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Cast a Giant... Shadow?
on 9 November 2003
The spectacular Ender's Game and its very good to excellent sequels established Card as a major SF writer. With Ender's Shadow, he came close to matching the brilliance of the original story. Then came Shadow of the Hegemon, with its focus on Peter Wiggin and Achilles, and it seemed like all the power, originality, and dramatic tension faded away, leaving only a shadow to lay across your mind. This latest work is neither as good as Ender's Shadow nor as mundane as Hegemon, but rather somewhere in-between.
Here we find Bean growing beyond the norm, symptomatic of his genetic flaw that will eventually kill him while still a young man. And growing in other ways, as his relationship with Petra finally flowers under her tenacious insistence. This is probably the best part of this novel, as we see sides of the two that have not been in great evidence in the prior works. And we get some small looks into the thoughts and characters of some of the other Battle School graduates, mainly Virlomi, Han Tzu and Alai, each of whom contribute some major items towards Peter and Bean winning their current battle with Achilles. The Wiggin parents emerge from obscurity and are revealed to be (unsurprisingly) very intelligent and (surprisingly) quite forceful. All good things...
So where does this book fail? The main failure is Peter Wiggin himself. For a man who could sway world opinion with his exacting, careful logic as Locke and browbeat everyone into emotional frenzy as Demosthenes, Peter is depicted here as a remarkably stupid, arrogant, and emotional teenager. Achilles, the demon, remains almost totally offstage, providing little room for dramatic confrontations, and what ones there are come off as almost anti-climatic. And finally, the circumstance that draws Bean back into the struggle between Peter and Achilles was totally preventable, a very sad and uncharacteristic lack of foresight by both Bean and Petra. These items do much to kill any major excitement in this work, even though the major (world) battle could have formed a taught political and military thriller.
Is this book readable? Certainly. Card is still an excellent writer. His prose, descriptions, and dialogue (especially the back-and-forth between Bean and Petra) are all well formed and his moral insights flow from the premise of the story. But this one just doesn't have the edge-of-the-seat tension, the incredible insight into human character that have been the hallmarks of his best work.
--- Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)