The entire time I was reading Ender’s Shadow, I just kept thinking about how difficult a task Orson Scott Card had given himself in writing it.
Ender is a ridiculously cool character. He’s the one we all know. He’s the one the movie was about. He’s the hero archetype to a T, but without being cliche or impersonal. he’s sympathetic and a badass at the same time. He’s the ultimate underdog, to whom every reader can relate, because he is the victim of bullies, who finds himself not that unlike those he combats… I honestly just couldn’t see any of the characters in Ender’s story as leading characters in their own right, because they all stand in Ender’s Shadow. 🙂
As I started reading, I thought that Bean is a particularly difficult character to breakout, because he is too much like Ender, but not nearly as cool as Ender is.
So, some things that had to be done:
*Bean had to be given a different beginning than Ender had. It would have been boring to see a small kid, raised in a nice family. Even if Bean were an only-child, to have him recruited into Battle School the same way that Ender was would have killed the beginning of the book and his character. So, while I understand that putting Bean on the streets and giving him a unique back-story were necessary, my greatest complaint about Ender’s Shadow was how overtly Card worked to make Bean different from Ender. I would have liked to be absorbed in Bean’s story, rather than thinking about how different his life was from Ender’s, and how deliberate that choice was in the crafting of Ender’s Shadow.
*Bean had to be as awesome as Ender… without being as awesome as Ender. He had to be compelling, sympathetic, competent, believable, lovable, interesting, etc… w/o being a copy, and w/o the spotlight on him. The goal of Ender’s Shadow couldn’t be to make Ender less than he is, because the readers Card is trying to captivate are reading because they already LOVE Ender. Diminishing his story by elevating Bean too high would have cost readership rather than built it. Bean is not the leader. He’s the one who I always saw as Ender, only a couple of years too late, which is what eventually sold me on this one. Card wrote some beautiful depth into Bean’s character by rolling with the feeling that he is very like Ender, but not quite him. Card allowed Bean to struggle with the thought that he was equally as, if not more intelligent than Ender. Bean was more complex for having to learn to take a backseat and serve his commander as the moment required, even if that meant standing in his shadow.
*There needed to be a nice balance between scenes the reader had already experienced through Ender’s eyes that could be re-experienced with Bean AND scenes that Ender wouldn’t have any knowledge of.
*The ending needed to be reinvented. One of the great things about Ender’s Game was the twist at the end. With Ender’s Shadow, however, the parallel timeline complicated matters because readers already knew the twist, so it needed jazzing up, w/o the luxury of changing what happened. It had to happen exactly the same way, but readers needed to know a little bit more than they did last time, and Bean needed a special role in the ending. It needed a new depth, that Card achieved beautifully with some dramatic irony. He told us something that Ender didn’t know when we read it before.
All-in-all, I expected this one to be alright, because it was too difficult an undertaking for me to feel sold on it right away. I honestly thought Ender’s Shadow was similar to filmmakers taking the final book in every series and turning it into a two-parter (if not three, four, five… anything to separate folks from their cash).
I didn’t give Card enough credit. He knows what he’s doing. This is an excellent story, worth reading.