Shadow Puppets, by Orson Scott Card (2002) E

Date read: 8.22.09 (re-read; originally read in about 2004 or 2005)
Read from: Borrowed from Kakaner
Reviewer: Emera

N.B. This review is probably not very accessible to anyone who hasn’t read any of the Shadow Saga sequels to Ender’s Game, as this comes nearly at the tail end of the series. If you haven’t read any of the series, you may also wish to not read this review for fear of spoilers.

Some poor decision-making on the part of Peter Wiggin, adolescent Hegemon extraordinaire, leaves the fledgling Hegemony and its resources in the hands of Achilles. Though nominally disgraced in the eyes of the world after the revelation of his international-scale treachery, Achilles is as dangerous as ever. His new power puts him in position to re-enter the game of political manipulation, and sends Bean and Petra – his most hated enemies – into hiding. Meanwhile, the other members of Ender’s Jeesh continue to jockey for the precedence of their respective countries, while themselves often ignored or manipulated by their own governments. In short, the world is paying the price for having nursed a generation of young Napoleons, and Bean and Petra find themselves at the center of events, just when they have come to realize that what they value most is simply each other’s happiness.

My main impression of this was: bridge novel. It’s so obviously written as the sort of mid-series book that has to begin at one place, and get to another, such that while I was fairly engaged when reading, I kept on losing interest in following it as a whole. Overall I’ve become slightly disenchanted with Orson Scott Card, both on the basis that I find many of his political and personal opinions repugnant and on the basis that… frankly, I don’t think he’s a genius as much as I used to anymore. I’ve been re-reading the Shadow series because the final book hadn’t yet been published when I first ran through the series, so I’ve had to catch up again. A lot has changed in how I read in these past few years, so while Ender’s Game is still next to sacred in my canon and thus I don’t let myself nitpick it, it’s easier now to see the flaws in the rest of his books.

OSC is indubitably an extremely skillful novelist – I’m amazed at the range that he covers in each of his books. The Bean/Shadow series, in particular, traverses political intrigue, military drama, suspense, and psychological exploration, with a few tidbits of well thought-out science fiction thrown in for good measure. And I still find his characters and their internal conflicts essentially moving, and love their dialogue, but I am much less inclined now to actually be moved by the events of the books. Perhaps it’s that a lot of what OSC does feels very… calculated. Maybe it’s his deliberately stripped-down style of writing, maybe it’s knowing what I know about him as a person now, but I often feel now as though I can watch him pushing my emotional buttons as I read, and it’s a big turn-off.

Maybe it’s that there’s so much “weeping.” If your characters are weeping every other chapter – and no one cries in this series, they only “weep” – …well, I don’t know then.

Also, a major, overarching flaw of the Bean series is that while it purports to let us get to know the individual Battle School students better, they essentially have the same personality. Apart from nationality and gender, there is VERY little to actually distinguish them – they’re all 10000x smarter than everyone else, revel in sarcasm, etc. The same could almost be said of the entire cast (being that in this case it includes Mr. and Mrs. Wiggin, which is very gratifying as they were underdeveloped, to say the least, in the original novel), to the extent that it seems an arbitrary, convenience-based decision on Card’s part when one character suddenly acts Stupider than the others so that the Smart ones can explain what they’re doing to the Stupid one, and thereby Expositionify The Readers.

Okay, unwonted vitriol. I think I’m just extremely bitter because I used to be so obsessed with and deeply invested in all of the Ender books, but in re-reading the Bean series, I too often feel “meh, entertained enough.” There were definitely many, many moments that worked for me in this book, emotionally and in every other way – in particular, Peter’s interactions with his parents. But when the whole book used to do that for me, it’s disappointing to come back and only find some of that still. Maybe I just need to be less cynical. Internal sigh.

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3 thoughts on “Shadow Puppets, by Orson Scott Card (2002) E”

  1. Hi, new commenter!

    I haven’t gotten this far in the Bean series–actually I don’t know that I’ll try to. I love Ender’s Game and, to a lesser extent, Speaker for the Dead (I like what that one has to say about redemption) and I also love Ender’s Shadow. But I started Xenocide and didn’t finish it. I never even picked up Shadow of the Hegemon. Somehow OSC’s shtick started to get a bit old for me even at that point. So I’d rather keep the ones I enjoyed and enjoy them than force myself to finish the series.

  2. Welcome Maureen! We really appreciate your comment (and hopefully more to come =D)

    I actually agree with you… I’m pretty sure Xenocide was the book I picked up and never made it through. I’m not very keen on OSC’s later philosophical ramblings and forcing myself to sludge through new worlds =X I don’t really like how Ender evolved as a character, although I can appreciate it.

    However, the Bean arc is *entirely* different. It’s definitely more mature, but I think it retains the freshness and adventure of the original Ender book. It’s much more in the same vein in terms of characters and action than the Ender arc is. I’ve totally dropped a series though for the same reason…. like Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles.

  3. Hi Maureen! Woo, thanks for your visit.

    I think Ender, Speaker, and the first Shadow are definitely the strongest in the series, with the most consistent combination of compelling plot and emotional strength. I did read the Ender side of the series up until the end and was more than obsessed with it at the time (I think I cried more times per book of that series than with any other series). But as with the Bean books, I imagine that with a more removed perspective on them now, I wouldn’t like them quite as much. They are pretty tough going, not having the suspense/intrigue element of the Bean series to keep up momentum.

    I wish I had the sense not to keep forcing through series, but I’m an incurable completist. You’re definitely good where you are, though! I think it’s satisfying in some ways to know where all of the Battle School kidlets – and Peter Wiggin – end up and get a little more perspective on their personalities without Ender overshadowing everyone, but it’s definitely not key to your enjoyment of the earlier books. (And as I said in the review, the vast majority of them still end up personalityless.) Actually, thinking about it, I think the most satisfying and moving part for me, at least in re-reading, has been to see Peter outside of Ender’s perspective, and to see him outgrow all the horrible baggage that came along with being Ender’s brother.

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