Card, Orson Scott. 2001. Shadow of the Hegemon. New York: Tor.

Reviewed 07 January 2001

Shadow of the Hegemon (cover) If you'll pardon the pun—and even if you won't, since it's my review and I can write what I want—Shadow of the Hegemon reveals Orson Scott Card's Achilles heel: an unfortunate tendency to allegory. Although Hegemon doesn't quite succumb to this problem, it comes close enough to seriously damage the novel.

Hegemon follows Ender's Shadow in filling in gaps around Ender's Game, this time between the war against the Buggers and Peter's rise to power. Again, the focus character is Bean, although this is not a very sound structural decision. Bean is much less an actor than a reactor and a mechanism to slow down Achilles. Most of the critical decisions in the book are made by others, particularly Peter (who is largely kept off-stage). The plot revolves around the world as the Balkans, and frankly it just doesn't come off. Although Card's analysis of Southeast Asia's history is all too accurate, his picture of the leaders of those nations requires more idiocy than one can reasonably expect, even from politicians in totalitarian regimes.

The ostensible plot involves Achilles convincing a variety of would-be conquerors of the world—Russia and India, among others—that he can ensure their manifest destinies by using Battle School graduates to plan their campaigns. He must take Ender's toon out, too, or they'll muck up his plans. Of course, being the treacherous little bastard that he is, Achilles isn't ever working for whom he seems to be working. Bean believes his task is to oppose Achilles at every opportunity. This is a mistake. Bean does not realize during the book, or apparently even by the end, that by doing so he is playing Achilles's game, not his own. In the long run, this is a losing strategy.

Card's tendency toward allegory betrays him somewhat in his treatment of Petra. By so explicitly building on the Iliad and its Briseis subtext, Card limits his narrative options perhaps too much. (One might well wonder if the next two books will partake of the Odyssey; one might also wonder where Helen is, although some careful thought should reveal that Helen is present.) The more serious problem this causes, though, is the contradiction between Petra's character (from both Ender's Game and Ender's Shadow) and the "helpless maiden" aspect of both Briseis in the Iliad and Petra in this book. The contradiction and allegory together devalue Petra as a character and create a significant structural weakness in the book.

None of this is to say that this is a bad book. It is merely not nearly as good as the other books in the Ender Wiggin cycle, nor nearly as good as Card can write. The allegorical aspects both undermine character and expose other aspects of the tale as rather preachy.

Overall rating: 3 stars
Very Good.
Card writes well technically—as well as any American writer today, excepting perhaps Le Guin and Wallace. The premise of Shadow of the Hegemon is also well-established. It is the allegorical polemic that keeps this book from reaching its potential.

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