Rights: © 1999 John Savage. All rights reserved.
You may contact me concerning permissions via email. This copyright notice overrides, negates, and renders void any alleged copyright or license claimed by any person or entity, specifically including but not limited to any claim of right or license by any web hosting service or software provider, except when I have transferred such rights with a signed writing that complies with the requirements for transferring the entire copyright as specified in Title 17 of the United States Code. This includes, but is not limited to, translation or other creation of derivative works, use in advertising or other publicity materials without prior authorization in writing, or any other non-private use that falls outside the fair use exception specified in Title 17 of the United States Code. If you have any question about whether commercial use, publicity or advertising use, or republication in any form satisfies this notice, it probably does not. Violations of intellectual property rights in these pages will be dealt with swiftly using appropriate process of law, probably including a note to your mother telling her that you're a thief.
"The Savage Beast", "Savage Reviews", "Surreality Check", and the dragon-and-book banner are trade and service marks of the website owner. Other marks appearing on these pages belong to third parties, and appear either with permission or as exemplary references.