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Shadow Puppets book cover

Shadow Puppets by Orson Scott Card

Tor science fiction - copyright 2002
345 pages

Book read in September 2002

Rating: 6/10  (Recommended)

Review by Aaron Hughes


          Shadow Puppets is the seventh novel set in the Ender universe, which began with Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card's most popular book to date.

The sequence of the books is somewhat confusing, but here goes:  Ender's Game is the story of Ender Wiggin as a child at Battle School, being trained to fight a hostile alien race.  Ender's Game stands alone well, but also serves as the prequel to a subsequent trilogy of books about Ender Wiggin as an adult: Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, and Children of the Mind.  Prior to the beginning of Speaker for the Dead, Ender has traveled extensively among the stars, so thanks to relativity, the Speaker-Xenocide-Children trilogy takes place far in the future.

Ender's Shadow is a parallel novel to Ender's Game - it tells the same story, but from the point of view of Bean, one of the other children under Ender's command.  Ender's Shadow is in turn the prequel to a trilogy following Bean as a young man (as well as Ender's brother Peter and several of the other Battle School graduates): Shadow of the Hegemon, Shadow Puppets, and a forthcoming volume tentatively titled Shadow of the Giant.  The Hegemon-Puppets-Giant trilogy takes place in the near future, on an altered but recognizable planet Earth.

Card has announced his intention to write an additional book, in which the Ender and Bean sequences meet up at their respective tail ends.  To accomplish this, Bean and/or other characters in the Bean sequence will presumably have to get on a spaceship and, through relativity, advance into the far future.  Those of you who have read Children of the Mind know that one thread of the plot of the Ender sequence was left entirely unresolved, so there is already something for Bean or his friends (children?) to do when they arrive in the future.

So even though Shadow Puppets is the seventh "Ender" book, it's actually the second volume in a trilogy.  I wanted to explain this because, while Shadow Puppets is competently written, it seems to me rather uninspired in comparison to most of Card's work.  Perhaps the Ender universe is mined out, and Card continues adding to it only because it pays well.  I prefer to believe that Shadow Puppets merely suffers a bit from being the middle volume of a trilogy.  Much of what transpires is included to set the stage for the next book, so we haven't yet reached the payoff.

In Shadow Puppets, Peter Wiggin has become Hegemon, with Bean in command of the Hegemony's sparse military force.  During the interstellar war that Ender and Bean helped fight, the Hegemon was the ultimate civilian authority in the world.  With the end of the war, however, nations have quickly fallen back to their old patterns of conflict.  As Hegemon, Peter now has authority only in the West, and since Western civilization has lost its stomach for influencing world events, his position has become little more than an honorary title.

Meanwhile, the re-emerging powers in the East, including Russia, China, India, and the newly united Muslim countries are competing to control as much of the world as they can.  Achilles (pronounced "ah SHEEL"), Bean's brilliant but psychopathic nemesis from his youth, has gained tremendous power using the expansionist ambitions of Russia, India, and China to manipulate each of those nations in turn.

At the outset of Shadow Puppets, Bean's soldiers manage to capture Achilles.  Against the advice of Bean and others, Peter determines to try to use Achilles for his own purposes.  Bean has no confidence in Peter's ability to control Achilles.  He and fellow battle school graduate Petra go into hiding, expecting Achilles to try to kill them.

Bean and Petra continue to grow closer as they travel.  Petra would like to marry Bean and start a family, but Bean is reluctant because the same genetic alteration that made him a genius will also result in his death at an early age, as his body grows at an abnormal rate.  Thus, his nickname "Bean", which originally referred to how small he was as a child, is now an ironically appropriate description of his rapid rate of growth.

Whether to marry and have a child with Petra is of course a heart-rending decision for Bean, but it lacks the fast-paced drama of the other books in the Ender series.  Until a late showdown with Achilles, Bean and Petra have little to do with the global forces at work through the course of this book.

The character of Peter Wiggin continues to evolve.  In Ender's Game, he was brilliant but vicious.  In Shadow of the Hegemon, he was no longer vicious.  Now in Shadow Puppets, he seems no longer to be brilliant.  Card makes very little effort to convince us that there is any defensible reasoning behind his decision to bring Achilles into the Hegemony, nor does Peter seem to have any clue how to fix matters when that decision starts to go awry.  This actually doesn't bother me all that much, because it is a refreshing change from Card's established pattern of writing young characters whose amazing mental capacities make them all but infallible.

Unlike Ender's Shadow, in which Bean emerged as a complete character, and Shadow of the Hegemon, which fleshed out Petra, Shadow Puppets has no breakthrough character.  We do, however, get some intriguing glimpses of other side characters, including Han Tzu, Suriyawong, and Virlomi, Battle School graduates from China, Thailand, and India, respectively.

          In my favorite passage of the entire novel, el, Virlomi ingeniously manages to foment dissent in rural India simply by dropping a few stones in the road.  If you're not planning to read Shadow Puppets, I urge you to at least read Chapter Five, describing the stone-carrying concept, and the hilariously sarcastic e-mail that opens Chapter Twelve, regarding the authorities' response (a memo to a superior that begins, "My previous advice to ignore the piles of stones in the road was obviously foolish, and you saw that a much wiser course was to declare stone-carrying to be illegal.").  The stone-carrying sub-plot is the one portion of this book in which I think Card's enormous gifts as a storyteller shine through.
What do you think? Comments are welcome!
Please send them to:
vanaaron@excite.com
Copyright 2002 Aaron Hughes

More Orson Scott Card book reviews on Fantastic Reviews:
Enchantment
Ender's Shadow
Shadow of the Giant
Ender in Exile

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Links to other Orson Scott Card related webpages:
Hatrack River - The Official Web Site of Orson Scott Card
The Ornery American - www.ornery.org - Card's political web site
The SF Site Featured Review Ender's Shadow

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Denver Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club

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