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No other book series (other than maybe Foundation) has a larger presence on this list than Orson Scott Card’s Ender series. With the #1 (Ender’s Game), #27 (Speaker for the Dead) and now #60 entries in the top 100, it’s fair to say that it is one of the most popular series’ in all of science fiction. While some might argue that the Shadow books make up their own unique series, it’s hard to really separate the two in my mind. While the two parallel stories eventually diverge completely, the two linchpin novels tell basically the same story, just from the perspective of different characters. While Ender’s Game tells the story of Battle School and the Bugger War with Ender Wiggin at its center, Ender’s Shadow illuminates the back story of Ender’s right hand man Bean and follows him as he moves up through the ranks of Battle School to become an integral part of the team that eventually helps defeat the Bugger menace. What is so amazing about Card’s companion novel is that it manages to tell a story that we already know so well in a way that makes it seem fresh and exiting. Even though we already know the eventual outcome, the new insights that we get into the life and motivations of what was a minor character in the original novel help increase the richness of the story as a whole.
Ender’s Shadow Summary: Ender’s Shadow picks up the story of Bean, a diminutive homeless street urchin trying to survive in the crime ridden streets of Rotterdam in 2170. Having escaped from a genetic engineering laboratory as an infant (where they apparently did experiments to increase intelligence), Bean’s primary focus is on survival (meaning food and protection from the ruthless child gangs that roam the streets). Although he eventually manages to fall in with a gang that is able to get food from a local soup kitchen, his access to that food is controlled by a sociopathic bully named Achilles who torments Bean and eventually murders one of his closest friends. Luckily, Bean’s brilliance and creativity are recognized by one of the nuns at the soup kitchen who is secretly recruiting gifted children to help fight the Bugger War. Bean is then taken to Battle School where he meets Ender and begins his training in Military strategy and tactics along with other gifted children. This first section of the novel serves to illustrate Bean’s amazing ability to survive in the harshest conditions imaginable due to his advanced intellect, something that will eventually set him apart from all of the other students at Battle School.
By the time Bean gets to Battle School, the legend of the brilliant Ender Wiggin has already begun to form, and Bean takes a concerted interest in learning as much as he can about the boy who will eventually go on to lead the human fleet against the Buggers. Along the way, we are made aware of some interesting facts that weren’t disclosed in the original novel, such as the fact that it was Bean (not the commanding adults) who created the Dragon Army of misfits and new recruits for Ender to lead and mold into fighting form. We also learn that the adults chose Bean as Ender’s replacement should anything happen to Ender. While some may accuse Card of re-writing history here, I personally don’t think that anything he introduces in Ender’s Shadow in any way takes away from the power of Game. All he really does is to show that Bean was actually a much more integral part of the story than we previously thought.
Ender’s Shadow Review: I think that one of the reasons that I liked Ender’s Shadow so much is the fact that Bean is a much more sympathetic character than Ender. While Ender grew up in a middle class family (with his main challenge in being a Third child), Bean is forced from a very early age (he’s 2 years old when we first meet him) to survive in a brutal world where most of the cards are stacked against him. The only advantage he has is his heightened intelligence and will to survive, both of which he uses in a coldly efficient manner. And while Ender is the hero that eventually goes on to defeat the Buggers, it is Bean who is able to see the reality of their situation – that the battle exercises are actually real battles with real Formics, something that Ender fails to realize until it’s too late.
Although Speaker for the Dead may be the true sequel to Ender’s Game, I think that Bean’s story may actually be a more fitting addendum to the original novel – even if they recount many of the same events. So if you found Speaker to be too removed and distant from the themes and motifs of the first novel, I’d recommend giving the Shadow series a try. Besides succeeding as its own stand alone tale, it brings added depth and insight into a story that many of us have known and loved for years.