Review | Shadow of the Hegemon by Orson Scott Card [Contributor]

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.


Ender’s Shadow does not end at a point that indicates a direct sequel, and yet Shadow of the Hegemon continues in the direction that you may not have realized the series was headed.  With the war against the aliens behind them, the nations of the world no longer have a common cause to unite them.  At the same time, the genius children who were trained to become the greatest commanders of all time have now become important resources in the inevitable conflicts to come.  Shadow of the Hegemon begins that story, told from the perspective of two of the child commanders, Bean and Petra, as well as Ender’s older brother Peter.

Despite being a very natural sequel, Shadow of the Hegemon has some subtle differences in style.  For instance, Ender’s Game  and Ender’s Shadow both happen in space, while Shadow of the Hegemon takes place on Earth.  This leads to a less futuristic feel to the story, which also makes it more relatable.  Another key shift is from the more obviously villainous aliens to a complex and murky global landscape with shifting alliances.  A country that seemed friendly becomes an enemy, or vice versa.  And even reading from the perspective of key players in the conflicts, it is not always clear that the protagonists have the world’s best interests at heart.

Orson Scott Card manages to create a future with changes in the international political arena that make a lot of sense.  For instance, the United States has become less and less involved in global events after getting burned out in our time, while India has continued its current economic progress and become more of a power in the world.  Clearly, Card put a lot of analysis into what the world situation might be in two hundred years, and I find the setting very believable.

I really like the setting, in case you didn’t notice.  The more convoluted workings of global politics feels authentic and is very interesting, especially since I enjoy politics myself.  Somehow the smaller personal issues at the start of the book snowball into huge international conflicts, and yet at every step the decisions, both good and bad, make sense from the perspective of the people making them.  When I finished this book the first time, I immediately drove to Barnes and Noble to buy the sequel, more to find out what happens to the world situation than to find out what happens to the characters.

Not that the characters aren’t also engaging.  Card writes great dialogue, and Shadow of the Giant features some great discussions of politics and leadership primarily, but also religion and families.  Minor characters from previous books get the chance to really shine.  I love to see characters grow up in various ways, and this book has a lot of that.  (But I can’t go into too much detail without spoilers.)

So, yet another book that I really love.  However, for once I have a few negatives besides the usual continuity problems (which continue in this book, naturally).  First off, Card makes two subtle and meaningless nods to the book Speaker for the Dead.  It does not serve as foreshadowing, does nothing to improve this book, and really just comes off as smug.  I hate that type of self-referential humor when I’m reading literature that wants to be taken seriously.

Speaking of smug self-reference, the characters in Shadow of the Hegemon constantly use the slang from the Battle School of Ender’s Game and Ender’s Shadow.  Adults complain about their children using this slang and the kids insist that the slang is an important part of the language now.  The problem?  Despite more than thirty uses of these slang words in Shadow of the Hegemon, none of them ever showed up in the previous books that take place where the slang developed.  Clearly Card had fun coming up with the slang, but it feels weird that the slang we see here never showed up before now.

The other problem I have with Shadow of the Hegemon is the preachy tone that characters occasionally adopt.  In one instance, two characters are discussing whether or not a third character can be trusted with the reins of global power, when suddenly the conversation turns to having a family and how raising children is the most important part of life.  It felt like a non-sequitur the first time I read it, and it still bugs me today that this crucial conversation suddenly turns into a speech about the cycle of life.

And yet at the same time, this discussion has helped define how I look at the idea of family.  Maybe that’s the most maddening thing about how Card writes.  Even when I dislike the placement of a sentiment or an idea, I still greatly enjoy the ideas.  Shadow of the Hegemon starts to really get into ideas, and Card expresses them very well.  The series matures another step in this book, and yet I have students who got this far in the series and still enjoy it a lot.  And I still enjoy it a lot too, minor wrinkles aside.

Movie Potential?

If the Ender’s Game movie this fall makes enough money to justify a sequel, I think Shadow of the Hegemon would make for a great film adaptation.  Ender’s Shadow would pose difficulties, as they would either need new, younger actors to portray the children or they would have to use the same actors who are older than they were the first time they portrayed.  Shadow of the Hegemon could use the same actors since they would play slightly older versions of themselves, and the new material from Ender’s Shadow could instead be introduced through clever use of flashbacks and dialogue.

Parent’s guide:

Thanks to the aforementioned slang, Shadow of the Hegemon has less profanity than either of the books before it and less violence, as well.  Ironically, as the series progresses to themes that kids might not find as interesting, it loses the language and violence that their parents might object to.

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.


About Stephen

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