Editor’s Note: Ender’s Game may be one of the most awaited film adaptations of a novel in recent years, and Stephen Olson is a huge fan of the novel, as well as its sequels. In the coming weeks and months, Attack of the Books! will feature his reviews and guide to the universe (or Enderverse, if you will) of Orson Scott Card’s award winning Ender’s Game series. This is the third in the series. You can find other posts in Stephen Olson’s series on Ender’s game here.
Reviewer Disclaimer: Same as usual. Absolutely love this book. Just feel the compulsive need to point out silly faults. Nonetheless, love this book.
I’m fairly certain I first read Ender’s Shadow in junior high, likely in 9th grade. My mom bought the book for me for Christmas, and it was my first book I read in the Ender’s Game series since burning out on Xenocide a few years earlier. If I remember correctly, my mom informed me that the reviews of the book said it was much closer to Ender’s Game than it was to those books which I hadn’t enjoyed as much (at the time, anyway). So I read it. As promised, Ender’s Shadow did indeed feel more similar to Ender’s Game, and I enjoyed it quite thoroughly for many of the same reasons I enjoyed the original.
Ender’s Shadow largely follows the same events and storyline as Ender’s Game but from the perspective of Ender’s peer, Bean. With mostly the same setting and many of the same characters, the book feels very familiar; some portions where Bean talks with Ender appropriately feature the same dialogue word for word. However, Ender’s Shadow moves through some of these similar events at a slower pace, which allows the reader to get to know the minor characters.
Bean’s perspective also allows a greater understanding of the events taking place. While Ender mostly takes things at face value, Bean looks at everything from a more analytical perspective. I enjoy discussing this element with those who have read both books, as different people have different reactions. One of my siblings disliked Ender’s Shadow because they felt like Bean’s character made Ender look stupid. Some students have said they like Bean for his clever observations and willingness to prove others wrong, while others disliked his know-it-all attitude.
Other material in the book is completely new. For instance, the first chapters tell about Bean’s childhood as an orphan on the streets of Rotterdam. Orson Scott Card introduces the Netherlands of the future as an international territory, where refugees and criminals from around Europe gather. This bleak setting works contrasts sharply with Ender’s middle-class upbringing in an unnamed American city. As well, the setting introduces the theme of global politics which comes to dominate the Bean books.
My favorite new material, though, comes from Bean’s interactions with the various officers and teachers at the military school. I was starting to see the flaws and imperfections of my teachers when I read Ender’s Game, but by the time I read Ender’s Shadow I had become much more disillusioned. So for all of the times where situations felt unfair in the original, it felt great to see Bean point out the unfairness to the teachers. And now, reading it again as a teacher myself, I have greater sympathy for the teachers in the book. I also feel like I better understand the teachers I didn’t like in my own schooling. At the same time, I appreciate the blunt honesty of Bean and this helps me to listen better to my own students when they correct the mistakes that I make.
The increased focus on the adults at the school also makes this book more relatable for me as a teacher. Where Ender’s Game featured little snatches of conversations between the adults, Ender’s Shadow brings this element to the forefront, with larger chapter segments that focus on them. As a kid, I still enjoyed these parts of the book because the adults mostly discuss the students anyway and it gives some behind the scenes view of the events of Ender’s Game, but I appreciate this material much more as an adult than I did as a kid.
Unfortunately, the placement of this book in the same timeframe as Ender’s Game leads to a proliferation of continuity issues. Very few detract much from the story, though they can be particularly noticeable if you read this immediately after reading Ender’s Game. While I did compile a large list during my reading this week, only one of them affected my enjoyment of the book and even then only because it involves numbers and because I teach math for a living. Several of the contradictions actually feel purposeful, and make better sense than how the story was originally told.
So, which book do I like better? I used to answer this question the same way I answered questions about who my favorite student is: I like everyone for different reasons, so I really can’t pick a favorite. However, that has changed over time. I now say definitively that I like Ender’s Shadow better than Ender’s Game.
First, I feel like Orson Scott Card matured as a writer between the writing of the two books. (I would certainly hope so, as one came out before I was born and the other while I was in junior high.) While I can’t exactly put my finger on why, I always feel like I see everything slightly more clearly in Ender’s Shadow; I can visualize events and characters better. The story also seems to move more quickly, with fewer and shorter lulls than Ender’s Game.
On the other hand, in many ways I prefer Ender’s perspective on events to Bean’s. Ender sees everything with more compassion and empathy where Bean sees everything with more of a cold intellect. Even then, the arc that Bean’s character goes through over the course of the series makes up for his distant attitude in this first book focusing on him.
And ultimately I think that’s why I like Ender’s Shadow better than Ender’s Game. I greatly enjoy seeing the journey Bean goes through to become the sort of person who Ender seems to be from the start. The story just means a lot more to me, especially as I meet more students who come from difficult backgrounds that remind me of Bean. Where Ender’s Game has moments that make me emotional, Ender’s Shadow has moments that make me cry.
(Nonetheless, read both books. They’re both worth it. Read Ender’s Game first. It’s better that way.)
Ender’s Shadow features much of the same content as Ender’s Game. However, there are a few key differences. Ender’s Shadow has less of the violence and disturbing imagery, while it has more rough language. Same words, though, and a few foreign words thrown in to mix it up.
The biggest departure in content comes in the early chapters with Bean living on the street. Card makes several references to children as young as twelve becoming prostitutes. As usual, the material fits the context, and the book hardly dwells on the subject. It’s just something that parents should be aware of.
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 at@MathTeacherGuy or email him at mathteacherguyATgmailDOTcom.