Shadow Puppets, Orson Scott Card (TOR, 2003 {Macmillan Audio, Narrator: Stephan Rudniki and others})

Grade: Ε — Readable in genre, but you could probably do better.  

ARShadowOfTheGiant500In brief:

Shadow Puppets is the third book in Orson Scott Card‘s ‘Shadow’ series, thus part of the Ender’s Game world. Following on from Shadow of the Hegemon, this book continues to flog the dead donkey that was that novel.  Full of long drawn out political and social commentary about the present day world, plot-wise this book finally gets us to the place we should have been at the beginning of the previous novel.


Earth in the mid-to-far Future, somewhere in the hundreds of years element.

shadowpuppets3In Depth:

If Shadow of the Hegemon, ( left me feeling a bit disappointed, then Shadow Puppets left me angry.  First of all I should note that like its predecessors in the series, this book continues the story of Bean, Ender’s super-genius second-in-command, whose genetically altered biology not only created a superior intellect, but also a terminal defect.  Bean will not stop growing until he is crushed under the weight of his own body. He is a marvelous character, who truly deserves a better handling than he gets in the second two books of this series.

To that end, like Shadow Of the Hegemon, this book features Bean continuing to fight his old childhood adversary Achille, thus drawing out a personal conflict that really should have been left as overcome in the first book.  Instead of allowing our hero to move beyond his childhood issues, engage greater problems and undergo greater character development, Orson Scott Card has Bean yet again trying to overcome an issue that should never had been revisited.[1]

Orson Scott Card_2002_Shadow PuppetsSo, in this book, Achille, now the prisoner of the Hegemon Peter Wiggin, manages to outsmart Ender’s sociopathic genius manipulator brother (who is now no longer portrayed as sociopathic) and yet again pose a mortal threat to Bean and the other graduates of the Battle School. This fight continues on until finally, finally, finally at the end of this book it is finished and we are saved from ever having to face it again.  Thank goodness.

Set around this central plot there are, however, some great scenes showing the other Battle School graduates and how they overcome the adversities they face.  Said scenes showcase the author’s understanding of other cultures and some of his best skills in writing. Orson Scott Card plays beautifully upon his knowledge of Chinese and Indian cultures, as well as his respect and understanding of Islam, and builds a plot that plays into these varying cultures quite nicely.

OSCominousIndeed, one thing I liked about this book in particular was the respect the author showed to Islam.  Remembering that this book was published in 2002, while much of America was still encased in very negative feelings towards anything Islamic, Orson Scott Card showed respect towards the followers of this faith.  He emphasized the positive elements of the religion and the cultures that are most often associated with it.  Of course, this is one of the best elements of his books in general: he does not use religion as a straw man.  In a world where Science Fiction so often portrays any and all religion in a bad light, Orson Scott Card stands out by showing both the positive and negative elements of religion.[2]  This respect also usually extends to other elements of different cultures.

Unfortunately, here we also see some problems arise. I don’t know if it is ever actually noted how far in the future these stories take place, but it is clearly at least a hundred years hence, and seems to be many hundreds of years in the future.  Yet, despite this, the cultures that Professor Card portrays show a remarkable similarity to their modern counterparts.  Indeed, world politics in general do not seem to have changed much, despite the fact that it was more or less unified for at least a generation in its struggle against the Buggers.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying everything should have changed, and am certainly not suggesting that Card should have ‘Americanized’ everything the way some authors do, but the total lack of cultural drift does seem a bit much. Similarly, the talk in the stories of the decrease of some countries power seems in stark contrast to the continued power those countries seem to have later in the books.  Still, these elements can be over looked in this volume.[3]

670px-0,800,0,419-Shadow_SeriesWhat can’t be overlooked, however, is the agonizingly slow way that the plot moves forward.  Indeed, had the previous novel been a conflict between Bean and Peter Wiggin, then this book could well have continued the story, covered the same points and even ended at more or less the same place as the end of the NEXT novel.  Instead, we are stuck for another whole volume in a storyline that should never have been revisited in the first place.

Despite this, the book is readable.  For all of his faults, including his pages and pages of talking heads and strawmen, Orson Scott Card is a talented writer who can almost pull it off.  Fans of Card may enjoy this book, but to be honest, one could probably read the Wikipedia summary of it and save yourself the struggle.

Notes about the Audio Edition:

Like most of the books in Card’s Ender/Shadow series, this is an excellent audio novel.  Indeed, the quality of the audio rendition of this book may well have added to my enjoyment.  It has solid production value and brilliant reading by a cast of characters.  Like the others in this series, if we see the world through one character’s eyes, we hear one narrator, if we see it through another character’s eyes, we hear a different voice talent.  Each time, the gender matches the POV character.  While this can sometimes be jarring, particularly when you here different narrators give slightly different voices to the same characters, for the most part it adds to the enjoyment of the book and in this case is very well handled.

Unfortunately, as is often the case, the actors who read the parts are not identified in the recording nor on the web pages associated with this book.  As a result, I cannot really praise the individual actors who narrated this book, but they deserve praise.

My Reviews of Previous Books in Series:

Ender’s Game

Ender’s Shadow

Shadow of the Hegemon

[1] Indeed, one does begin to wonder what the nature of the metaphor that the author is playing out really is.  Is there some childhood trauma that Orson Scott Card failed to deal with?

[2] As a whole, it is clear that Card is generally in favor of it.

[3] Though not the next… but that is another story.

About Thomas Evans

I'm a writer of mysteries, espionage, and speculative fiction. In my previous incarnation I was an archaeologist specializing in gender and identity in Iron and Bronze Age Europe. Mostly, however, I was known for my works with the use of geomatics, multiscalular spatial analysis and landscape theory within archaeology.
This entry was posted in Chronicle, Cycle, Far Future, Identity, Military Science Fiction, Political Drama, Saga, Science Fiction, Serial, Series, Uncategorized, World and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Shadow Puppets, Orson Scott Card (TOR, 2003 {Macmillan Audio, Narrator: Stephan Rudniki and others})

  1. diannread says:

    Disappointing indeed. 😦

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