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'Enders Shadow' provides relatable character, storyline

Many authors have tried to capture the mind of a genius. Some have succeeded. None, however, have portrayed brilliance in a more intriguing fashion than Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game.

Since a film rendition of this epochal science fiction novel is coming out, I really wanted to review it. Unfortunately, Tynin Fries, ’14, already did that. So here it is: a review of Ender’s Shadow, a sort of sequel to Ender’s Game. If you are going to read this, go read Fries’s review first. Things I say here will make much more sense.

Ender’s Shadow is not really a sequel, it’s setting places most of the book at the same time as the original. Because of this, I initially thought that the book would be boring, just because I knew much of the plot from the original book.

Fortunately, I was wrong. Ender’s Shadow is fascinating, following the early life and exploits of Bean, who eventually becomes one of Ender’s best friends.

Bean grows up in the slums of Rotterdam. Tiny for his age of four years, he is a sort of feral toddler, scavenging for food on the streets. Bean has no name, as far as he knows, until the leader of a gang of children dubs him “Bean.” With an already brilliant grasp of strategy, Bean convinces the leader, named Poke, to let him join. He tells her to force one of the street bullies to help their gang find food.

Poke manages to enlist a bully, named Achilles (pronounced Ah-sheel), but Bean insists she picked the wrong one, since Achilles is a schemer who has set his mind on dominating the small gang. Poke, however, ignores Bean’s entreaties to kill Achilles.

Achilles soon maneuvers to take control of the local soup kitchen, attracting attention from the International Fleet recruiter, a Catholic woman named Sister Carlotta. The International Fleet is, well, an international fleet designed to defeat the invading alien Buggers. She attempts to test the children by holding “school” for them for a few days, but really she wants to find out if Achilles is intelligent enough to go to Battle School. However, she is shocked at Bean’s initial test results, which far surpass Achilles’.

However, at this point, Achilles kills Poke, but only after Poke makes him promise not to kill Bean. This has a huge emotional impact on Bean, who until this point has been only cold and unemotional.

After this incident, Sister Carlotta begins testing Bean in earnest. His scores are almost impossible, especially considering that he is younger than most children taking the test. Soon he is admitted to Battle School, the International Fleet’s training program for commanders.

Despite the fact that all of the previous plot seems out of genre for the series, it is crucial for Bean’s character development. From here on this story begins to intersect with Ender’s more as Bean struggles through Battle School.

I was worried that when Bean reached Battle School his story would be exactly the same as Ender’s Game, ruining any originality the plot had to begin with. That does not happen.

While Ender tried to learn from the Battle School process, Bean tries to undercut it. Certainly, he is interested in tactics and learning, but he also resents all the manipulation that the administrators attempt. Ender works to pass the tests against the odds; Bean works to beat the Battle School at its own game. Bean is a sneaky little toddler. He does not buy anything that the teachers tell him, but he learns by sneaking around and finding out what he should not know. Soon, he has Battle School officials worried that he will find out too much.

Still, Ender and Bean eventually become close friends, since they are by far the most intelligent in the school. Bean and the rest of Ender’s chosen group have to defeat the Buggers, and the rest is sci-fi history.

I found the fresh perspective on Ender’s Shadow to be just as engrossing as the original. In the acknowledgements, Card notes that any discrepancies between the two books are intentional, to show differences in perception. I found that both intriguing and a little funny; if I were an author trying to write a sequel, I am definitely pulling a trick like that. Still, the small differences add to Bean’s character.

If there is a flaw to be found in this book, it is that the portion of Bean’s life in the slums of Rotterdam take a really long time. I know that it is key in developing his character, but I wanted to get to the stuff I recognized, like annoying bullies at the Battle School.

Overall, Card’s storytelling is excellent, and Ender’s Shadow is just different enough from its predecessor to add to the series. Bean is a believable character, if unusual, and I found myself rooting for the little genius. This book would make an excellent addition to any science fiction fan’s shelf.

Ender’s Shadow is the first book in the Bean branch of the Ender’s Game series. (The series splits two ways, one following Ender starting with Speaker for the Dead and another following Bean starting with Shadow of the Hegemon.) The book is about 400 pages, and is available for on Amazon or a local bookstores.

Ender’s Shadow is available for purchase on Amazon or at local bookstores for between eight and ten dollars.

For more reviews, read the Aug. 20 article, Fantasy book gives way to enticing storyline.

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