Review | A War of Gifts by Orson Scott Card

A War of Gifts Book Cover A War of Gifts
Other Tales from the Ender Universe
Orson Scott Card
Science Fiction
Tor Books
1st edition (October 30, 2007)

Orson Scott Card offers a Christmas gift to his millions of fans with A War of Gifts, a short novel set during Ender Wiggin's first years at the Battle School where it is forbidden to celebrate religious holidays.

The children come from many nations, many religions; while they are being trained for war, religious conflict between them is not on the curriculum. But Dink Meeker, one of the older students, doesn't see it that way. He thinks that giving gifts isn't exactly a religious observation, and on Sinterklaas Day he tucks a present into another student's shoe.This small act of rebellion sets off a battle royal between the students and the staff, but some surprising alliances form when Ender comes up against a new student, Zeck Morgan. The War over Santa Claus will force everyone to make a choice.

Editor’s Note: This is the fourteenth in Stephen Olson’s series of posts on Orson Scott Card’s award winning Ender’s Game novels. You can find his other posts on the Ender’s Game series here.

After reading the heavy material in Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, and Children of the Mind, I’ve started to really enjoy the simpler material in Orson Scott Card‘s shorter narratives.  A War of Gifts is the first of these that I ever read, and while it certainly differs greatly from everything else I’ve written about so far, the story has definitely grown on me.

A War of Gifts: An Ender Story takes place during the events of Ender’s Game.  It focuses mostly on a new character named Zeck, but also strongly features familiar characters such as Dink Meeker, Peter Wiggin, and, of course, Ender himself.  Zeck, introduced as the son of an pacifist evangelical Christian preacher, struggles to make sense of his old life and new life as he ends up in the Battle School.  At the same time, Dink and other soldiers try to maintain a sense of individual and cultural identity in a very regimented setting.

My favorite thing about A War of Gifts is how well it fleshes out the Battle School from Ender’s Game.  We mostly see the leisure time of the soldiers, which gives great insight into the culture and environment there.  In fact, in my most recent reading, I discovered that several assumptions that I make about how the Battle School runs come directly from A War of Gifts.  Dink has always been one of my favorite characters, and I love to see so much of the story told from his perspective.

One of the things I’ve found particularly interesting in Orson Scott Card’s shorter writing is that it feels somewhat pithy and smug at times.  Each character and situation feels perfectly orchestrated for maximum effect.  This makes for a fairly constant flow of clever and snappy dialogue.   However, at the same time the ambiguity so emblematic of Xenocide in particular gives way to simple and basic situations.  At every turn, we know precisely what to think about what is happening.  While I generally prefer the complexity of some of the other books, in this reading I really enjoyed the change of pace to something simpler.

Of course, these very same attributes of simplicity also detract from the story in my opinion.  Too often, I feel like the characters are preaching to me.  Other times, it feels like everything is designed as something of a cautionary tale.  With clearly defined good guys and bad guys, A War of Gifts lacks the subtlety that I enjoy so much in other portions of the series.  Still, we explore various themes of the interaction between civil and religious authority, as well as expressions of faith in a highly secular setting.  While not as meaty material as Speaker for the Dead, there are still ideas worth thinking about and examining.

To be sum up how I feel about A War of Gifts, I think of a particular chapter, where we read an experience involving Peter Wiggin and his mother.  This chapter has no direct bearing on anything else that happens in the novella.  While I enjoy the vignette and find it interesting, I feel like it is not particularly necessary to the work as a whole.  Similarly, I enjoy A War of Gifts as an interesting and enjoyable, albeit unnecessary, portion of the Ender story.

Parental Advisory:  Similar amounts of swearing to Ender’s Game.  Much religious content.

Stephen Olson teaches math at North Layton Junior High.  When not teaching math, he polices the halls and library of his school, ensuring that students partake of only the best reading material.  On the rare occasions he finds himself away from school, Stephen reads, writes, and writes about reading. You can follow him on Twitter @MathTeacherGuy or email him at mathteacherguyATgmailDOTcom.

Does A War of Gifts or any another book we’ve mentioned on Attack of the Books! sound interesting? Do the authors a favor and pick up a copy of one of their books from Amazon. It puts bread on their table and helps them keep writing good fiction.



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