Editor’s Note: This is the seventh in the Stephen Olson’s series of posts reviewing, contemplating, considering, and discussing Orson Scott Card’s award winning Ender’s Game novels. You can find his other posts on the Ender’s Game series here.
The moment I finished reading Shadow Puppets, I knew I had to find and read Shadow of the Giant as quickly as possible. Within two days, I had purchased a copy and read it cover to cover. I finished around 4:30 in the morning and could hear my dad upstairs getting ready for work as I read the last chapter. After a week of very late nights, I had finished reading the Shadow series and I could finally sleep well, knowing how it all turned out.
Shadow of the Giant follows the same protagonists we met in Ender’s Shadow in a still-changing world. By this time, most of the child geniuses from Ender’s Game have reached their twenties, and several have found themselves as heads of state, whether through undesired necessity or through purposeful maneuvering. One reluctant leader of a regional alliance finds himself struggling to enforce his commands in the occupation of territory won in the previous wars while a particularly charismatic and media-savvy guerilla commander leads the opposition. Other characters work tirelessly to create a lasting world peace, while trying to undo the horrible final actions of a now-dead megalomaniac and an amoral scientist. All the while, events march toward what seems like another inevitable and brutal world war.
Unlike the previous installments in The Ender’s Shadow Series, Shadow of the Giant pits our protagonists directly against each other. After growing to love these characters over the course of the past two books, I hated to see them working against each other. However, Orson Scott Card has simply brought the original child commander premise of Ender’s Game to its logical conclusion: a world with so many ambitious and well-trained military leaders, warped by a constant diet of war from the age of six, will inevitably see many of those soldiers pitted against each other. And in the end, Card does bring this portion of the series to a very satisfying conclusion.
In Shadow of the Giant, we read from the perspective of more characters than ever. Card does a good job of using subtle changes in style depending on whose eyes we currently see through. One of my favorite (and least favorite) portions of the book follows a character who becomes increasingly unhinged over the course of the narrative. While I hate to see a beloved character grow to make worse and worse decisions, I’m very impressed with the way each chapter from their point of view slowly grows less sane.
Card continues to demonstrate his ability to turn a good phrase. While I did not find as many ideas that resonate as I did in Shadow Puppets, I did write down more quotes I enjoy for their sharp wit. I’ve decided that my aspect of my favorite characters is their willingness to speak their minds, no matter how tactless or brutal their assessment of the situation. Often, I find myself silently cheering on characters when they speak truth to power in a particularly clever way. Other times, I can’t help but feel chastened myself when one of my cherished heroes receives a stinging and cleverly-worded rebuke.
One of the things I most enjoyed during this read-through of the The Ender’s Shadow Series was noticing how closely some of the international problems mirror our own problems today. In Shadow of the Giant, a portion of a country declares independence due to human rights abuses. Since the publication of that book, that region has actually declared independence for incredibly similar reasons. Part of the book features a character who has a worshipful devotion to a megalomaniac leader who committed various crimes. When I first read this part, I thought it incredibly unbelievable that someone could develop a worldview so contrary to reality, but since the advent of social media and discovering how many people believe in conspiracy theories, it makes a lot more sense.
As usual, inconsistencies bothered me but mostly did not detract from my enjoyment. One that did detract is when a traitor from Shadow Puppets somehow has found his way back into the inner circle without any discussion of their previous actions. On the other hand, various people wonder about the trustworthiness of a different character who appeared to be a traitor but clearly demonstrated their true loyalties.
Another gripe, I call the long-running TV series problem. Too many TV shows seem to preserve conflict beyond its natural end in order to create more interest. The Shadow series does this as well from time to time. For instance, two characters hash out their grievances and settle their conflict in a very satisfying way, and then a hundred pages later or in the next book they’ve come right back to the same disagreement. Rehashing the same arguments just doesn’t do a lot for me.
But in the end, I still really enjoy this book just as I enjoy the Shadow series. It appeals to the part of me that enjoys history, as well as the part of me that enjoys politics. Strong characters, interesting plot, and some sprinklings of thoughtful philosophy.
Language. Violence. One scene has characters visiting the site of a recently-committed massacre, which some readers may find disturbing.
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.