Review

Shadow Puppets

by Orson Scott Card

But last month's release of SHADOW PUPPETS --- a continuation of
the Hugo and Nebula award-winning ENDER'S EARTH saga, whose
genetically enhanced super-kids have enthralled readers since the
late '70s --- brings to light another key strength that die-hard
fans might not even notice anymore. It's Card's uncanny ability to
craft a seamlessly integrated sequel that can still be enjoyed by
someone who just happened to pick it at random off the shelf;
someone who may know the author's name from other collections or
contexts but who didn't necessarily read either the inaugural
ENDER'S GAME a generation ago or ENDER'S SHADOW, the immediate
precursor to this volume.

Believe it or not, this is a big issue in contemporary sci-fi and
fantasy writing, and Card is among the surprisingly few writers
who've successfully grappled with it. Just think: how many times
have you delved into a good story only to find the characters are
suddenly speaking "insider" language and are motivated by issues
that remain vague or totally mysterious when you most needed to be
in the loop? Or perhaps you've eagerly picked up the sequel to a
favorite novel but gave up after plowing through so much
what-came-before that the plot bogged down to a crawl.

Yes, it's all about imaginative counterpoint, and SHADOW PUPPETS
more than repays the occasional mental acrobatics required to keep
up with the wild, weird and poignant adventures of another
generation of super-kids. Julian ("Bean"), Petra, Peter, and the
complex "baddie" Achilles, dance around a cluster of colorful
supporting characters who all trace their creative lineage back to
the first Battle School tales that launched the series. This time,
instead of going to war against multi-limbed insectoid space
aliens, Card's key characters (true to habit, they were bit players
in previous episodes) are caught up in a maze of Earth-bound
international political espionage and shifting balances of power.
Saving Planet Earth was a stellar piece of cake compared to sorting
out its post-crisis governmental messes!

But within all the global intrigue and alliance-making that sets
the grand structure of SHADOW PUPPETS, Card gives his characters
fascinating personalities and emergent personal lives that
gravitate toward some very "old-fashioned" values --- mending
parent-child relationships, family building, future planning for an
uncertain world, private spirituality, public religion. While never
overbearing, Card's steadfast Mormon faith comes through in this
centuries-hence technically sophisticated world, where God has
become an absence that each figure, in his or her way, tries to
fill.

And we are given some moving glimpses of that fulfillment, one of
them being a beautifully drawn portrait of a young Muslim man
suddenly chosen to restore the ancient Caliphate. Card's competent
understanding and deep respect for Islam is a definite bonus in
these reactionary post 9/11 times. For anyone feeling that
science-fiction has tended to starve out spirituality, the minor
but poignant character of Alai is almost worth the book's cover
price on its own.

So where is the ENDER'S EARTH saga headed? Without giving too much
away, the plotline that's sure to rebound from SHADOW PUPPETS into
Card's next series title involves the continuing relationship
between Julian and Petra in their ongoing quest to start a "normal"
family and reverse a potentially fatal genetic trait that has
resulted in Julian growing to gigantic height. As with the
half-dozen or so previous volumes, however, one can be pleasantly
certain of encountering more fast-paced action, smart and terse
dialogue, supple imagery, cynical world-wise (or world-weary)
characters, and mature, probing reflections on the true meaning of
life in an intentional universe.

Reviewed by Pauline Finch (paulinefinch@rogers.com) on January 23, 2011

Shadow Puppets
by Orson Scott Card

  • Publication Date: April 20, 2012
  • Genres: Fiction, Science Fiction
  • Mass Market Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Science Fiction
  • ISBN-10: 0765340054
  • ISBN-13: 9780765340054