Ender's Shadow by Orson Scott Card
Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead were two of my very favourite books as a teenager. I've read them both several times but have avoided reading any of the more recent stories. Yesterday, somewhat numbed from a hangover, I decided that it was a day to hide in the library and on impulse grabbed a copy to read.
Over all, it's a well told story. Orson Scott Card is an immensely capable storyteller, and given the constraints of the book (it's a retelling of Ender's Game from another character's point of view) he did an astonishing job of keeping me engaged from beginning to end. If nothing else, the fact that I finished a nearly 600-page book in a day is a testament to its readability.
However, while it is an easy and enjoyable read, it has none of the power of the first two stories. The more I have time to reflect on it, the less I like it. There are too many coincidences, too many loose ends tied up simply to be cute, too many things made explicit.
One of the worst parts of the story was how the character of Achilles was managed. His character worked really well on the street, but when he was brought to Battle School he became a parody of evil, laughable in his predictability. Even stranger, after going so far out of the stories way to set him up as Bean's nemesis, to have him so quickly and effortlessly dispatched was bizarre. Finally, to have him so obviously setup to be a villain in a future book, was just irritating in its clumsiness.
And why make Nikolai and Bean brothers? It added nothing to the story other than another small gasp of disbelief at the near impossibility of the coincidence.
In the end, those are just nitpicks, mostly annoying simply because they were so unnecessary.
The power of "Ender's Game" came from the uncertainty and struggle within Ender himself, and from the ultimate irony that the war was based on an interspecies misunderstanding. By keeping Ender ignorant, they blinded the only person who could have understood what was happening, and thus allowed a xenocide to occur.
Without those struggles and ambiguities at the core of the story, Ender's Shadow simply becomes a "kill the baddies" war story. It is stripped of all of its emotional power. Mostly, I'm left with the feeling that OSC had nothing new to say when he wrote this story.