Review | Shadow Puppets 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.  Attack of the Books! will features his weekly review on the novels in the award winning Ender’s Game series. This is the sixth in the series. You can find Stephen Olson’s other Ender’s Game posts here.

When I finished reading Shadow of the Hegemon for the first time, I immediately looked online to find out about the sequel it clearly needed.  As it turned out, it had two direct sequels at that point, Shadow Puppets and Shadow of the Giant.  So that cold December evening I ran out the door and drove from Barnes & Noble to Barnes & Noble till I found a copy of Shadow Puppets with a slightly warped cover.  Normally, my OCD would prevent me from buying a damaged book, but in this case I really needed to know what happened next and I didn’t have time to look for a better copy.

One of the biggest problems with Orson Scott Card’s characters is that they are people.  Sadly, people have flaws and make mistakes.  Shadow Puppets opens with one of the more flawed protagonists making a huge mistake, and the rest of the book features everyone dealing with the aftermath.  This aspect still bothers me a lot every time I read it, but that very frustration shows what I like most about this book and series: it draws you in.  By this time in the series, the world feels like it’s falling apart and our handful of flawed characters do their best to put the pieces back together.

Shadow Puppets has a greater focus on individual characters and their drama than on the various countries and blocs that Shadow of the Hegemon features.  We follow a young couple who disagree about building a life together while moving from country to country to evade their ubiquitous enemies.  At the same time, the parents of a young and brilliant leader assist him in governing well while subverting his will to keep him safe from a perceived assassination attempt he refuses to see.  These types of interpersonal issues dominate the story, and it works rather well as events move along.  I’ve always enjoyed stories that focus on individual people with larger conflicts as a backdrop, and Shadow Puppets pulls this off rather well.

Conflicts on Earth two hundred years from now still forms that backdrop, and I feel like Orson Scott Card improves this setting in this book.  Characters seamlessly make reference to events such as the Fifth World War without ever explaining.  It works very well.  Without ever knowing the specifics, I still get the message when a military leader says to avoid dams as potential demolition targets and the  civil authority says “Of course, we remember Aswan.”  Card very cleverly straddles the line between under- and over-explaining, so this future history ends up feeling natural.  (And with any luck, none of the future history described here turns out to be spoilers.)

The narrative also continues to feature an increasing number of ideas.  As I reread each book, I take fairly notes, looking for typos and inconsistencies as well as quotes and ideas I want to find again later.  I started these notes because I wanted to make sure I could find some of the key ideas and conversations from Speaker for the Dead and the other later books, while picking up whatever tidbits existed in the earlier books.  However, I was instead surprised to find many core ideas that I’ve made my own.  For instance, some conversations deal with the idea that people can’t truly know each other, and I thought that I’d come up with my phrasing of this idea on my own.  Nope, borrowed from Orson Scott Card.  Several more conversations reveal other deeply held concepts that I never realized I borrowed.

Now on to the usual nit-picking.  Inconsistencies?  Check.  Occasional preachy moments?  Check.  And part of me just hates when the characters make stupid decisions.  We have characters who have been rigorously tested and proved to be among the smartest minds in the history of the world, and somehow they act completely clueless (and make the occasional crude reference).  While I admit that smart people can make dumb decisions, a few of the key events revolve around characters making poor decisions in a way that feels out of character.  For instance, an overly paranoid character failing to take precautions.  I already mentioned how the whole plot launches from a remarkably idiotic choice, and I still haven’t found a way that that choice makes sense for that character.

Then again, part of this is that same thematic genius that Orson Scott Card has demonstrated before.  Stupid mistakes would not bother me so much if I didn’t believe the world and characters so thoroughly.  I wouldn’t be trying so hard to explain that a protagonist does not have such a poor decision in his character if I didn’t like his character so much.  And, of course, it lets me feel better about my own mistakes that seem so obvious in retrospect when I read about geniuses acting foolishly.

Once again, a book with an enjoyable storyline, believable characters, and lots of interesting ideas to explore.  If you enjoyed Ender’s Game, then read the Shadow series.  Just do.  I had actually expected Shadow Puppets, Shadow of the Hegemon, and Shadow of the Giant to be similar enough that I could just do one or two reviews to cover the three of them, and I was wrong; I love all three and all three stand tall, but for very different reasons.

Parent’s guide:

Either there’s significantly less profanity, or I was so enthralled by the story that I forgot to update my tally of “words parents might not want their children using”.  Despite less explicit profanity, I did notice that this book has a few crude references.  Not a lot of violence.

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.

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