Customer Reviews: Shadow of the Hegemon (The Shadow Series)
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on January 2, 2001
Orson Scott Card says in the afterword to "Shadow of the Hegemon" that this book is as different from "Ender's Shadow" as "Speaker for the Dead" was from "Ender's Game". He's right. Where "Speaker for the Dead" turned and looked at the universe 3000 years hence and examined, in great detail, religion and life, "Shadow of the Hegemon" turns and looks at political interplay and fear in this world 150 years from now.
What made "Shadow of the Hegemon" stand out for me was the political aspect of the novel. Orson Scott Card has done a better job of painting national politics and intrigue across a worldwide scale better than any science fiction or fantasy writer I've seen since George R.R. Martin's "A Game of Thrones". The scope that he uses is very impressive as he takes the political action of the novel across most of the Asian continent and shows situations that are, on the whole, relatively plausible.
Card's work in blending national policy with personal motivation is very impressive. However, there are a few small areas I quibble with. I think that the world community he paints one hundred and fifty years hence is a little tainted by personal bitterness, both to the US and China. Whether he meant it to or not, it does, to me, detract a bit from both the plausibilty of the book and the overall quality of the writing. Likewise, while I am not a student of South and Southeast Asia, I question his wisdom in using just once source apiece - as he states in the afterword - when creating his India and Thailand circa 2150. This fact appears rather obvious when reading characters' discussions of these two countries. Card trys very hard to make the countries he creates plausible extrapolations of today's countries, and they suffer for these two reasons.
Nonetheless, the novel is still a wonderful read. Card takes a couple of classic premises for novels and blends them into a story that, if it occaisonally lacks for original plot twists, one that shows how well he grasps both individual struggle and national interplay.
On the individual side of the novel, Bean, Peter and Petra all take on additional depth in this novel and all three become characters that I am eager to read more about in the remaining two novels in Card's "Shadow" series. As adolescents and teenagers, they are as believable as they were as children in "Ender's Game" and "Ender's Shadow". As people, they develop more depth to their character - especially Peter - and move in directions that are, if predictable, certainly arrived at unpredictably.
In retrospect, what definitely stands out for me in this book, are the political machinations. I'm sure that will be what primarily stands out one, five, or ten years from now. Anyone with an interest in political struggle should read this book, as well as any Orson Scott Card fan who wants to see him successfully tackle new areas of writing. While I do have minor reservations about the world as he creates it, I have none about the way his characters move it and move through it.
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on January 12, 2001
How do I review this book? Do I review it on the basis of the craftmanship of the storytelling? In that case, five stars without question. Do I review it on the basis of the fact that I stayed up five hours past my normal bedtime to finish it because I was so involved in the story? Again, five stars without question. You'll notice, though, that I gave it four stars. Without giving too much away, here is why:
1) In reading the scene with Bean and Ender's mother, there was a point at which I no longer heard Ender's mother, but heard Orson Scott Card. Normally, he does not do this... I think that his passion for that particular belief was so strong that it overwhelmed the character. I may be wrong, of course, but that is how I percieved it.
2) As another reviewer has mentioned, the plot relies heavily on the notion that a nation would follow Achilles in a situation where it is highly unbelievable that that nation would do so.
3) There is a major continuity flaw in the book with the other ones. When Peter reveals to the world that he was Locke and Valentine was Demosthenes, it breaks the confidentiality that Demosthenes appears to enjoy in the Speaker for the Dead trilogy. That could be explained by Jane cleaning up the references as she does later, but unless I misremember there is a point where Ender and Valentine are travelling, Valentine is writing as the "unknown" Demosthenes, and Jane had not yet been introduced.
If you have read and enjoyed the earlier books, of course you should read this one regardless of the minor flaws. If you haven't read Ender's Game, though, do not read this one yet. Go, now, and buy that book. You will not regret it.
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on January 7, 2001
When I picked this book up, frankly, I was worried. Several months ago, I read Ender's Game, and loved it. Not long after that, I devoured Ender's Shadow with gusto, becoming ridiculously enamored of the main character, Bean. But... how could this book, Shadow of the Hegemon, possibly live up to the high standard of the earlier novels? did! Card weaves a thick, suspensful plot about the political intrigue on Earth after the Formic Wars. We learn more about each character, their personalies, their secrets, their motives. Sort of an insight of why they do what they do. Petra and Peter in particular become far more in focus than in Card's other books. The storyline was surprisingly good, and not at all predictable.
Do I recommend this book? Of course. But first, read Ender's Shadow, which is equally good (if not slightly better). Card's a great writer for people who don't like SF books, and those that know they do. Don't worry. You won't be disapointed.
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on January 2, 2001
I couldn't wait to pick up my copy of Card's new book! Ender's Game and Ender's Shadow are important books for me so it is hard to be critical of this new installment. However, this book is much more accessible than some of the other Ender sequels and is a great continuation of Ender's Shadow. Bean is far from normal and he makes an interesting character to follow.
Without giving any spoilers, it is great to finally read about Peter and the events on Earth after Ender's departure. Of course, the other books set in this universe have referred to some of the events that occur, but now knowing the story behind them is much more satisfying.
If you are not familiar with the Ender series, please do not start with this book. Ender's Game should be read first for the pure joy of it. Then read Ender's Shadow and finally this book. You won't regret it. I have recommended Ender's Game over and over for more than a decade and have never had a negative response.
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on January 21, 2001
I first read Ender's Game, the short story, about 15 years ago. It was a masterpiece. The tight story grabbed me with the descriptions of battle school. I felt Ender's stress during combat school, and was as confused as he was about Mazer's motivations. When the suprise ending hit, I was genuinely startled, and immediately reread the entire story. I loved Ender's Game.
Shadow of the Hegemon is the opposite in almost every way.
The plot, briefly, is that the Formic War is over. The graduates of battle school are a highly prized commodity by the petty nations of Earth. Achilles, the cartoonish supervillian child from Ender's Shadow, is hatching a plan to kidnap the battle school grads and thus take over the world. Only Bean, cartoonish supergenius that he is, has any chance of stopping Achilles. He seeks an unlikely ally in Peter Wiggin, Ender's older and vindictive older brother.
The first problem is that the reader can't truly sypathize with any of the characters. Bean has the best chance, but the unbelieveable intelligence that alienates him from other characters alienates him from us, too. Peter has already been established as a cold and violent person, and no amount of backpeddling can get us to forget that. The other characters are worse still--in fact, when one of Bean's friends dies, I wasn't saddened so much as I was relieved that I wouldn't have to read any more strained dialogue between the two.
The second problem: Robert Burns once wrote "The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry," but Card apparently thinks this cannot apply to graduates of battle school. The children can come up with a ridiculous plan, one which requires every participant to behave according to a preposterous script, and the plan will succeed every time. I can accept that the children are military geniuses, but I need for the genius to be believable. The characters appear smart only because Card has them never fail.
The last major problem is that the war is not directly described so much as it is relayed to us by dialogue between characters. Card uses this as a way to have the characters spout philosophy regarding war and their role in it. This could be interesting, but in this book, it's just preachy.
I wasn't sure if I should give this book three stars (which I consider the lowest book I'd recommend) or two. But in the last week, I reread two of Card's short stories, "Unaccompanies Sonata" and "A Thousand Deaths". These short stories are works of art. Card can do great things, but Shadow of the Hegemon is below him, so I cannot recommend it.
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VINE VOICEon February 24, 2002
2 stars for the story, 0 stars for the politics
Ok, I thought Ender's Game was really fantastic. Of course I read that book when I was a kid and so maybe Orson Scott Card's political jabberings flew over my naive little head. I just read Shadow of the Hegemon today, interestingly enough on the train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai (as some of the events are set in Thailand). There are several major problems with this book.
First, it is really set in the present day with only a fig leaf of being in the future. If it was really set in the future, why do all the nations have the same boundaries and general political/social outlook as today? Why is China the bad guy and the U.S. [ prostituting] itself in trading with China? Why the angry denuciation against fashion-bound American intellectuals by Ender's Mom who reveals herself to be a religious nutcase a la Orson Scott Card? If you make it to the end of the book, and you likely will, because the story isn't too bad...Well, the basic plot line that there are a bunch of military geniuses running around and they are sought after by the different powers is pretty solid. But unfortunately, when they are no longer needed by the story, the various geniuses just disappear. If Thailand is fantastically transformed into a heavyweight by having one of these geniuses on call, why is China's rise to power a fait accompli if there are so many other geniuses running loose out there?
I think the reason that Ender's Game worked was because it purposefully kept some of the details of how genius Ender's crooked little mind worked out of the picture. That combined with a change of venue and an otherworldly foe was enough to keep awkward questions from arising in our brains. The genius of Ender's Game was also that while the kids were super-smart in their military capabilities, they still acted like little kids in other ways. In Hegemon there is too much effort to show off the thinking of the kids...
This whole book is a good object lesson in why Ender's Game was enjoyable--alien foe whose motives are shrouded in mystery, novelty of kids being warriors, slightly sinister nature of the main character (remember wondering if he would turn out like his older brother?), and real tension in the political/personal relationships. In Hegemon, you've got other humans as the enemy, and worse, recognizible as present day people, the novelty is gone from kid-warriors, the characters are honestly cut-outs and fairly bland, and there isn't any thriller like tension between characters. We know that Achilles is bad, Petra is good. Achilles is not going to be reformed, Petra will not be corrupted.
Ah, its all pretty tedious. I wish I hadn't read this book so as to recollect Ender's Game in a better light.
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on January 5, 2001
When Orson Scott Card wrote this book he had a few limitations. First, he no longer had the magic of the Battle School to aid him. Second, he had to work around limitations he may or may not have meant to put in previous books. Last, he was writing a sequel, and that is always dangerous.
Orson Scott Card, though, did a great job of overcoming all these limitations. The book made earth into the Battle School, and brought in even more elements. No longer were these kids all living in a world of their equals. They were now in a world of stupid Adults, and power-hungry nations.
At first, I was afraid that a certain flaw in Bean's genetic makeup would severly limit this story. But, again, Orson Scott Card worked in the genius he used when he wrote Ender's Shadow. He made the book even more enriching, using Bean's limitation to further the story, and make it even more understandable. Few authors have this almost magical ability that Orson Scott Card has.
Orson Scott Card was taking a huge risk by writing a sequel to a parrallel novel. He had absolutely never addressed what had happened on Earth, besides in one of his sequels mentioning that Peter had become Hegemon of Earth. He could have potentialy destroyed the characters that we all coveted so dearly in Ender's Game. Just making Petra one of the main characters was an incredibly risky move. Luckily, though, I'm almost completely sure that Orson Scott Card was aware of all this. He was very careful to keep the characters realistic while also using their genius to make the story all the more interesting.
Orson Scott Card has shown us again and again his ability to make an engaging world out of just some words on paper. He has been able to suck us into a world that we do not want to leave. He has made us wish that Ender had really existed, almost made us wish that WE were the geniuses made to destroy an alien species. When he writes, he almost makes us believe that we are part of the book, that we ARE its characters. And this is why this book is so successful. Orson Scott Card does it again.
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on February 16, 2002
Now comes Shadow of the Hegemon. It is much faster paced. I did enjoy its story better than Ender's Shadow simply because Bean is a bit older and I thought it would develop a similar relationship between Bean and Peter. I thought we'd get a glimpse of what Ender would write about the character of Peter in his "Hive Queen and the Hegemon" -- but no. Peter is a sniveling bratty teen who somehow commands great authority and respect as an online persona but has no backbone of his own. If Bean doesn't push him to do the least little thing, he'd rather just play on his computer.
Also, I didn't like the formula way Card tries to make his characters smart: "I know that you know that I think what you will do so I will do the opposite thing..." -- All his "smart" characters "think" like this and it gets a bit weary and boring because you hit a paragraph of this twisted thinking and you know how it's going to end, but there's still a paragraph of info that's not needed.
Beyond that, Card is becoming more and more cynical in his writings about the U.S. He's also actively interjected himself as an adult into characters in his book (much like Robert Heinlein did) to lecture us, the readers, on what he thinks instead of letting his own characters speak for themselves. So we are regailed on how America is a country in decline and in bed with the Chinese. Card is becoming the Dr. Laura of science fiction, using his books as a vehicle to espouse his political and religous views. [....]
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on January 2, 2001
When I first heard that this book was being published, I was wary. While "Ender's Shadow" proved that Card could produce an excellent novel of a story he had already told us once in "Ender's Game," I was somewhat doubtful that Card could write another novel in this storyline and have it come out well. Indeed, in my opinion "Xenocide" was a very poor sequel to "Ender's Game" and "Speaker for the dead". However, like "Ender's Shadow," this novel is surprisingly good, adding some intriguing insight into already familiar characters, nicely filling in the history and character gaps of previous novels, and doing it all with comfortable but imaginitive prose.
However, somehow the Battle School children in this novel are less believable than previous novels... In "Ender's Game" and "Ender's Shadow", Ender, Bean, Petra, and even Achilles were presented in a manner that I thought was believable, and somewhat representative of the more brilliant children I have met. However, in "Hegemon", while Bean and some of the other children are still well written, Achille comes across rather two-dimensionally, and it's rather hard to actually accept this character as Card wrote him. However, this is a minor flaw, the storyline and discussion of politics and war are interesting by themselves.
If you've read the rest of the "Ender" novels, and like "Ender's Shadow," you'll probably like this novel. If you're new to the "Ender" books, I certainly wouldn't recommend starting with this one, however.
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on May 22, 2004
It's rare for me to only give a Orson Scott Card book three stars, but Card seems to have really stumbled with this one. Although the book is very entertaining, it also has some very serious flaws.
One major problem with Shadow of the Hegemon (and the one that I found to be the most bizarre) is that it doesn't really appear to be set in the future. Card never tells us exactly what year it's supposed to be, but we know that humanity has spent several generations fighting a major interstellar war, we've built fleets of starships with weapons capable of destroying entire planets, and we've unlocked the secrets of faster-than-light communication. Yet for some reason, virtually all of the technology - military and otherwise - in Shadow of the Hegemon seems to be from only a few years in the future. People are still flying around in helicopters, shooting gunpowder machine guns at each other, and generally living their lives and fighting in the way one would expect two or three years from now. The world's geo-political situation is also largely unchanged, with most of the world's nations characterized by political stereotypes from today. Although this in itself doesn't really ruin the book, it's all jarringly incongruous with the previous books in the series.
A second, more fundamental problem has to do with the way in which the main characters in the story interact with their world. The battle school children seem more like forces of nature than actual characters. They seem to be so far above the rest of humanity that they come to dominate everyone and everything they come into contact with, despite that fact that most of them are small children. The entire world seems to bend itself to their will, and they alone are able to successfully oppose each other. Of course Ender's character had that sort of importance in 'Ender's Game,' but there was also an elaborate backstory to explain how a single child came to have such an important role in deciding the fate of humanity. In 'Shadow of the Hegemon' it seems that Card again wanted to make his child characters pivotally important, but he never really comes up with a credible explanation for how any group of people - no matter how brilliant or well trained - could end up so incredibly influential in world affairs.
Despite all that, 'Shadow of the Hegemon' is still a very entertaining book. The plot is quite entertaining in spite of its problems with consistency and believability, and the action proceeds at a brisk pace. Although Card seems to give his battle school children far more credit than plausibility allows, they're all quite fascinating and well-developed characters. It's genuinely interesting to watch Bean, Petra, Achilles, and company spar with each other for world domination. Even with its flaws, Shadow of the Hegemon is still better than most of what you'll find on bookstore shelves.
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