Aug 16, 2011

[Books] Ender's Shadow

Enders ShadowI think this is the first time that I've ever encountered a "parallel novel" - a book that aims to tell the same story as another one but from a different perspective. Sure, I've encountered individual tales that like to shift the POV mid-story as it backtracks over a previous scene as viewed in a different light. But for an entire book to do this? To re-tell and entire story and make the reader go through everyone once more?

It was definitely a risky move - one that not many authors would probably venture right away. But thankfully, this one did and we're all the better for it. Admittedly it probably helped that the protagonist of this book was already a fairly popular character from the original Ender's Game, thus he was a good peg for people to affix to and want to follow this the adventure. Thus being able to follow-along with him and find out more about how he came to be was a pretty crucial piece to things.

And yes, I'm needlessly avoiding mentioning his name just yet since I like to save stuff like that for the synopsis. It's a thing I do.

Admittedly I was a bit surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. It's hard to determine if this was solely because I really liked the central character or it was just that much fun to revisit the book from a different part of the story. While it may feel like a bit of a gimmick, it certainly made for a more interesting adventure in an already established universe.

Ender's Shadow was the fifth book in the Ender series of books to be published even though it's set during the events of the original Ender's Game. As with all other Enderverse books, it was written by Orson Scott Card. Originally meant to be entitled Urchin, Ender's Shadow had been shortlisted for the Locus Award in 2000.

San Diego Comic Con 2008 192Image by Foenix via FlickrThe central character in this book is Bean, the vertically-challenged tactical genius that went on to be integral to Ender's ability to command his training army in the first book. But here we learn more of his origins as a homeless kid living on the streets of Rotterdam, Netherlands. At a very young age he already demonstrated extremely high intelligence, which became his key survival trait despite his physical deficiencies. Thus the first part of the book documents his efforts to get into the good graces of Poke and her crew and eventually the bully Achilles, who plays a major role in the formation of Bean's eventual command personality.

The second part of the book brings us back to the Battle School as we get to find out what Bean was dealing with before he was made a part of Ender's army. And there's a lot more to this story than just basic training sequences since Bean is clearly of an entirely different level of intelligence on his own. Whereas Ender's story was one of surviving hardship, Bean's story felt more like that of master spy of sorts trying to crack the system. As much as the teachers at the Battle School are studying each student and evaluating their potential as future commanders of the fleet, Bean is also evaluating his teachers, looking for flaws in the system and ways to overcome them.

Bean, in many ways, feels like an impossible character. He's amazingly intelligent with almost no softness to him given he grew up on the streets. He is quite terrible in showing or handling emotions or even basic interpersonal interactions. Even if he had not been alienated among his peers through the use of dramatic tactics and other teaching methods, he was more than capable of alienating himself. Let's face it, Bean is pretty much a dick when it comes to dealing with other people, perhaps a consequence of his remarkable intelligence.

But following his trials and tribulations and how he comes to accept what he truly is and by the same vein what he is capable of. And it's quite an believable progression, provided a child of his intelligence can indeed exist.

If anything, my main problem with the book was the sort of side-story involving Sister Carlotta's investigation into Bean's past and her efforts to understand how he came to be. While I appreciate the intentions, it seems to veer too much away from the core story. And when the full truth of his origins is revealed, well, it just felt like a slightly cheesy way to give Bean an extra happy ending of sorts. Nice, but a wee bit forced for my tastes.

Ender's Shadow is still a pretty solid book, quite an enjoyable read and also kicks off a new set of adventures in the Enderverse. It gets 4.5 ways that Bean is both cool and yet scary in his thinking out of a possible 5.

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