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Orson Scott Card brings us back to the very beginning of his brilliant Ender Quartet, with the novel that begins The Shadow Series and allows us to reenter Ender's world anew. With all the power of his original creation, Ender's Shadow is Card's parallel volume to Ender's Game , a book that expands and complements the first, enhancing its power, illuminating its events and its powerful conclusion. The human race is at War with the "Buggers", an insect-like alien race. The first battles went badly, and now as Earth prepares to defend itself against the imminent threat of total destruction at the hands of an inscrutable alien enemy, all focus is on the development and training of military geniuses who can fight such a war, and win.
The long distances of interstellar space have given hope to the defenders of Earth--they have time to train these future commanders up from childhood, forging then into an irresistible force in the high orbital facility called the Battle School. Andrew "Ender" Wiggin was not the only child in the Battle School; he was just the best of the best.
In this new book, card tells the story of another of those precocious generals, the one they called Bean--the one who became Ender's right hand, part of his team, in the final battle against the Buggers. Bean's past was a battle just to survive. He first appeared on the streets of Rotterdam, a tiny child with a mind leagues beyond anyone else's. He knew he could not survive through strength; he used his tactical genius to gain acceptance into a children's gang, and then to help make that gang a template for success for all the others.
He civilized them, and lived to grow older. Bean's desperate struggle to live, and his success, brought him to the attention of the Battle School's recruiters, those people scouring the planet for leaders, tacticians, and generals to save Earth from the threat of alien invasion. Bean was sent into orbit, to the Battle School. This was a risky venture for Card. Had it gone wrong, the book would have been contemptuously dismissed as a case of coasting on past glories. In fact, Ender's Shadow effortlessly recaptures the entertainment value that made Ender's Game such an immediate and enduring bestseller.
Gone are the navel-gazing, ruminative narratives of Xenocide and Children of the Mind , often thought-provoking but just as often tedious. In their place, crisp storytelling with an unobstructed forward momentum not seen since the original.
But still Card takes admirable risks here. Bean is arguably a more interesting and deeper protagonist than Ender. And there's a shift in tone given to the original story's now-famous climax that I'm sure I'll still be thinking about for some time. Ender's Shadow is a character study of Bean, whom we meet as no more than a toddler, living in conditions of such deprivation as a street urchin in Rotterdam that it's a wonder he's survived to age four. It's immediately clear that to do this, he's no ordinary boy. His intelligence is easily on the level of an adult's, though he's emotionally stunted as only a tiny child with limited experience of life can be.
He is rescued from his life among the "families" of almost-feral street children — a wonderfully vivid series of chapters with Card at the very top of his game — by a compassionate nun who brings him to the attention of the International Fleet as a possible candidate for Battle School. Battle School doesn't want Bean at first. He's too little, for one thing, and has personality deficiencies. But his test scores are off the charts, even higher in some instances than those of I. Bean's vastly superior brain is a little too good to be true.
He's been genetically — and illegally — enhanced. And as soon as he's through Battle School's airlocks he promptly becomes a thorn in the sides of every adult trainer and commander there. Bean assiduously avoids the fantasy game designed to analyze students' personalities and thought processes, instead spending his time sneaking into unauthorized areas through air ducts and cracking the security of the whole station's computer system.
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