Ender's Shadow was a brilliant book. Shadow of the Hegemon was good, but not at par with any of the other Ender books. Shadow Puppets is nothing less than a complete let-down. It is a pity that Card has allowed his job to fall that low, and I hope that he will not make this mistake again. I only give it one star because I cannot give none.
I really cannot find one reason to make me propose this book to other readers, even Ender fans, except "if you are dying from curiosity to see what life holds for Bean". Oh, and possibly the brilliance of two secondary characters, Virlomi and Alai.
On the contrary, I can find many reasons why to avoid it. Let's start:
* The characters are completely off, compared to the other novels. Peter, the Hegemon, is reduced to a clever teenager who, however, can't do anything without the support of either Bean or, from all people, his parents. Where is the brilliant Demosthenes / Locke who shook the world while his brother was saving it from the Buggers? Where is the extremely interesting clash between brilliance of the mind & sickness of the soul that was the essence of Peter's character in Ender's Game?
Petra has become a snivelling housewife, and that was to me, as a woman, one of the major disappointments in the book. She has lost her edge, and is almost unrecognisable.
As for Peter's parents, they are definitely not the same people that we've met in Ender's Game or even in the two previous Shadow books. So suddenly they are nearly as geniuses as their son?
And finally, Bean : where is the tough, sharp as a knife and immensely clever boy who could outdo even Ender? Who won the respect even of Graff, and definitely of all of us? Now he is suddenly only interested in getting rid of Achilles and becoming a father?
* The book is preaching. Preaching on the benefits of marriage, preaching on the blessings of parenthood, preaching, preaching... And I say this despite having two babies of my own, when theoretically I should be in a position to better appreciate Card's philosophy. And I do, but from agreeing on whether it is good to have children to accepting this as the focal point of the whole book there is too big a gap.
* There are other inconcistencies in the book. Reading it, you come to expect that Alai should be Hegemon, Alai the gentle, clever, respected, deeply human Muslim Chalif. But we happen to know that Peter is and will continue being Hegemon, and with no war between religions : a war between a friend as beloved as Alai and a brother as feared and hated as Peter would have been mentioned by either Ender or Valentine in some point of their story. Yet where else could the story lead? To a meak submission of the Muslims to the Christians for fear of the Chinese? No way.
And Achilles, the master of duplicity, buys so easily into Suri's friendship that he allows his trust to actually lead him to his death?
* Finally, in general I found the book too flat. I missed terribly the contrasts and the clashes of the Ender series, in Xenocide for example. I missed the portrayal of interesting people, of misplaced loyalties (remember the people of Path?), of arrogant leaders, of love misunderstood and happiness lost and found, of death and rebirth. There is no such richness in this book.
All in all, a disappointment, and a bitter one at that, because in my mind Orson Scott Card was never an author who would make a book simply for money, or because pressed by his publishers, and I feel this book is nothing more than that. Even if you are a devoted fan, don't read it. And if you are not, don't start your acquaintance with Card with this book. Try the Ender series, if you are more sci-fi oriented, or even the Alvin Maker series if you prefer fantasy.